4 Innovation Lessons from Project Managers

Filed Under Innovation

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Arwen Heredia

by
December 18, 2013

The beauty of taking innovation from vague concept to fundamental business process is that, by its very nature, innovation is adaptable in ways that other strategies are not. For example: tell the sales team to plot out customer exchanges in detail and get them approved by a copyeditor before sending, and you’ll have a mutiny on your hands. Innovation, however, isn’t an organically segmented process, and in trying to make it one, we can learn something from other business practices.

Here are 4 lessons taken from professional project managers that we can use when implementing innovation.

1. Know the Scope

Asking why a company needs to mechanize innovation processes is significantly less important than figuring out what doing so entails for a specific organization. Identify overarching goals that, as always, are reflections of market needs and customer pain points; then, secure resources and agree on deliverables. What kind of innovation does the business require? What do timelines look like, and how do they affect other aspects of the company? What are the risks?

This kind of analysis is par for the course in project management, and can help teams understand what it is they’re really trying to do.

2. Clarify Success Criteria

Figuring out if a project has been executed successfully is dependent on knowing whether or not it’s met pre-determined requirements. The same can be said when managing innovation. Define what a thriving innovation program means for your organization, and identify the metrics you’ll use to measure achievements and drive growth. Is it a certain level of employee engagement, number of ideas generated, or fixing a specific problem?

Establishing these benchmarks and communicate them across the board. And, don’t forget to celebrate when you hit a milestone.

3. Speaking of Communication…

Communicate everything, often, and honestly. Be transparent, over-collaborate, and encourage questions from every participant in your innovation program (which, if you’re doing it right, should be everyone in your company). Ambivalence is the death of every project manager, and has the same power to stop an innovation management program dead in its tracks. Gambling your competitive advantage on assumptions and agendas is not only risky, it’s downright bad business — keep an open-door policy that extends from office to offline, and you’ll maximize your innovation potential.

4. Play to Strengths, Be Open to Change

Is there someone in your organization who has amazing content-creation skills, but isn’t great at conveying future goals? Or is there someone who acts as a major stakeholder in one aspect of the company, and is the go-to resource for that department? It might seem obvious that businesses should set expectations of employees based on what they’re good at (or what they were hired for), but all too often the rush to get things done means assigning tasks and initiatives to the first person available. That can work, but it’s riskier than necessary, so try to keep experience and strengths in mind when developing any innovation program.

That said, if an unexpected volunteer offers their perspective, listen to it. You wouldn’t want to miss out on some genius because you were dead-set on sticking to the rules. After all, that’s not what innovation is about.

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