Adapt and Prosper
by Pat Craig

from the Spring 2002 issue
of the Complexity Management Chronicles

Our last newsletter laid the groundwork on complex adaptive systems (CAS). We believe that CAS theories will prove helpful to running a robust business and developing software successfully. This newsletter, the second in a two part series, builds on the 3M case study and adds information from some of our client experiences.

Our previous newsletter, which referenced the book, "Built to Last," by James Collins and Jerry Porras, utilized 3M to provide concrete CAS implementation ideas. Recall that 3M's "best practices" as related to CAS include the following:

1. Fostering proactive environmental adaptation to significantly increase the firm's profitability;
2. Supporting reactive responses to changes in the environment to further increase profitability and guard against erosion in the revenue base;
3. Instituting communication channels to rapidly transfer knowledge within the company;
4. Creating mechanisms to harness entrepreneurial drive; and
5. Reinforcing adaptive behaviors.

Our previous newsletter elaborated on proactive environmental adaptation and on reactive responses to changes in the environment. We'll pick up where we left off by providing additional detail on items 3-5 above.

To transfer knowledge, 3M hosts technical forums where professionals share information, technical papers and ideas. They also sponsor new product forums , where divisions share product knowledge. A mutual fund client of ours, employing 1,000+ systems professionals, also uses product fairs. Once a year, this client's divisions set up product booths in a central area. These fairs have helped the divisions reuse each other's software.

3M has a number of programs to harness entrepreneurialdrive. 3M has "Genesis Grants", an internal venture capital fund, consisting of grants up to $50K for prototyping and market tests. 3M also have "Own Business" opportunities enabling successful product champions to run their own department, group, or division depending on product sales.

A client of ours, a financial data provider, also has it's own internal venture capital fund and encourages product and sales managers to start new subsidiaries. We worked with one of their "start-up" subsidiaries and three years after its inception, this subsidiary employed over 100 people.

To reinforce adaptive behaviors in employees and in the company, 3M has a number of programs. Recognition programs abound at 3M. The "Carleton Society" recognizes technical professionals for their original and outstanding contributions to the company. People who developed a new technology and shared it successfully with another division get technology sharing awards. Our mutual fund client discussed previously also had quarterly recognition programs to highlight key contributions by staff members. Winners received an award and a $1,000 check.

3M as a company also realizes that to better adapt to its environment, it needs employees with diverse interests and talents. Dual career ladders at 3M allows technical individuals to advance without becoming managers, and foster diversity.

We will follow 3M's lead and adapt the way we do business by investing more energy in teaching. Therefore after 8+ years of issuing newsletters, this newsletter is our last one.

Newsletter writing has proved an interesting experiment. Over the years, we've written about the trade-offs between delivery date, functionality, and budget. We've examined hot groups from any number of dimensions: recruiting staff, (including personality testing), retaining staff, leadership, etc. We've discussed system dynamics and how it can foster improved performance. We've looked at managing risk and also at containing development costs.

So dear reader, we than you for reading and we bid you adieu!

©2002 by Complexity Management
Somerville, Massachusetts, in Metropolitan Boston

Complexity Management Chronicles, a newsletter for software quality assurance professionals, has been published in print form four times a year until this final issue. 


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