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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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Feb 24, 2020 9:06 PM
Replying to Deepesh Rammoorthy
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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
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.
Feb 25, 2020 1:33 AM
Replying to Mahesha Pandit
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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.
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.
Feb 25, 2020 3:19 AM
Replying to Luis Branco
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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
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.
Feb 25, 2020 5:42 AM
Replying to Sergio Luis Conte
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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.
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.
Feb 25, 2020 11:56 AM
Replying to Uros Davidovic
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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?
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 11:56 AM
Replying to Uros Davidovic
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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?
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
I like the article on innovation. When I was at General Motors Diesel Division it was called an employee "suggestion" box. Any employee could make a suggestion as long as it wasn't in their field of responsibility. They could, but they would not be compensated if the suggestion was implemented with the associated cost savings. Employees were compensated 10% of what was saved, up to a maximum of CAN$200K (early 1990s). Several persons did receive the maximum compensation. PMs by "nature" (if they are any good) should promote and encourage a culture of continuous improvement, and as matter of fact, any project manager should be a aware of, and be a champion of Plan, Do, Check, Act (i.e. Deming Cycle). We should all know by now, that the status quo is a death certificate, and as such we should all strive to "innovate" in order to adapt to the constantly changing landscape we live and work in.
Feb 25, 2020 11:56 AM
Replying to Uros Davidovic
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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?
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.
I think every innovation should become a lessons learned and be handled by the manage knowledge process.
That's how real professions work (project management not yet) and humanity developed our capabilities.
Also, if you do not document and share your inventions, you never have an impact.

In order to be able to have innovations, there must be curiosity in the individual, which in turn is based on trust and needs free energy to think. Efficiency is an enemy of curiosity and therefor innovation.
Innovation can occur anywhere in a project, as there are often different processes, underlying risks, issues, constraints,cost drivers, etc. associated with those processes.

Blanchard and Fabrycky created a widely used diagram which overlays project cost, ability to make changes, total knowledge, and commitment. It shows how cost often gets locked in early and ability to change decreases greatly over time. That tells us that innovation MAY be more effective early on. Sometimes however there are late processes such as verification and validation that create extremely costly errors and may be a prime area for innovation.

Innovation should be considered strategically and not all projects or situations make good opportunities. Pick your battles. On some projects, focusing on stability may be important to the organization. On other projects, there is a high focus on innovation to break the cost curve. On yet others, we find that something went wrong and our existing processes won't address it, so we must innovate just to have any chance of success.
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