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311Re: Middle-up-down vs. bottom-up

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  • mpoppendieck
    May 3, 2002

      I have not read the book you reference, so I am not sure why they
      call 3M a bottom-up organization. But I worked there for 20 years,
      ending up as a manager (and product champion) in the new product
      development area of the company.

      Certainly no one at 3M would think that much good can be
      accomplished by a single individual. The way that new products get
      invented is that someone with a good idea recruits team members.
      Because of institutionalized slack (anyone can spend 15% of their
      time on projects of their own choosing), it is quite easy to do
      this. The practice is officially known as `bootlegging'.

      Let me give you an example. I was trying to build a business around
      an ultra-pure plastic fiber about ½ inch in diameter, into which
      one injects light. The light comes out at the end or as a glowing
      fiber. Colors are injected via a color wheel. We called the
      product `Light Fiber' and our team introduced it in Japan in

      The team was largely a team of volunteers, some of whom were
      officially assigned to the project at their request by their
      managers, some of whom were donating their 15% time. We were one of
      the few technical teams in the company to successfully involve
      Japanese technical people as fully involved team members. We met
      every week for 3 years, and although we had very little official
      funding, we built two process lines, prototyped a third, and
      commercialized the product.

      There is no way that a new product can be successfully developed and
      put on the market by one person. The only successful product
      champions at 3M are those who can inspire a team. For the most
      innovative products, the team must often be recruited and is to some
      extent a volunteer team. It requires a good idea and strong
      leadership to inspire a team of `volunteers', but it is in no
      sense working with a group of individualists. The new product
      development team is a unit, working together, making mutual
      commitments, helping each other, doing whatever is necessary to put
      a successful product on the market.

      From my personal experience, I must say I would rather lead a team
      of scientists who are deeply committed to each other and to the
      product, than a team of scientists who are being told what to do.
      Not only is it more fun, it is far easier to be successful.
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