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Delivering innovative projects and ventures

Traditional project management

Project management and delivery has changed a lot in recent years and standardised approaches that require adherence to rigid standards, production of reams documentation and requiring strict controls are no longer delivering value in the most effective and efficient manner. Detailed business cases that attempt to predict all possible outcomes, project plans that attempt to estimate every detail and matrix management approaches with complex reporting structures are not fit for purpose in an environment that is attempting to deliver innovative projects, solutions and products.

Agility and flexibility

More forward thinking environments are replacing these ‘command and control’ approaches to project management with more flexible approaches that allow more open communication, collaboration, flexible planning and early stage testing. Even PRINCE2, once considered by some to be a bureaucratic project management methodology, now embraces flexibility and tailoring in the 2017 version. ‘PRINCE2 Agile‘ has also been released which merges the robust control mechanisms of PRINCE2 with the flexible delivery principles of Agile. PRINCE2 Agile attempts to deliver the best of both worlds and, while the marriage is not without it’s occasional discord, it does provide innovators and entrepreneurs with a set of principles and processes that can be adapted to suit a variety of projects and new startups.

Old thinking reinvented

Although Agile approaches such as Kanban, Scrum and Lean Strartup have grown in popularity in recent years the underlying concept of flexibility and adaptability is not new. Indeed, I am reminded of my University days in the 1990’s when the likes of Porter (Deliberate strategy) and Mintzberg (Emergent strategy) provided differing views of strategy and planning (See Forbes article). Deliberate strategy still has it’s place however and should not be discounted. Projects that are predictable and require regulatory oversight still require stronger controls. Agile ways of working in these environments would likely introduce excessive risk which would not be acceptable. However, for innovative projects, new startups, entrepreneurs and speculative undertakings a more flexible and accelerated approach is needed.

The core principles of delivering innovative projects

Delivering good ideas is as much of an art as it is a discipline. The environment that provides the best chance of success for innovation will include, but is not restricted to, the following:

Flexibility – Emergent thinking is at the heart of most Agile approaches and change is positively embraced as new information becomes available. For example, work might start on a new service but, during the project, a competitor might release a superior service. This information must be acknowledged and actions taken to alter the direction of the project or cancel it entirely. In PRINCE2 this falls under the principle of continued business justification.

Collaboration – Agile approaches such as Scrum rely on customers, developers and other team members working together in close cooperation to deliver value. Although Agile promotes the use of team rooms and approaches such as progress whiteboards and stand up meetings, the reality for many large organisations is that their teams are global. Innovation also relies on the ‘wisdom of crowds’ to build and collaborate on ideas. These crowds could be based anywhere in the world so, practically, they will have to use remote approaches to build rapport and collaborate. Approaches such as using idea management platforms, video conferencing, cultural awareness and flexible hours (so that live meetings can occur across time zones) will all help to build collaborative teams.

Empowerment – The ‘command and control’ approach to project management might be suitable for highly regulated and predictable environments but if people are expected to innovate, iterate and collaborate they need to be trusted and empowered to make decisions and get on with the job. Management by exception will allow teams to be empowered within certain tolerances but should also provide enough control to ensure projects do not go completely ‘off-piste’.

Value – A focus on providing value to the customer at the earliest possible opportunity is common to Agile approaches and using concepts such as delivering Minimal Viable Products (MVP) in incremental stages allows the customer to use and try out the product. This usage then provides feedback that will ensure that the final product is fit for purpose and not over-engineered.

Learning – A Lean / Kaizen approach that continually tailors and adapts to changing information and focuses on customer value will help to increase the velocity of delivery and reduce wasted time and effort. Teams should aim continually tune and improve their ways of working during the project rather than taking a more reflective approach such as with the traditional lessons learned and project review approaches.

Applying these approaches is not black and white. Every scenario and environment will need to tailor an approach that fits the circumstances. There are many factors to consider such as corporate culture, company and project size and geography, project type, risk appetite and approach, existing processes and how easily innovative approaches can be integrated, or whether a break out team is required. The manuals and the approaches are easily attainable, applying them is, however, more of an art.

Where to apply innovative project delivery

Agile approaches such as Scrum and Kanban are traditionally used in software development teams to improve the delivery of software and ensure the users are getting what they want. However, these approaches are equally viable for any innovative project with some adaptation. Lean Startup, an approach adapted for new startup businesses by Eric Ries, is just such an approach, that takes Lean and Agile principles and applies them to product development for startup businesses. The PRINCE2 Agile manual also states “Lean startup is often cited as demonstrating how agile can work when faced with high levels of uncertainty, and there are parallels between growing a small company (often using ‘disruptive’ technologies) and running a challenging project.” This demonstrates that the approach is equally as relevant for some internal corporate projects (usually innovative projects with a level of uncertainty) as it is for new startups.

Summary

Delivering innovative projects, whether they be new startup businesses, product/service developments or innovative global projects need to be managed in such a way that they embrace uncertainty and allow for flexibility. A number of different but overlapping approaches are available, choosing, combining and tailoring the right approaches will transform how value is delivered and derived from projects.

For more information you can download the free guide to managing innovative projects here:

Guide to managing innovative projects

Or take the course on Udemy.com:

https://www.udemy.com/managing-innovative-projects/

References

1. https://www.axelos.com/best-practice-solutions/prince2-agile/what-is-prince2-agile

2. https://www.forbes.com/sites/karlmoore/2011/03/28/porter-or-mintzberg-whose-view-of-strategy-is-the-most-relevant-today/#2d8cc11f58ba

3. https://www.leanproduction.com/kaizen.html

4. http://theleanstartup.com/

Richmond Innovation is qualified and experienced in using and adapting various project methodologies to suit a variety of circumstances.

If you are delivering innovative projects or starting a new venture and require some advice on best practice and tailoring approaches please get in touch.

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