Is Process Management An Impediment To Innovation? Wharton Professor Mary J. Benner Says Yes

Companies might have to take a hard look at their process management programs and make sure that innovation is not being pushed aside in the search for efficiency.

"In the appropriate setting, process management activities can help companies improve efficiency, but the risk is that you misapply these programs, in particular in areas where people are supposed to be innovative," notes Mary J. Benner, management professor at Wharton in an article from the Nov.16 issue of [email protected]. "Brand new technologies to produce products that don't exist are difficult to measure. This kind of innovation may be crowded out when you focus too much on processes you can measure."

Measuring innovation is often not possible. "Creative people will push back in an environment where people are required to follow standard processes and are being measured," says Benner. "People who are comfortable in such an environment are not exactly the most innovative."

The study, co-authored with Harvard Business professor Michael Tushman, recommends "a more nuanced approach to creating organizations that can celebrate both variance reduction in the service of exploitation and variance creation in the service of exploration." One way to accomplish this is to find managers who are simultaneously comfortable in the process world of Six Sigma as well as the arena of free flowing activities required to embrace innovation.

"Our message is this: Companies that have process management in one area must realize that it can bleed into other areas of the company, and you must prevent that from happening. Use these approaches where they make sense -- and deliberately do not have them in areas that are focused on innovation," says Brenner.

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