Project-Focused Innovation


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Much of the time, we view innovation through a lens of total newness, but teachings from a variety of industries and professions might hold the key to defining successful strategies, and positively influence the way innovation is executed in the enterprise space.

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Project-Focused Innovation

  1. 1. MINDJET PERSPECTIVES Project-Focused Innovation: Strategies for Enterprise Execution
  2. 2. MINDJET PERSPECTIVES Intro Much of the time, we view innovation through a lens of total newness; when technologies advance and expand, giving way to undiscovered opportunities, we imagine revamping processes, a total shift in culture, and redefined approaches to help us seize chances. Teachings from a variety of industries and professions might hold the key to defining successful strategies, and positively influence the way innovation is executed in the enterprise space. JASCHA KAYKAS-WOLFF In our new eBook, Project-Focused Innovation: Strategies for Enterprise Execution, we’ve collected some of our most powerful ideas and content surrounding lessons taken from project management best practices and applied to enterprise innovation. It’s our goal to help companies articulate the most successful recipe for innovation that’s both repeatable and scalable, and most importantly, connects organizations with their true potential. Jascha Kaykas-Wolff Chief Marketing Officer, Mindjet 2
  3. 3. MINDJET PERSPECTIVES Change Starts Here Like any change worth making, creating a successful innovation program — one that’s both manageable and repeatable, and that proves its effectiveness regularly — starts with one small step. And when the consequence of change is a total shift in company culture and approach, that small step is usually shaped like a traditional project, complete with leaders and doers, timelines and budgets, and measurable metrics. Breaking down innovation efforts into smaller, cross-departmental projects can be the key to finally making your initiatives profitable, quantifiable, and capable of eclipsing your expectations. Step One: Research is Everything Doing your homework is the crux of being successful with basically anything, and goes hand-inhand with building well-thought-out strategies and business blueprints. Rather than making a futile attempt to frame innovation from the top-down, be sure to consider the vast variety of perspectives that exist within your organization. When you start to think about taking a holistic, hands-on approach to innovation, you’re going to have to dig around in the negative, and place focused efforts on exposing issues, tracking both their beginnings and their reach, and making hardline decisions about how quickly they can be eradicated (and, at what cost). To avoid any kind of sugarcoating: this process is not an easy one, and can be as simple as reallocating budgets, or as painful as realizing that not everyone in the organization is a necessity. You’ll likely discover that things have slipped; you’ll unearth hidden excesses and struggles. Remember how much you used to hate solving word problems and memorizing historical trivia? This is the kind of real-life stuff that was preparing you for. 3
  4. 4. MINDJET PERSPECTIVES Change Starts Here Diagramming Your Business What does innovation mean for your executives? What does it mean for your bottom line? How about your communications budget, marketing team, sales leads, and customer service technicians? Your Art Director? Your customers? Simply put, there is no single, all-encompassing definition of what innovation means across the scope of an entire business. And as a result, there’s also no umbrella approach to capitalizing on it. In the exact same way that a projected profit dictates where money and talent are spent, so must your innovation goals individually influence the way operations are run and decisions are made. No small undertaking, this, but for most organizations this isn’t about starting over from scratch — it’s about identifying and understanding what has so far worked and what hasn’t, pinpointing why, and changing tactics based on what you find. Taking a Hint from Project Management Project managers have a pretty solid, go-to set of rules. The newly forming army of innovation managers (i.e., everyone) will find that applying them to idea-focused projects not only makes sense, but also alleviates a lot of the pressure that usually accompanies change and new ventures. For example: Avoid the red tape. Bureaucracies have long been the culprits behind projects getting held up, and the same is true of managing innovation. While there’s no getting rid of all spreadsheets and lists, stick to what’s truly useful. Yes to connecting goals to costs, no to a complicated, hierarchal sign-off process. Don’t micromanage. The best innovation programs require leaders, not nitpickers. Besides, it completely goes against the nature of innovation to force your best thinkers into predetermined or restrictive processes. Always be willing to learn. Open-mindedness is critical to allowing innovation to flourish. That has to come from the inside out; the same goes for transparent communication. Bottom line: you need an innovation management program, and helping it to take root and take off means a lot of different things. From embracing disruption to understanding what, exactly, you’re trying to accomplish, starting small — and allowing your practices to spread evangelically through your business — is the key to launching and maintaining your competitive advantage. 4
  5. 5. MINDJET PERSPECTIVES 4 Innovation Lessons From Project Managers 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. 5
  6. 6. MINDJET PERSPECTIVES 4 Innovation Lessons From Project Managers 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. 6
  7. 7. MINDJET PERSPECTIVES Open Innovation and Project Recovery No matter how brilliant the idea and how cohesive the team, project failures happen. Actually, an astounding number of projects — 37% are at risk for failure, according to this study by PM Solutions. Sure, some failed projects start as half-baked ideas anyway, but there are piles of great ideas that fall on every company’s cutting room floor simply because the project was mismanaged in some way. To keep good projects (and cash) from slipping through the cracks, you might sometimes find yourself on the business end of a project recovery — but it’s not always an easy task to pick up the pieces, let alone figure out what went wrong. Good Projects Going Bad So a team has good idea. The project manager makes the business case, and the project is approved to go forward. As the months drag on, everything seems to be going well when project stutters to a halt, with termination looming in the near future. How could something that sounded so great go so badly? If a project is over budget, significantly behind schedule, out of scope, not meeting customer expectations, or (gasp) all of the above, the project is in trouble and in danger of failing. But why can’t you just cut some costs, work overtime, or revisit customer feedback? According to a study of over 160 organizations, the top 5 causes of failed projects are unclear requirements, misallocated resources, unrealistic schedules, insufficient planning, and misidentified risks. If a project manager fails to address any one of these problems before they sink the project, it’s pretty much doomed from the start. 7
  8. 8. MINDJET PERSPECTIVES Open Innovation and Project Recovery Recovering Failing Projects There are many way things can go south — you’ll notice because, when it does happen, heads tend to roll. After all, millions of dollars could be at stake. Resources could be wasted. But if this is the case most of the time, how come every project manager in the world isn’t perpetually unemployed, or at least stark raving mad? First, everyone knows that sometimes, things go wrong that can’t be controlled or stopped by anything outside of divine intervention. Second, it turns out project recoveries are actually pretty common, and in the end, only 12% of at-risk projects end up failing. But — and here’s the kicker — staging an intervention to save them can be uncomfortable at best, and at worst, combative, confrontational, or extremely frustrating. While the project manager may sell a project recovery to senior management, that project manager is often removed along with other resources (a.k.a., people). To get a fresh point of view on what went wrong, other folks may need to come in to execute the recovery. Consultants sometimes manage recoveries for a full-on outsider’s view, but what happens when the failure is more complex and you need more input to move forward? How Open Innovation Can Help We’ve talked about how open innovation — merging internal assets and resources with those outside of your organization — can help you build competitive advantage. But can you leverage it to solve problems with failing projects? Well, open innovation is not without its risks, but rescuing a potentially costly (or profitable) project is just the time to take the chance. If you already have an established innovation hub, it’s a lot easier to do. And it’s a great reason to start establishing open innovation connections now. Innovation hubs are made up of subjectmatter experts assembled in standing teams, which allow you to quickly gather ideas that can help recover a troubled project. In this case, sharing technical and procedural innovations with other organizations could benefit everyone involved. Outsiders can more easily point out where your team went wrong, and at the same time, potentially learn from the errors of your ways. When there’s a mutual benefit involved, everyone is more willing to share. In the end, involving a more diverse set of people and assets than you’re able to find within your own organization will give you access to new ideas and direction. That way, you can steer your project in the right direction – before it fails. 8
  9. 9. MINDJET PERSPECTIVES Want to know more? At Mindjet, we understand the value of applying long-upheld practices and strategies into initiatives that are applicable to growth, scalability, market relevance, and competitive advantage. Ideation is just the beginning; social collaboration is the way to successfully leverage opportunities throughout your organization and reach your innovation goals. Visit our shop to check out our innovation management and collaboration software. Or, to see what else we have to say, check out Conspire, Mindjet’s company blog. 9
  11. 11. Work Inspired Work Inspired © 2012-2013. Mindjet Inc. All rights reserved. Mindjet, the Mindjet logo, MindManager, Mindjet Connect are trademarks of Mindjet, registered in the U.S. and other countries.