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Innovation – Execution disciplines

I am currently discussing the execution side of innovation, i.e. making ideas a reality.  Last time I covered some of the “soft” issues around implementation of ideas, changing the organisation to an “execution” culture and making time for implementation activities.  However, execution excellence is also dependent on the application of structured disciplines such as project management, quality management and prototyping.
Project management
I mentioned in a previous article, the approach of Paul Williams, who defines innovation in terms of the equation: Need + Ideas + Action = Innovation.  Ideas come from creative problem solving, problem identification, idea generation and creativity. Action comes from the process and activity to turn the best ideas into real outcomes. Sometimes the action results in prototypes, or beta software or test models. To get there most reliably, you need the type of rigor found in project management or new product (and service) development processes.
I first want to define the term “project” and “project management”. The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines a project as a temporary endeavour with a defined beginning and end (usually time-constrained, and often constrained by funding or deliverables), undertaken to meet unique goals and objectives, typically to bring about beneficial change or added value.
Can you see how this relates to the concepts of “newness” and “value” of the definition of innovation?  Project management, then, is the application of knowledge, skills and techniques to execute projects effectively and efficiently. The temporary nature of projects stands in contrast with business as usual (or operations), which are repetitive, permanent, or semi-permanent functional activities to produce products or services. In practice, the management of these two systems is often quite different, and as such requires the development of distinct technical skills and management strategies.
I am of the opinion that project management excellence provides the greatest innovation advantage. Project management deals with proper planning and governance and making things happen on time, on budget and within scope. Project management allows for risk and overlapping work streams to be overseen and controlled. Project management provides points of communication and quality control.
It has to be mentioned here that some authors differentiate between managing an ordinary business project and managing an innovation project. The differences being the following: Innovation projects tend to start with loosely defined, sometimes even ambiguous objectives that become clearer as the project proceeds; The processes used are more experimental and exploratory and seldom follow strict linear guidelines; Teams need to be more diverse and have a higher level of trust as they explore new territory where failure is a possibility; With failure as a built-in possibility, innovation teams are more actively involved with risk management and need to learn to fail fast and fail smart in order to move on to more attractive options.  I agree with this distinction, but my view is that organisations first have to become proficient in basic project management capabilities, and as this competency grows, these issues will surface and can then be addressed accordingly.
Next Time
I have now discussed the importance of project management with regards to execution of ideas.  However, the innovation process does not stop now that the new product or service has been delivered, hopefully on time and on budget.  The recipients or possible clients still have to embrace (or accept) the use of the new product or service.  Think of the “cross-over” of consumers from tapes to CD’s, from video machines to DVD players, from Walkmans to iPods. This is referred to as “Diffusion” or “Change Management” in innovation terminology and it is an extremely important part of the innovation process and therefore the topic for next time. I conclude with a quote by Paul Williams: “If you want innovation to happen in your organisation, you should match a dreamer’s ideas with the work plan of a project manager”.

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