When forced to work within a strict framework the imagination is taxed to its utmost—and will produce its richest ideas. Given total freedom the work is likely to sprawl. – T.S. Eliot
Eliot suggests here that we produce better results when we work under the pressure of a strict framework. How does this happen? If we have an open ended project to work on, we will continually try new things to get better results. This seems like a good thing, but having a lot of freedom also leaves us open to try things that may take us down paths that do not lead us towards our long term goals. To keep ourselves from having this happen, we should set specific short term goals and milestones that focus our efforts continually in the direction of our long term goals. We will want to create some goals that will keep us focused in the right direction.
If you find yourself in the role of team or project lead, sit down with your team as a group and with each member individually. Set some goals. Specify some milestones. Create a strict framework for them to work in. Encourage your team to prepare for inspiration. Then trust each member to apply his or her talents to do great work and produce the richest ideas. Follow up on any commitments they have made. Encourage a productive environment. Then do everything you can to make it possible for the team to succeed.
As a team member, often a team or project lead will work with you to set goals and milestones for you. In that case, take those goals serious and keep them in front of you every day. If you find yourself on a project without milestones worked out for you, you can set some for yourself. For example, suppose a manager comes to you gives you a nebulous goal of killing that problem. The manager tells you that this project does not have a deadline because it does not belong to any current products. When this happens, sit down and outline a path to go after the problem. Set some milestones for yourself with the purpose of showing your progress to your manager on some kind of periodic basis. Go over your plans with your manager so that he or she knows what you plan to do. This will help you keep your focus on producing something that will benefit the company and away from all the other interesting, but non-product related paths you may end up on without proper focus.
A strict framework will help you produce better results. It will help you come up with creative solutions to problems that will benefit the company and its products. The time spent setting up such a framework will more than pay for itself in the results you get.