Working as product, project, and engineering managers, we often balance quality with deadlines. Product concept tests must be completed before the engineer designs for the plant can be locked in. Customer testing – while ongoing – must be limited by budgets and workforce availability.
These trade-offs are frustrating to both managers and new product development (NPD) team members alike. Too many project boundaries can constrain innovation, yet infrequent or fuzzy milestones can delay a market launch. NPD managers ask their team members for both rigorous adherence to schedules and budgets and creative, out-of-the-box problem-solving.
One solution to improve the trade-offs that are inherent in a complex innovation project is to increase the role of job crafting. Job crafting is a set of tools that allows team members to frame their work to capitalize on their most important skills, to increase learning and engagement.
Enhancing a job typically means adding horizontal tasks to improve the skill sets of the worker. To a point, job enhancement will improve employee motivation. But job enhancement sometimes means just adding more tasks without re-balancing the staff’s existing job responsibilities. Managers have good intentions in expanding a team member’s work, including learning and growth, increased exposure, and skill development.
Years ago, in one of my earlier assignments as an engineering manager, I specifically sought job enhancement for a star employee. Darcy, as I’ll call her, was a smart engineer, had great interpersonal skills, and was dedicated to her work. Knowing that the performance ranking system at the corporation was treating her (and many others) unfairly, I wanted to improve her potential and give a new opportunity to showcase her competency as an engineer. To that end, I assigned Darcy to lead a small, customer-focused research study. As the project lead, she would gain visibility with senior management and would be able to demonstrate skills in which I knew she excelled. Compared to her peers, Darcy was best positioned to successfully deliver the results of the research study.
To my chagrin, Darcy responded negatively when I offered her the opportunity to lead the research project. What I thought was a job enhancement, she interpreted simply as “more work”. At the time, I didn’t know she was attending night school to get an MBA and was also trying to start a family. Of course, any “job enhancement” in those circumstances would be viewed as “more work.”
A better alternative to job enhancement is job crafting. Job crafting allows team members to select the majority of their work tasks based on their likes and dislikes, anticipated learning opportunities, personal career trajectories. When you allow your team members to work on what they like and what they choose, creativity and motivation skyrocket.
At first, many managers think that job crafting will leave them with no one to do the steady, boring work like printing and sending invoices, conducting sales calls, or bookkeeping. Yet, everyone is different and while a Type A personality team member wants to press ahead on a new technical product design, a quiet detail-oriented team member is happy to immerse herself in the statistical analysis of big data. Together, these team members can tackle all the necessary tasks for an innovation project to reach completion, on-time and on-budget.
This collaborative approach to NPD is precisely called out in the agile philosophy. Working as generalist-specialists, the agile NPD team will take on product development projects with a high degree of motivation that is driven from within themselves. The generalist-specialist on an agile NPD team will work on whatever tasks are necessary to complete a sprint and will do the “heads-down” work of his or her specialty to ensure overall team success. Collaboration among team members wand with the customer is easy because the generalist-specialist desires to learn new skills and is inspired by the project rather a self-serving ego.
It is natural for an agile team to craft their jobs according to skills and competencies and to do tasks that give them joy. These types of teams have higher rates of output and their work is more creative as a result of the deep trust and collaboration.
Another characteristic of agile teams is the determination to complete a project for the benefit of the customer. An agile NPD project is continually driven by customer needs which are tested and validated throughout the product development life cycle. Rapid concept and prototype testing is used to weed out bad ideas and to ensure customer needs are properly incorporated into the product design requirements. Frequent customer interaction leads to better designs, faster time-to-market, and higher market share upon product launch.
Job Crafting for Innovation
Successful innovations require a clear understanding of customer needs, good market timing, and excellent design of product and service features. To generate successful innovation, NPD teams must be motivated, creative, and collaborative. Allowing team members to craft their work assignments within the NPD project boundaries leads to greater success.
Job crafting is different than job enhancement (as I learned the hard way). In the latter case, managers try to motivate and engage team members by expanding their roles and responsibilities. And while job enhancement can increase team engagement, the most motivated and inspired workers are ones that craft their daily work to use skills that they value most. Team members that craft their own jobs, as in an agile project management environment, are more creative and inspired. Project work is balanced among team members with different skills and desires.
To learn more about job crafting and agile NPD, please join me and other inspired and creative innovation workers in a master mind group where we exchange ideas and hold each other accountable to achieve the highest level innovation goals. We are currently accepting new applicants to the Life Design Master Mind group with a new cohort starting 21 May 2019. The discounted upfront payment ends soon, so you’ll want to join soon to learn how to apply Design Thinking tools to craft your own best job! Contact me at area code (281) plus 280-8717 or at [email protected] for more information.
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