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Does Your Organization’s Roadmap Have Enough Intersections?

Intersection PhotoIn this time of tight budgets and mandates to do more or the same with less, the need for innovation is greater than ever.   This is the case wherever you add value to your organization, including acquisition.

Frans Johansson, author of The Medici Effect, talks about intersections as “the place that ideas from different groups and cultures collide to create innovation.”   For example, using termite technology to design an office building with no air conditioning in a tropical climate, or combining NASA technology and swimming to create a high-tech swimsuit.

Establishing an environment in which one person from a particular trade or discipline can talk to another person from a different area may reveal insights that both can apply to their trade.  One way organizations can yield innovation though a Medici Effect is by taking a crossroads approach featuring cross-training and cross-pollination.  In the private and public sector, this can lead to new ideas, time and cost-savings, and smarter teams.

Is your acquisition team cross-trained?

Cross- training is a term commonly used in sports to note situations when an athlete trains in secondary sports with a goal of improving overall performance.  It facilitates a holistic approach where the effectiveness of each training method is used to mitigate the deficiencies of the other.

This intersection of skills can yield greater overall performance.  For example, say your team is well-versed and experienced in contracting.  You know how to craft contracts that are compliant, fulfill acquisition goals, and demonstrate careful application of the FAR.  However, let’s say your team is not experienced or knowledgeable in project management.  This can cause misunderstanding of program office requirements, potential misapplied procurement strategy, and delays in the procurement process.  How can you shore this up?  A potential solution is to have your contracting experts who are also trained/experienced in project management provide training for your contracting people.  This may entail providing foundation training in areas such as work breakdown structures, master schedules, risk management, and test and evaluation.  Another idea I’ve seen work is to treat a contract like a project management (pm) deliverable and lay out pm practices around making that deliverable.

Moreover, say your organization is strong in project/program management rather than contracting.  They may not understand the sometimes arduous time saturating task of carefully weighing terms and conditions to mitigate risks to your organization such as protests or being on the wrong side of intellectual property rights.  Have internal or external contracting experts train your project management people.  Better yet, have a team of trainers who are cross-trained in both, so they can speak both languages and translate, as needed.

Is your acquisition team cross-pollinated?

The Integrated Product/Project Team (IPT) is a way your organization can build intersections into its cultural roadmap.  Ensure your IPT is cross-functional; include people from all parts of your organization so you can cover many perspectives.  However, also consider including stakeholders in your IPT who represent one part of an organization (e.g., contracting office), but who have experience and/or training in the other areas represented (e.g., program office).  This can provide a more holistic IPT, which can promote clarity, spur creativity, and speed execution.

Do you have a roadmap to navigate the intersections?

You may be convinced that a crossroads approach which fosters idea sharing is strategic and valuable, but how do you get there?  Like any new initiative, it will benefit you to have a plan or roadmap.  Here are seven things managers can do to get things started:

  • Understand your human capital talent by mapping each individual to their knowledge, skills, and experience and organizing it in innovative ways
  • Pair up each individual on the line with someone on another team with whom they can trade functional and domain knowledge
  • Prioritize cross-training by encouraging and rewarding your people for becoming a skilled practitioner or expert in more than one area
  • Have your cross-trainers team up to provide training featuring integrated case studies or stories
  • Ensure your IPTs include people from diverse stakeholder groups to ensure cross-pollination
  • Codify the need to have people who are cross-trained for your IPT in IPT artifacts
  • Establish an innovation or idea factory where people and teams can win prizes for devising successful new ideas

An example where a successful cross training plan helps is in the test community.  Testing occurs very early in the acquisition lifecycle.  Testing up front and early is a common motto but, how often is a tester thinking like a program manager and considering operational requirements from the start?  Cross training “testers” to think like program managers and think differently about what is discovered will pay dividends later in the program.  For example, typically 70% to 80% of all program costs come with the operations and maintenance (O&M) phase of the program. When testing for O&M elements, a cross-trained tester can spot elements differently and identify improved techniques to lower O&M cost, driving fiscal responsibility.

Do you know of organizations that are creating intersections? 

I’m interested in what you have seen and heard regarding how organizations and teams have created Medici Effect cultures that yielded innovation and best practices.

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