- What IS? This covers more than the current state -- it assesses what's happening with competitors, the industry, adjacent industries and opportunities. What ideas exist? What new products or markets can be created?
- What IF? What are key possibilities? If something could change, what would that be? Through deep consumer insight, voice of the customer and a systematic process, options can be identified, assessed and prioritized. Careful oversight is needed at this stage, since viable options don't happen by accident.
- What WOWS? What is fundamentally different than what's been done before? How is it better? Sometimes, an innovation is not necessarily something new, but something that brings an idea together perfectly. For example, the iPhone was not the first smartphone, but many have adopted it as the best. Innovation can be combining or recombining capabilities at a different level than before, not necessarily introducing new capabilities.
- What WORKS? Ideas may look good on paper or in a presentation but may work differently when translated into a market test or actual use. Through small experiments and investments, the "fail fast, fail often" mantra should prove what's viable. Failing doesn't mean the end. Experiments that fail are sometimes the precursors to a breakthrough, if learnings are applied.
More posts in Innovation
- Innovation happens in a company or a project team when leadership sets up a culture and environment for it. Senior management should first define why innovation is important, how success is going to be measured and how it will be rewarded.
- Define a standardized innovation project life cycle. This definition should include a description of the interim products that are expected at the end of each of the major phases.
- Innovation is a social process: It's about the people in the process. Creativity and new ideas always come from different sources. Therefore, flexibility, constant team interactions and empowerment of team members should be embedded in the process.
- Innovation is all about failure. Enough room to fail fosters creativity and eliminates barriers that could seriously limit our ability to change. But knowing when to stop a failed project is also important. Leave bad ideas quickly.
- Always pilot-test what you are proposing before taking it to a full scale. Gain enough data to either modify what was defined initially or to definitely cancel it, if the product or service developed is not successful.
- Innovation doesn't have to mean new product development. Manufacturing processes, delivery, distribution, customer experience and financing are all fertile grounds for innovation.
- Project management itself needs to be innovative. Adapt the tools and techniques to the type of projects that you have. If you think, for example, that agile or lean tools can be beneficial, test them and use them.
- Bold questions lead to grand challenges. Create a grand vision that will both inspire innovation and motivate the team to the finish line. For Dr. Grotzinger's team, it was the quest for extraterrestrial life forms that led to Sky Crane.
- Fly as you test, test as you fly. The team didn't fly anything it hadn't tested.
- If at first you fail, don't try again. Instead, uncover the root cause of failure and fix it. The "darkest day of the mission," he said, occurred when the US$2.5 billion project was delayed by two years so the team could fine-tune the first-of-its-kind landing technology.
- Early returns keep sponsors happy. Not far into Curiosity's exploration, it found evidence that water flowed across Mars almost 4 billion years ago -- an early indication of the project's breakthroughs to come.
- Keep relevant. Track all the latest tools in the digital world and follow best practices. Twitter, for example, can be frivolous or vital: "Who you are connected with determines whether it's useful." She suggested finding good project management content through #PMI.
- Stay thirsty for learning. Try learning about social from digital natives as you share your own experiences and knowledge.
- Build your network -- before you need it. Don't wait until you're job hunting to put relevant content on your LinkedIn profile, delete outdated skills and endorse people.
- Reinforcing the new value proposition based on broad business acumen
- Expanding services with the goal of developing key approaches
- Aligning the customer to identify true organizational needs
- Advisory: Become empowered by understanding the business and its needs to advise customers in aligning projects to meet objectives.
- Facilitation: Engage senior executives in highly productive conversations.
- Effective presentation: Establish qualitative and quantitative methods to deliver highly defined business cases.
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?
Early academic institutions operated along similar lines. It's only in the last century that learning has moved to a "book-and-exam" model. But many researchers have questioned the effectiveness of this method of learning for skills that involve contextual variability. Instead, they advocate developing communities of practice, mentoring and other options to replicate the master and apprentice approach.
The problem with these approaches is timing: Can the master be available when needed by the apprentice? Most of the time, it seems the answer is no!
Project management involves a very high level of contextual variability, particularly in the area of interpersonal relationships, motivation and leadership -- the so-called soft skills. Learning these skills in the "school of hard knocks" is not fun and has significant costs for the inexperienced project manager and organizations that rely on them.
Advances in modern technology may offer a solution. Intelligent agents can already deliver context-sensitive information based on what an application has learned about you.
Looking forward a year or two, it's not difficult to envisage applications on your iPad or smartphone that can understand the knowledge you're likely to need for each task or meeting. It could make the one or two relevant items in the organization's knowledge management system available to you as needed -- plus, of course, the relevant project information. If the context is not clear, advanced links could even find a "knowledge master" who's immediately available for additional advice.
The smart systems then learn from your interaction and update the corporate knowledge banks. Add the ability for you and your colleagues to then input lessons learned and you have the basis for a true learning organization.
Many of the elements are already in place. The question is, are we, as a profession ready to make effective use of the potential?
The expo is not only a triumph for project managers from the Shanghai region and the Chinese construction industry, but also from all of the nations that built and fitted out their pavilions. The design, construction and management of the Shanghai 2010 World Expo projects went beyond the traditional iron triangle of "time, cost and quality" to include sustainability and safety.
The projects represented a true integration of Western and Eastern cultures, demonstrating project management as a truly global profession crossing all sectors. There are more than 200 countries and international organizations represented, ranging from Tuvalu to the United States; the World Bank to the International Council of Museums, as well as numerous corporations and Chinese provinces.
In one long day, I only managed to see a small section of the total experience, but could start to appreciate the overarching purpose of this great festival.
The remarkable British Pavilion's "dandelion" is made up of 60,686 acrylic rods, each 7.5 meters (25 feet) long, to allow light into the inside of a 20-meter (66-foot) cube. Embedded in the end of each rod are one to 10 seeds representing Chinese plant species growing in the United Kingdom. Project managed by Mace Construction Group, the remarkable "seed cathedral," is already winning awards.
In the two months since opening, the Expo has hosted more than 25 million visitors. And organizers expect 70 million will get a glimpse of the urban vision before the Expo closes in October.
My visit was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to see project management on such on a grand and global scale. If you can't make the trip personally, you can be a virtual tourist online at http://en.expo.cn/. It's well-worth the visit.
What can a project manager do when he or she needs to generate new problem-solving--or any really--ideas? Try SCAMPER, which Mr. Michalko calls "a checklist of idea-spurring questions":
• Substitute some part, activity, or operation.
• Combine the product/process/service with something else.
• Adapt something to it.
• Modify or Magnify it.
• Put in to some other use.
• Eliminate something.
• Reverse or Rearrange it.
Consider a meeting I had with customers who posed the challenge: "How can we improve the existing document release process?" First, we went through and identified all of the sub-processes (request change, review request, create/modify document, verify/validate document, upload document to asset library and publish document.)
Using the "create/modify document" sub-process as an example, let's use SCAMPER to ask the following:
• What activities can we substitute within the existing sub-process?
• How can we combine "create/modify document" with some other sub-process to improve efficiency and accuracy?
• What can we adapt or reuse from another "create/modify document" sub-process used by other business units?
• How can we modify the way "create/modify document" sub-process is conducted?
• What can we magnify or add to the "create/modify document" sub-process?
• How can we put "create/modify document" process to other uses?
• What can we eliminate from the way we "create/modify document?"
• What is the reverse of "create/modify document" sub-process?
With more ideas generated, a project manager has more options to explore. That is why I am always looking for tools. How do you generate your ideas?
I came across this great whitepaper by @task called Driving High-Performance Projects Despite Shrinking Budgets: Three Keys to Increasing Productivity and Reducing Costs Across the Enterprise. It seems to sum things up pretty well:
"There are many corporations getting ready for hibernation. They've already resigned themselves to crawl into a cave and wait things out. Organizations may need to reevaluate the way they do business in today's market, but there's no need to hide and let potential profits evaporate like the snow in spring. ... Project managers challenged by shrinking budgets can still drive high-performance projects."
The whitepaper gives three keys for increasing productivity and reducing costs across the organization:
1. Make sure your organization has access to accurate information.
2. Focus on bottom-line activities.
3. Make the organization's vision accessible to everyone.
What do you think? Is your organization hibernating or rising to the challenge?