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Topics: Innovation, Organizational Culture, Using PMI Standards
What role does innovation play in project management practices? Is it possible to innovate within a project, or a framework, and where is the line between the need to meet metrics and improve future
In most projects, there are opportunities to innovate. Is there a right time to introduce them, or are they acceptable throughout? Is not meeting metrics of the current project worth the investment for reduction of cost or improvement of quality in future projects? What methodologies outside of the PMI framework exist to facilitate this?
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Uros -

Innovations applies to both the product/service/result we are producing as well as the process we are using to produce that product/service/result.

While PMs can certainly encourage their teams to be innovative and creative, this also requires organizational support. Lacking that, the PM should at least try to create a psychologically safe environment within the team to enable an innovation oasis".

Innovation is less about a method or framework and more about creating the right culture for it to develop.

Kiron
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1 reply by Uros Davidovic
Feb 25, 2020 11:56 AM
Uros Davidovic
...
Kiron,

thank you for your thoughtful answer. While I completely agree on the tenants of fostering the right culture, my question was also tactical in nature. Let us say you have the following situation; a project can be on time and budget, but the frame of reference lends itself perfectly to an innovative solution, which will push it past the time and budget, but save resources on future projects, or produce a better product. For our conversations sake, let's say that the circumstances that fostered this innovation are not easy to replicate outside of the scope of the project, as they may have to do with, say, product improvements quantifiable through extensive testing only. Do you take the opportunity or not?
I worry about the application of the word "innovate" and the concept of 'innovation'. It means more than doing something different. Its doing something different in the hope of improvement. If an 'innovative idea' does not show promise of better results either in the process or the final deliverable, take a pass. If you are implementing something that is already being done by others, this is not innovation but adoption. Unless the innovation is being sourced from another industry, even then you have to question the proper application of the term 'innovation'.
That being said, innovation happens when someone comes up with a better way of doing something and it can be implemented with a positive outcome. "Better" being defined as reduced effort and/or improved outcome.
Note everyone recognizes this concept so when someone, company or team starts throwing the word 'innovation' around ask what is meant. Is their interest in something new for the sake of new, or a search for a more effective way of achieving the objective. Here are the questions leading to innovation
1) what is it we need to do better?
2) what is it we are doing now?
3) what have we tried in the past?
4) what are others within the industry doing?
5) what are those outside the industry doing?
6) what is current research focusing on?
7) do we have the resources to pursue this?
8) do we expect a return on investment?
9) is this a corporate priority or a "wish"?
10) do we see innovation as an evolution or a eureka moment?

Delivering the project is the priority. If you can be more effective by applying new ideas then you are obligated to proceed accordingly. If there is a risk associated with the new ideas these have to be identified and analyzed and mitigated. If the risk is greater than the tolerance level, take a pass.
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1 reply by Uros Davidovic
Feb 25, 2020 11:58 AM
Uros Davidovic
...
Peter,

thank you for your reply. I love the fact you quantified a lot of manageable work units, to lay out the path on how to accomplish what you want. Great use of PMI standards in a practical setting! Additionally, I echo your view of "innovation"; as a flavor-of-the-day buzzword in the business world, it has taken on many meanings, and many incarnations, but defining it, whatever it may mean for your organization or project, is essential. Good points.
Incremental "Innovations" e.g a More efficient way to accomplish tasks in a project are welcome at any time.
However, innovation can have much bigger connotations , for example trying to accomplish an MVP , ability to throw the prototype if it does not meet customer expectations . That is entirely possible if the cadence is set from the beginning , that this will be a project that has little or limited set of requirements upfront and the product is likely to evolve as team explores further. It most definitely requires management and organisational support and a culture of Innovation .
If there is a specific department in your company that does Innovation or looks at new business opportunities, Lean startup and Design thinking sort of work , then they are best placed to help such projects progress.
There is a concept of inspect and adapt . Run your Agile sprints for three months , then inspect your progress...if the progress is not as expected , then pivot in a different direction . As you can appreciate, it requires serious backing from the management because it all costs time, money and people
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1 reply by Uros Davidovic
Feb 25, 2020 11:59 AM
Uros Davidovic
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Hi Deepesh,

your comments about leadership "buy-in" are on the spot and accurate; without the commitment to invest in innovation, it cannot flourish. Thank you for replying.
In my humble opinion, innovation is the responsibility of a project team. Everyone – the client, the sponsor, the performing organization, the PM, stakeholders, project team – benefits from it. Therefore, I believe that innovation (or attempt to seek better way of doing things) must be made a default goal of a project and a percentage of project effort should be dedicated towards the same.

We need a PMBOK area for innovation management. Just like the way we identify and manage risks, we need to identify novelty and add to the organization’s assets.

A simple metric such as “number of ideas generated” or “number of alternate ideas produced” could be useful to start with.
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1 reply by Uros Davidovic
Feb 25, 2020 12:01 PM
Uros Davidovic
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Mahesha,

that is a great way to think about it, and I think I like your approach. Instead of using management reserves, let's budget initially for being able to mature the process, or improve the product, or service, and innovation will come at no additional, unscheduled cost. It is a great way to provide added value to stakeholders, and the project team has to be at the forefront of the effort, completely agree. Great thoughts.
Dear Uros
Interesting your question
Thanks for sharing

Innovation in terms of project results (products, services) and project management processes should be the paradigm for all people and organizations

That said, there are companies and / or organizations (project managers included) where it is not possible to innovate and others where there is an environment in which it is possible to innovate
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1 reply by Uros Davidovic
Feb 25, 2020 12:03 PM
Uros Davidovic
...
Luis,

firsthand, I echo your thoughts. In my experience, the verbal commitment to innovation, which most organizations are starting to adopt, has to come with a financial and cultural commitment as well. Without it, it is not significant, and even disingenuous. As a project manager, internal or external, it is good to understand the difference in organizations you laid out so well, prior to undertaking the project.
I belong to the Transformation and Innovation group inside the EPMO. I am program manager there. The problem, and the problem I faced because I was in charge to implement this type of things in lot of companies but mainly in my actual ones, is helping people and mainly the whole organzation what "innovation" means. When you get that then you need to help organization to understand that a envionment to facilitate innovation is needed. For example people need free time between other things. But the key is helping organization to understand that people will not innovate after taking the magic pill. With all that on hand. innovation must be made for all people, not for a specific role. There is no problem with having metrics of governance process in place. We have that. Innovation is a way of thinking and behave. Is to have in mind that we need to work smarter instead of harder because in this way the individual and the group will doing well.
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1 reply by Uros Davidovic
Feb 25, 2020 12:07 PM
Uros Davidovic
...
Sergio Luis,

very interesting thoughts. You bring up the Law of Diminishing Returns, which is one of those things that we, as PMs, understand, but management and leadership, especially if there is a culture of "overworking", may not. Understanding the political nature of the organization, and its limitations, as Luis mentioned, is really key to understanding how you can define innovation, and what you can deliver. My experience is that this is a process that truly works in two manners: top down, where the leadership understands the organizational and bottom-line benefits, and commits the needed resources, and bottom-up approach, where small tactical and team changes may reverberate through the organization, as the other parts of it see improved performance and results.
To add to my earlier response, the word "innovation" itself has gained some unwanted baggage over time.

This is a link to an article from HBR over the past week which highlights this challenge in further detail: https://hbr.org/2020/02/stop-calling-it-innovation

Kiron
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1 reply by Uros Davidovic
Feb 26, 2020 8:12 AM
Uros Davidovic
...
Kiron,

great article, and, as someone who has worked in innovation, the issue looms very real. The fact is that humans are not amiable to change; to change, ultimately means you are telling someone what they are doing currently is not good, or doesn't work, or could work better. To combat this, I found two strategies useful: bring the people that will be effectively affected by the change on board early, and often. This way, as active participants, they will "buy-in" earlier and have a more invested approach to adopting "their" change. Secondly, focus on the positive side of the change; instead of laying out change processes and tactical items, talk about how their job will improve with the change, and focus on the positive aspects of innovation. Thanks for sharing.
Feb 24, 2020 4:25 PM
Replying to Kiron Bondale
...
Uros -

Innovations applies to both the product/service/result we are producing as well as the process we are using to produce that product/service/result.

While PMs can certainly encourage their teams to be innovative and creative, this also requires organizational support. Lacking that, the PM should at least try to create a psychologically safe environment within the team to enable an innovation oasis".

Innovation is less about a method or framework and more about creating the right culture for it to develop.

Kiron
Kiron,

thank you for your thoughtful answer. While I completely agree on the tenants of fostering the right culture, my question was also tactical in nature. Let us say you have the following situation; a project can be on time and budget, but the frame of reference lends itself perfectly to an innovative solution, which will push it past the time and budget, but save resources on future projects, or produce a better product. For our conversations sake, let's say that the circumstances that fostered this innovation are not easy to replicate outside of the scope of the project, as they may have to do with, say, product improvements quantifiable through extensive testing only. Do you take the opportunity or not?
...
3 replies by Kiron Bondale, Peter Rapin, and Thomas Walenta
Feb 25, 2020 12:49 PM
Peter Rapin
...
Your scenario highlights a concern with 'innovation' for future projects. When do you stop innovating and start delivering? Things change rapidly and radically in the technology industry and if you keep waiting for the next advancement you may lose the current opportunity. One has to differentiate between a research project versus a solution to a current need type of project. Additionally, is it fair to have a current project pay for a possible enhancement to
a future initiative? If the current project and anticipated future projects share the same stakeholders (including funding) I can see the attraction but (a big but) are the cost to the current project recovered on the next? The project manager has to keep his eyes on the objective- deliver the project as effectively as possible.
Feb 25, 2020 3:24 PM
Kiron Bondale
...
It really depends on how critical the current constraints (schedule/cost/quality) are. If you are on a project with a regulatory deadline, there may be no appetite to risk escalating penalties on a day-over-day basis in the hopes of benefiting in the long run. As good PMs, we should certainly make the case for strategic thinking, but we may not always have sufficient influence to convince the powers-that-be to take a short term hit for a long term gain.

Kiron
Feb 25, 2020 4:25 PM
Thomas Walenta
...
Uros, stories are the best to understand, thanks for amending your post with that scenario. Here is my take.

For me the answer to that is you are describing a positive risk, an opportunity. This opportunity would be outside your current scope, or you would not ask how to handle it. You as project manager have 5 options of assigning a (project) strategy to that risk. You may accept it and do nothing (what most project managers regularly do, as part of their normally risk and change averse attitude), you may delegate it to your sponsor (but they might ask you why), you may find a partner to share the opportunity with, or you enhance or exploit the opportunity to make it a reality and gain more value.

If you were not a project manager but a program manager the latter (enhance) is full in your authority, as a project manager you should rise a change request to your CCB. As a program manager, your priority is to enhance benefits, not to keep the scope controlled.
Feb 24, 2020 5:26 PM
Replying to Peter Rapin
...
I worry about the application of the word "innovate" and the concept of 'innovation'. It means more than doing something different. Its doing something different in the hope of improvement. If an 'innovative idea' does not show promise of better results either in the process or the final deliverable, take a pass. If you are implementing something that is already being done by others, this is not innovation but adoption. Unless the innovation is being sourced from another industry, even then you have to question the proper application of the term 'innovation'.
That being said, innovation happens when someone comes up with a better way of doing something and it can be implemented with a positive outcome. "Better" being defined as reduced effort and/or improved outcome.
Note everyone recognizes this concept so when someone, company or team starts throwing the word 'innovation' around ask what is meant. Is their interest in something new for the sake of new, or a search for a more effective way of achieving the objective. Here are the questions leading to innovation
1) what is it we need to do better?
2) what is it we are doing now?
3) what have we tried in the past?
4) what are others within the industry doing?
5) what are those outside the industry doing?
6) what is current research focusing on?
7) do we have the resources to pursue this?
8) do we expect a return on investment?
9) is this a corporate priority or a "wish"?
10) do we see innovation as an evolution or a eureka moment?

Delivering the project is the priority. If you can be more effective by applying new ideas then you are obligated to proceed accordingly. If there is a risk associated with the new ideas these have to be identified and analyzed and mitigated. If the risk is greater than the tolerance level, take a pass.
Peter,

thank you for your reply. I love the fact you quantified a lot of manageable work units, to lay out the path on how to accomplish what you want. Great use of PMI standards in a practical setting! Additionally, I echo your view of "innovation"; as a flavor-of-the-day buzzword in the business world, it has taken on many meanings, and many incarnations, but defining it, whatever it may mean for your organization or project, is essential. Good points.
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