How To Marry Innovation And Project Management

Creativity, innovation and project management have generally been perceived as unlikely bedfellows. Project management is all about the planning, organisation and delivery of projects on budget and on time, while creativity and innovation are about big lightbulb moments of inspiration and regarded as more ethereal disciplines.

While still important, innovation was less tangible in terms of business value and mostly lacked the support tools that project management did. Thankfully, those perceptions have now changed dramatically.

Being innovative is a goal for almost every business in 2020 and enterprises are increasingly willing to invest in the tools that can bring innovation to life.

Why has innovation become so important in business, why is it so important to marry innovation with project management and how should organisations approach doing so?

2020 – a perfect storm for innovation

Organisations have long known, that to stay relevant, competitive and profitable they have to be adaptable, agile and deliver exceptional products and services. Where does the inspiration come from for this?

Traditionally it would come from a product, marketing or R&D department but broadening this to include other stakeholders – employees, customers, partners, peers – is shown to deliver better results.

Idea management software has subsequently emerged as a powerful tool for the gathering, discussion and development of ideas and innovation. As businesses have needed ideas and co-creation to ensure their future, so idea management has delivered as the most effective way of managing that process.

It’s not just about the idea, it’s about doing something with the idea too. Having an idea is relatively simple, but idea management ensures there is a framework for clearly defined innovation needs, helps to crowdsource the potential solutions and then narrows those down to a discrete group of projects to be delivered.

Companies know they don’t have all the answers and are willing to go beyond their usual audiences to find them, even turning to open innovation communities to tap into an even wider collective brainpower.

One of the most powerful benefits of innovation and co-creation is that they allow a business to ride out periods of disruption, embracing the theory that no one person has all the answers, and that the solutions to a problem may lie outside the business.

This has never been truer than it is during the COVID-19 crisis. Businesses all over the world have had to rethink how they deliver products and services and many have needed to pivot dramatically. The inspiration for the ideas that will help them do this cannot be found by focusing on their usual methods.

Concurrently, the use of project management teams has been on the rise too in 2020. With the world in a state of flux and uncertainty, organisations have turned much more to working on a project basis without the need to commit to longer-term plans.

This allows them to keep operational and effective during the crisis but doesn’t commit the budget and resource that is required for longer-term strategies.

The increased importance of collaboration

What innovation and project management have in common, is the need for meaningful collaboration. This means providing employees with the right tools and not relying on email and spreadsheets.

According to PwC research, 77% of high performing projects use project management software. Digital project management software increases performance, which is why it has become so integral to successful project management.

Project management software helps a project manager with planning, scheduling and time tracking, allowing them to keep track of time spent on tasks and managing events, meetings and milestones.

It also monitors budgets and deadlines and makes it easy to keep track of on-going projects. Crucially, it also allows collaboration and communication across team members.

This is arguably the most important element of project management. Without effective collaboration, any project is likely to fail. Similarly, innovation programmes rely enormously on collaboration. Without the platform to gather, discuss and iterate ideas, how can they ever come to fruition?

We conducted research earlier in 2020 into how UK companies were approaching employee engagement during the coronavirus crisis. We found that many businesses have needed to pivot urgently and come up with new products and services – 61% of our respondents had been involved in this idea gathering process.

This is an encouraging statistic and highlights the importance of collaboration. But how collaboration be improved across the separate functions of innovation and project management?

Effective Integration

With the more distributed workforce this year, the use of both idea management and project management tools has increased hugely. Furthermore, many organisations will surely continue to encourage employees to work from home much more than they did before coronavirus.

But for users, switching between different tools can be time consuming and frustrating. Systems need to be integrated seamlessly, working in harness to deliver higher engagement and create more value.

Connecting projects to innovation challenges that ideas in project management software can move upstream, be given clarity and be prioritised against a specific pain point – equally, ideas within an idea management platform can be passed seamlessly to a project for development and delivery.

This combination means the development of new features, new innovations or the enhancement of existing functionality is much smoother and more effective.

It can be used from start to finish for internal and external ideas, prioritising the best ones, making it easy to check the progress of an idea and bringing them to life efficiently with a single record across the life-cycle of that idea.

It also means that organisations can avoid the pitfalls of ideas disappearing into black holes, with a constant feedback and communication loop from idea to implementation.

This relies on full integration across the value chain, so even if an idea contributor is not directly involved in the delivery of a project, they can still know the status of an idea.

Addressing the future of work

Deploying idea management and project management together is a trend that will only increase. It fits perfectly with the future of work, with teams working remotely but collaboratively.

Our employee engagement research revealed that the areas of business most affected by people working from home were internal collaboration around ideas (28%) and external collaboration around ideas (23%).

Finding ways of ensuring these do not become bigger problems will be a priority and integrating innovation with project management is key to achieving that.

Simon Hill is co-founder and CEO of Wazoku, enterprise grade idea management software is built to integrate with a suite of enterprise tools and platforms.

Simon Hill
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