Linking Innovation and Operations

Sections of this topic

    Development is hard pressed to interface with operations. Yet it is extremely important that this interface be workable because developments are not relevant until they find their way into operations. This is the “reason for being” of development; to have new systems and adaptive processes and structures integrated, in the long run, to foster organizational performance and adaptation.

    What’s The Difference?

    An operation is charted to preserve the status quo, the current thinking and methods. Operations assumes this status quo as a “given” and works within current procedures to improve them and “operationalize” them with a high degree of efficiency. In most operations the problem is clear and solutions are knowable. Fast response is an overriding value in executing a “fix” and getting the operation back on-line.

    Development, on the other hand is a constructive conspiracy. It is the development function, who’s job it is to replace the current ways of doing things, with new tools and assumptions more in line with changing business and organizational conditions. Development is rife with ambiguity; it is a searching and learning process. The overriding value is gaining commitment to change.

    Innovation and Development is fragile, complex and conceptual. Nothing kills it faster than premature exploitation- rushing to capitalize on it too soon. Development is not charted but it is navagatable, it is a learned activity in action where hunches are tested and theory is developed in the process of action. The context of development is uncertainty. Operations on the other hand, works to reduce uncertainty to a program, an operational term.

    Learning It While Doing It

    Operations are based in control. Developments emerge and are always subject to un- intended consequences in action as development is moved toward its purpose. One of the themes of these essays is that developments are realized through the process of development, it is in effect learned in the process of doing it.

    Usually there is not a great deal of organizational understanding and support for doing this. An often operation does not see the need or understand the purpose of the development itself. For this reason, development needs protection at a certain stage. Protection and understanding go hand in hand. As the development is understood the protection can be loosened which is necessary to gain the institutional support for prioritizing the resources for more disciplined development.

    Boundary management means the protection and support of a differentiated development culture and the managed change of this culture when appropriate. Boundary management is a continual effort of judgment and balance because technical organizations optimize performance and their activities are always influenced by demands and feedback from a variety of sources in the global environment. Establishing and managing boundaries is both necessary and problematic.


    For more resources, see the Library topics Consulting and Organizational Development.


    Jim Smith has over 40 years of organization development experience in a wide range of organizations. He can be reached at