Innovation is a difficult topic to grasp. Everyone wants to be innovative. Everyone kinda sorta knows what the term “innovation” means. Most project management professionals have no idea how to systematically foster innovation or make it an integral part of the DNA of their projects.
Let’s start with the fundamentals.
Setting The Scene
Innovation refers to the successful conversion of concepts and knowledge into new products, services, or processes that delivers new value to society or the marketplace.
Innovation may arise when a project manager is creatively guiding the team through the solution process or when they are mitigating risks or removing constraints.
To get to an innovative solution, a project manager must embed creativity as a natural part of user and team interaction and or find creative pathways around obstacles and roadblocks.
When faced with a risk that must be avoided or mitigated, a project manager should facilitate the generation of ideas that add value; in order to determine the appropriate risk response strategy, and its associated contingency plan.
Though some project managers instinctively understand and incorporate innovation thinking into their execution, others need a framework to help maximize the likelihood of delivering an innovative solution.
The common thread that runs through all the innovative initiatives, which I have been a part of, are the following four pillars:
- Purpose – the problem that you are solving and insight into who you are solving this problem for.
- Expertise – the knowledge of the domain and the skills needed to successfully execute.
- Environment – the present workflow and future ecosystem conditions that need to be in place.
- Process – the implementation steps needed for long-term adoption.
In this stage, your only concern is with working with your users to get a very clear picture of the problem and its root cause. You are also documenting a profile of the intended users, which includes their current way of doing things and your theory of change. Your goal is to know the dimensions of the problem space so well that you live and breathe the issue.
Once you have a firm grasp of the problem, determine the skills that are needed to create a solution. Be sure to include team members that are new to the domain that will need to learn the space and thus will not be shackled by established and long-held assumptions and norms in the space.
When you are co-creating possible solutions with your users, encourage everyone to take the time and space to share creative possibilities. The final step in this phase is to have your team, which includes your users, prioritize possible solutions for implementation.
With your prioritized solution pathways, perform a sanity check to ensure that each of them match the workflow of your users and that there is a natural insertion point. You should also examine the business, legal and societal ecosystem that the solution will exist in. This helps you to determine if there is policy work to be done, if there are business model or legal constraints to be factored in, and if there are any obvious unintended consequences that you should be sensitive to.
It is implementation time. Develop features in short time periods. Present “the thing” to your users regularly, learn from their feedback, and incorporate their input to improve the solution.
As a project manager, who have to actively solicit ideas that add value throughout the project lifecycle in order to ensure that the desired innovative result is achieved.
Wherever possible, you should utilize tools that encourage your team to be creative and view all aspects of the solution space from multiple perspectives.
Not every project will be innovative.
However, if you follow the advice here then your chances of delivering an innovative project will increase.