What, in your experience, are the biggest barriers to driving an innovation from within?
This is the question Dr. Kaihan Krippendorff asked 150 “internal innovators”—employees leading innovation efforts within their organizations— over the course of three years while conducting research for his book, Driving Innovation from Within: A Guide for Internal Entrepreneurs. He took their responses and then interviewed innovation experts such as Bharat Anand (Harvard), Steve Blank (Silicon Valley), George Day (Wharton), John Hagel (Deloitte’s Center for the Edge and Singularity University), Gary Hamel (London Business School), Roger Martin (Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto), and Rita McGrath (Columbia) to capture their points of view.
His discovery: there are seven common barriers to innovation:
1. Intent: Many would-be internal innovators have simply given up trying; they have abandoned the intent to find and pursue new innovations.
2. Need: Most employees do not understand what kinds of innovations their organizations need (e.g., less than 55% of middle managers can name even two of their company’s top strategic priorities), so for ideas, they look in the wrong places and then propose ideas of little strategic value.
3. Options: Would-be internal innovators often grow frustrated because they become fixated too early on a few, or even worse just one, innovative idea, instead of continually generating a flow of new ideas and managing them like a portfolio of options.
4. Value blockers: It is commonly accepted that innovative ideas are inconsistent with, and therefore disruptive to, a company’s current business model. This established model creates erect value blockers that prevent an appropriate new business model from forming around the new idea.
5. Act: Established organizations tend to ask one to prove an idea will work before giving permission to take action. Yet most new ideas are better suited to the opposite approach: taking action in order to prove the idea. This puts would-be internal innovators in a catch-22: they cannot prove their idea will work so they cannot take action.
6. Team: Scaling new ideas often requires one to pull together a cross-silo team that runs at a rapid pace and is geared toward learning rather than delivering results. Corporations are geared for the opposite: they are siloed, act slowly, and value results (over learning).
7. Environment: Getting support for new ideas is politically complicated because the leadership behavior, types of talent, organizational structures, and cultural norms that help established organizations sustain their core operations also tend to hinder internal innovativeness. Would-be internal innovators struggle to find “islands of freedom” from which they can access the talent, structures, cultural norms, and leadership support that support attempts at innovation.
"Successful innovators understand that, while any one of the seven barriers can crop up at any time, there is usually a natural flow to the sequence of events, a sequence that outlines a pathway of innovation," says Krippendorff. “Their ability to recognize and control that sequence, to the greatest extent possible, plays a big role in their ultimate success. I also realized that if we turn those seven barriers around and look at the obverse, we see solutions.”
To that point, Krippendorff outlines seven steps to building an innovation team, each of which we have begun presenting in greater detail here on ProjectManagement.com:
1. Remove organizational friction: Walk through the five points of organization friction (resources, rewards/expectations, risk-taking, senior leadership support, and organizational freedom), and identify what you must do to address, or at least anticipate, each one.
2. Assemble a cross-functional team: Pull together a team of between five and ten people with the right mix of functional backgrounds, who are learners (high educational level) and unrestrained by accepted dogmas (low tenure). [see “Start Building an Innovation Team”]
3. Align around an important goal: Complete a V2MOM to align the team passionately behind a compelling shared vision, with an understanding of what specifically qualifies as winning and what obstacles you will face. [This acronym stands for: Vision, Value, Metrics, Obstacles and Measures—for a deeper dive, see “Build Team Commitment to a Goal”]
4. Use metrics and data to track the most important thing(s): Decide which leading metrics your team should focus on.
5. Build a scoreboard everyone can see: Decide on a display for your team and individual metrics.
6. Establish a rapid rhythm: Agree on the frequency with which you will review your team’s progress, and set an agenda for that meeting.
7. Generate positive velocity: Celebrate early wins; allow people to strive beyond what is easy by allowing for failure.
Whether you’re an executive, project manager or team member, these are great, actionable steps to support innovation efforts in your organization. And there’s also a great piece of advice to remember for each step of your innovation journey—from Gary Pisano, senior associate dean of faculty development at Harvard Business School and author of Creative Construction: The DNA of Sustained Innovation:
“The all-or-nothing approach to solving problems makes for great theater. It does not, however, bear much resemblance to how actual big problems are solved in society, business, or science. Big problems typically get tackled through a series of small solutions, each of which on its own may not seem particularly important, but that together can have a huge impact.
“We need to be thinking about a big set of ‘small’ solutions rather just a small set of ‘big’ solutions.”
Would we ask the New York Philharmonic to play Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony faster, or to play the Ninth Symphony and the Seventh Symphony at the same time — you know, to be more productive? No, of course not.
But how often are project teams expected to juggle multiple roles and assignments, and to do so in unrealistic timeframes?
Doing things faster — and often at the same time — has become a way of life for working professionals (not to mention moms, students, and anyone else trying to cope with modern life). Project managers and their team members are no exception.
There you are, responding to dozens of emails before 8 a.m., simultaneously fielding random calls, updating information for three projects, and on your way to a status meeting, which you will leave early to attend another meeting about something else, while having a conversation in the hallway … deep breath, you are truly a mover and shaker. Or maybe you’re just moving and shaking?
In the digital age, we're taking productivity and efficiency to new levels, but it’s not always a badge of honor. At the least, we need to consider what productivity really means. It seems "faster" or "leaner" are the favored definition these days. I'm afraid that outlook is leading to a lot of high-speed crashes.
We’re losing touch with equally important factors like craft, care, culture and quality — never mind the value of finding pride in our work.
Tim Jackson, a professor at the University of Surrey and author of Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet, says there are many work sectors where “chasing productivity doesn’t make sense at all,” and that “certain kinds of tasks rely inherently on the allocation of people’s time and attention.” Attention!
Jackson cites a number of examples: teachers teaching ever bigger classes at the expense of actually educating students ... nurses stretched to the breaking point who are losing empathy for their patients. To take his point further, he writes, “What would be gained by asking the New York Philharmonic to play Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony faster and faster each year?”
To that question, I’ll add: And what is to be gained by asking project teams to hurry up and deliver “results” that do not, in the end, deliver real value? "Fail fast" is one thing. Fail because you're rushing for no good reason is quite another.
More studies show plainly that this 24/7 full-throttle approach to work (and to life) is destructive and diminishing — to mental and physical well-being, and to our ability to be strategic and innovate.
In the sound and fury of this "faster, faster" management/economic model, we need to mix in a few “wait a minute” moments to question all this hyper-productivity. Because doing more with less, or doing it faster, is often just doing it worse. And who has time for that?
Flip a coin. Every other Fortune 500 companies from the year 2000 is now extinct. That's right — 52 percent of the Fortune 500 at the turn of the century is out of business today!
"It used to be enough to get customers to just buy things that you were selling. Now, you need customers who buy in to your company as a whole,” says Ryan Berman, author of Return On Courage. “Values-based, socially responsible, and purpose-driven companies are the ones that are winning today’s business game.”
In his book, Berman presents a business model for what he calls "courageous change." He wants organizations, teams and individuals to take thoughtful, calculated risks, whether it’s about developing a new product, implementing an innovative strategy, or simply voicing an opinion that upsets the status quo.
Berman’s five-step process, called P.R.I.C.E., is based on his experiences advising prominent brands such as Major League Baseball, PUMA and Subway, as well as interviews with leaders from Apple, Google, Dominos, Zappos and other successful companies. Berman discusses the reasoning behind each step and provides detailed worksheets to help readers implement the process. The process includes:
> Prioritize Through Values – Leaders must modernize, prioritize and then utilize their core values as critical decision-making filters for their organizations. Then they must strive to embody those select values into everything they do as a leader, team and company.
> Rally Believers – Leaders who cheerlead to their staff are not effective. Instead try Believership. The purpose of a Believership is to create Believers out of a company’s employees, prospects and customers. They may deliver bad news from time to time, but they always put the business first and prioritize what the company needs, even when it’s difficult.
> Identify Fears – This audit of fear is a more up-to-date, effective way to perform a SWOT analysis. Successful businesses proactively smoke out and address their biggest fears instead of suppressing them. By identifying fears — industry fears, product fears, service fears, and perception fears — companies begin the process of conquering their most complicated problems. They are able to drum up courageous solutions that shrink down these difficult, progress-halting hurdles.
> Commit To A Purpose – A powerful purpose is more than just words. Having an authentic cause drives conviction and keeps people motivated to come to work, even on tough days. True purpose becomes ingrained in the company culture; without it, turnover problems arise. Injecting a “rally-cry-in-your-why” also permeates outside the walls of the organization to transform one-time buyers into raving fans.
> Execute Your Action – Without taking action, companies are merely stuck in paralysis. When it’s time to innovate, courageous companies know how to “cover and move.” They “cover” their current products while they work to “move” toward their next revenue stream or innovation. And they get their most meaningful messages into the hands of advocates by utilizing the 4 P’s – Passion, Precision, Promoters, and a Point of View.
Berman makes a compelling case that courage does not need to be impulsive or excessively risky. He demonstrates, instead, that courage is a necessity in today’s constantly changing, highly competitive business environment. Leaders, project managers and teams must welcome change and make courage part of their daily activities.
That's a great idea! Um ... how are we going to do it? Innovative thinking is a wonderful asset to any organization, one that should be encouraged and supported. But it's more wonderful when the great ideas get translated into tangible value.
The fact is, most cool concepts quickly go cold for want of the ways and means to execute them. All those dirty details that turn vision into reality, strategy into results — that's where project leadership comes in. But unfortunately, that's also where it often exits.
Yes, most organizations realize the importance of strong project management practices. And many have invested in project management offices, tools and training. Still, many of these same organizations see project after project continue to veer off track. Sure, some goals are achieved, but others aren't. Savings are realized here, but how much is wasted there? What's the problem, who's to blame? After all, the strategy was sound, the idea was great. It had to be poor execution that caused the project to come up short!
But time and again, it is not poor execution that is the cause of project failure. It’s not misguided strategy, either. It is the separation of strategy from execution that remains the great operational divide in the business world. This missing link leaves us spinning our competitive wheels, while frustrating the very people — the project managers and teams members — who are expected to deliver the results.
And barring extreme good fortune or superhuman efforts, projects will continue to fail until the strategic planning and the project managing are meaningfully integrated.
It isn't easy. Project teams — agile, traditional or hybrid — still operate in a vacuum all too often. Individuals focus on their own challenges and deadlines, not the big-picture vision or bold idea. And why would they if they don't participate in the development — or at the very least, the validation and refinement — of those ideas? No, if they're only asked to get things done, then only "things" will get done.
Project managers can't single-handedly bridge the disconnect caused by hierarchal power-hoarding; it’s embedded in many corporate cultures. But you don't have to be helpless victims. There are ways to get on the executive radar, and they don't all require becoming a radical outcast. In preparing your next progress report, take a second look to see if you are solely addressing your issues (however valid they may be), but not the issues keeping your bosses awake at night. Talk up customer value and financial metrics, then reframe them in terms that relate to your team's day-to-day reality.
Sure, project management is about getting things done on time, on budget and to scope. But it should be about one more thing: context. You and your team live that context as much as any executive does — often more so.
Companies will not succeed without engaged, motivated project teams — and that starts with the project leader — the living, breathing link between innovation and value, strategy and execution.