By Shaker, Kareem
Proquest LLC

Turn creative sparks into innovative products by sharpening your project management skills.

Creativity is often mistaken for innovation. For me, creativity is the discovery of a unique idea. Innovation is the process of bringing those ideas to life. It is where all the effort takes place. As U.S. inventor Thomas Edison said, “Genius is 1 percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration.”

For an organization, disruptive innovation might mean anything from a new service, process or product to a trailblazing revamp of a classic business model. No matter the scale, project practitioners are the engines of innovation. For most organizations, ideation is the easy part. The biggest challenge often lies in turning concepts into final outcomes.

Managing a breakthrough or innovative project requires blending new ways of thinking with familiar processes. Here are six ways organizations and their project managers can push the envelope-successfully.

1. Nurture a Culture of Innovation: Allot 10 to 20 percent of project team members’ time to pursuing their own ideas. Many innovative companies, including Google, 3M and FedEx, adopt this innovation rule. These personal mini-projects may allow a team member to creatively solve problems related to the team project. But even if that time doesn’t link back to the larger project, it can boost work satisfaction.

2. Start Small: Breakthroughs are best delivered in an incremental pattern. You have to build a fine-grained work breakdown structure and start with the smallest logical work package. It’s easier to harness incremental lessons with an early proof of concept, while the big-bang approach on a breakthrough project may actually put the project’s success in jeopardy.

3. Be Flexible: The common denominator of all innovation projects is constant change. Just as the organization is trying to change the competitive market with a breakthrough product or change the organization with a trailblazing system, so too must the project team be flexible as the project unfolds. An adequate contingency reserve can help mitigate changes related to the triple constraint. Detailed early research, such as a PESTEL (political, economic, social, technological, environmental and legal) analysis, can help identify potential hurdles. Yet being resilient in the face of unforeseen challenges and abrupt changes is of great value throughout the project’s schedule.

4. Manage Risk: The biggest risk associated with breakthrough projects is failing to identify the right risks. In general, the more innovative the project is, the more risky it will be. So when creating your risk register and risk assessment, don’t stop at the surface: You need to include uncommon risk categories and dig deep to identify risks within each. Unceasing risk management is your antidote to constant project changes.

5. Simplify Where Possible: Projects that deliver innovative products can be incredibly complex. That complexity includes communicating with large teams who may be working together in new ways. Simplify-and strengthen-how the team interacts by establishing a solid communication plan early on. Consider all communication channels and solicit feedback from team members early and often.

6. Be Agile: Given its iterative nature, the agile approach to project management may be best for innovative projects with a high degree of uncertainty or a reliance on progressive elaboration. Agile also involves swift decision-making and a strong resilience to shifting requirements-both strengths for managing projects on the cutting edge, pm


Kareem Shaker, PMI-RMP, PMP, is a senior manager, project and enterprise risk at Dubai World, Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

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