Recently, I came across a concept presented by U.S. businessman and author Tim Ogilvie centered on "design thinking" -- how to turn abstract ideas into practical applications to maximize business growth. Since the core of portfolio management centers on identifying the right opportunities through strategic alignment, innovation and transformation, this concept seems to apply to our job as portfolio managers.
Of course, this is easier said than done, and although innovation is typically defined as a "breakthrough," it is actually accomplished through trial-and-error experimentation and old-fashioned hard work and perseverance. I think of innovation as "fail fast, fail often," but more accurately as "recover even quicker."
Mr. Ogilvie asks some key questions, to which I've added my own thoughts on how they apply to portfolio management in identifying the right innovative projects or programs in a systematic way:
Innovation Model Canvas
The Innovation Canvas and its eight key components is another way to find and sell innovation. You can easily put this on a one-page document or even the back of the napkin to concisely describe to executive sponsors why a project or program changes the way the organization does business. If you can only partially fill out the grid, then the project may require more development. You may even want to do two versions -- one for the current state and another for the future state:
What methods do you use to spot innovation in your projects and programs?
Innovation seems to be the new mantra for companies -- even though it has affected and shaped all aspects of our lives. And innovation covers not only the creation of a product, but also includes the process to produce it, how it's delivered to customers and even how value is generated, both for the company and the customer.
Some argue that processes and policies are barriers to innovation. These people confuse innovation with creativity and believe that trying to implement a well-thought-out, standardized process to manage innovation will constrain the results. But the opposite is true: A method for innovation sets the ground for achieving success in an efficient way. After all, creativity is only a part of a more complex innovation process, driven by project management -- and as such, you could say that project management is the vessel for innovation. That's because the best way to guarantee your organization's innovation efforts are well-managed, successful and deriving true value is through the use of program and project management tools. In addition, portfolio management can help define where to invest innovation dollars.
The problem is that those in the innovation field do not necessarily see project management as a useful tool, and those in project management do not feel that what they do is so beneficial to the innovation process. But let me give you seven processes to break down those perceptions for the sake of fostering innovation:
For organizations that compete on a global scale -- that is, most companies -- innovation can be their most important competitive advantage and the factor that guarantees long-term success. Innovation might sound like the flavor of the month, but in the future, success will be on the side of organizations that know how to do it and excel at it.
How does project management foster innovation at your organization?
A decade of planning came down to seven tense minutes aimed at answering the age-old question: Is there life on Mars?
With that intriguing set up, John Grotzinger, PhD, pulled in a captive audience at PMI® Global Congress 2013 -- North America as he outlined the 2012 project that sent a car-sized robot, called Curiosity, to Mars.
First, the team had to figure out how to land a spacecraft safely on the red planet. Mars doesn't have enough atmosphere to slow a craft for landing. So the project team devised what it dubbed Sky Crane. After a parachute slowed the spacecraft considerably, rockets prevented it from crashing, and then Sky Crane lowered Curiosity by a rope. It was an innovative "out-of-the-box idea," but U.S. government sponsors agreed to give it the go-ahead.
Not all projects are quite so high profile, of course, but Dr. Grotzinger offered lessons learned for practitioners of projects large and small:
Dr. Grotzinger closed with a case for innovative thinking and perseverance: "Great works and great folly may be indistinguishable at the outset," he said. The first time his team presented Sky Crane to NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), they said it was crazy -- but after tweaking the idea, they eventually accepted the pitch.
The final congress keynote speaker, author and consultant Gina Schreck, covered a different type of uncharted territory, at least for some: social media. She broke people into two groups: digital natives, who feel at ease with the technology, and digital immigrants, who don't. But with Twitter, Facebook and other social tools officially an ingrained part of the business world, immigrants need to become natives fast.
Ms. Schreck offered several tips to stand out on the social scene:
Ms. Schreck urged digital immigrants to embrace social media and innovation for survival. "If you don't make today's you obsolete, someone else will," she said.
What are your tips for fostering innovation? Share with us in the Comments box below.
Couldn't make it to New Orleans? Read more from congress.
In most cases, project managers are assigned to projects after the development of strategic initiatives and project charters. Seemingly, we have little to do with strategic planning and more to do with operational implementation. Although I agree that the latter is an important element of our profession, it is also a reactive one. Our value proposition is not fully used in the strategic planning needs of the organization.
I increasingly expect project management to go beyond being a reactive role and become proactive. And one method of doing so is becoming customer-service-oriented. Now, I am not referring to the traditional definition of "customer," but rather defining the organization itself as the project manager's single true customer.
Thus, becoming customer-service-oriented enables project managers to evolve into business leaders by:
The diagram below illustrates the concept of increasing the customer approach to project management. The project manager gains experiences and increased value by being customer-service-oriented. The repetitive experiences add up to knowledge that project managers need to, over time, drive customers to better outcomes and experiences.
The focus on customer service ensures project managers are aligned with the interests of a project and an organization's purpose.
According to the research of Dr. Jay Kandampully and Dr. David Solnet, a "service vision" improves an organization's overall performance. They illustrate two case studies, Dell and Southwest Airlines, of companies that used service orientation to create a competitive differentiator in their industries.
Project managers can do the same for the profession. Once they harness a customer-serviced-oriented mindset, they can put it into practice to proactively interpret organizations strategy, align leadership and rationalize organizations' critical projects.
The first steps toward redefining the profession as proactive instead of reactive are to offer services with this approach in mind, such as:
In my own experiences in leading the business transformations of multiple organizations, I have noted they tend to begin with an initial reactive approach of a cost reduction effort. They then mature to designing a service culture to offer global end-to-end processes, with service-level agreements that ultimately enable it to achieve its strategic growth plans.
What other approaches do project managers need to redefine their role from being reactive to proactive?
|To be great in project management, we can't only be familiar with our role as the project manager. We must be educated about other roles in the profession, as well as most, if not all, knowledge areas.|
But project managers often do the work they like and are familiar with, rather than work that needs to be done. Even if it's work that contributes to a project's overall success, I find that many of us focus on tasks that we're familiar with or that we already know we're good at.
Regardless of how great I am with some tasks, I know that I must fill in my own knowledge gaps with team members' expertise. Because in addition to being a good project manager, the real trick to getting things done is surrounding myself with a capable, well-trained project team.
Instead of trying to learn everything and being everything to everyone, I accept that I won't always know it all. I ask for input from the team on a regular basis. This makes the team feel needed and appreciated for their contributions and makes the project execution more efficient.
Do you tackle the tasks you're good at rather than those that need to get done? How do you balance your own expertise with that of your team members?