Innovation is a difficult topic to grasp. Everyone wants to be innovative. Everyone kinda sorta knows what the term “innovation” means. Most project management professionals have no idea how to systematically foster innovation or make it an integral part of the DNA of their projects.
Let’s start with the fundamentals.
Setting The Scene
Innovation refers to the successful conversion of concepts and knowledge into new products, services, or processes that delivers new value to society or the marketplace.
Innovation may arise when a project manager is creatively guiding the team through the solution process or when they are mitigating risks or removing constraints.
To get to an innovative solution, a project manager must embed creativity as a natural part of user and team interaction and or find creative pathways around obstacles and roadblocks.
When faced with a risk that must be avoided or mitigated, a project manager should facilitate the generation of ideas that add value; in order to determine the appropriate risk response strategy, and its associated contingency plan.
Though some project managers instinctively understand and incorporate innovation thinking into their execution, others need a framework to help maximize the likelihood of delivering an innovative solution.
The common thread that runs through all the innovative initiatives, which I have been a part of, are the following four pillars:
In this stage, your only concern is with working with your users to get a very clear picture of the problem and its root cause. You are also documenting a profile of the intended users, which includes their current way of doing things and your theory of change. Your goal is to know the dimensions of the problem space so well that you live and breathe the issue.
Once you have a firm grasp of the problem, determine the skills that are needed to create a solution. Be sure to include team members that are new to the domain that will need to learn the space and thus will not be shackled by established and long-held assumptions and norms in the space.
When you are co-creating possible solutions with your users, encourage everyone to take the time and space to share creative possibilities. The final step in this phase is to have your team, which includes your users, prioritize possible solutions for implementation.
With your prioritized solution pathways, perform a sanity check to ensure that each of them match the workflow of your users and that there is a natural insertion point. You should also examine the business, legal and societal ecosystem that the solution will exist in. This helps you to determine if there is policy work to be done, if there are business model or legal constraints to be factored in, and if there are any obvious unintended consequences that you should be sensitive to.
It is implementation time. Develop features in short time periods. Present “the thing” to your users regularly, learn from their feedback, and incorporate their input to improve the solution.
As a project manager, who have to actively solicit ideas that add value throughout the project lifecycle in order to ensure that the desired innovative result is achieved.
Wherever possible, you should utilize tools that encourage your team to be creative and view all aspects of the solution space from multiple perspectives.
Not every project will be innovative.
However, if you follow the advice here then your chances of delivering a innovative project will increase.
This was also posted on GovLoop.
What is strategy? If you ask ten different leaders, you will most likely get ten different answers.
Most leaders use the term easily and freely.
Most leaders assume that the term is universally understood and that everyone is using the word in the same way as they are intending it to be understood.
A lot of leaders assume that business strategy is similar to game strategy. Sadly, your tactical approach to playing Monopoly is not a good foundation for positioning your team or organization for success.
A lot of leaders are often confused about what a strategy is.
A lot of leaders confuse strategy with objectives and goals.
A lot of leaders internally struggle with creating and crafting solid strategy.
Let’s demystify strategy.
A good “strategy” addresses your organization’s positioning with regards to the (strategic) factors that are important and relevant to each of your key stakeholder group. For example, Costco’s strategy for its members probably involves “providing the best value for bulk products”.
Strategic factors are those things that your organization needs to get right in order to succeed with your key stakeholders, which may include customers, suppliers, employees, owners, board members, shareholders, or anyone that depends on your organization’s success.
An “objective” is the thing that you are trying to achieve. It is the marker of success for your organization.
An “action” is a tangible thing that people do in their everyday business life and that gets them closer to their objective being achieved.
Actions and objectives tend to be closer to what most leaders and team members act on and see each day and thus it is what they interpret strategy to be.
Unfortunately, focusing on what one needs to do is not focusing on strategy.
Strategy occurs at the organizational level. One needs a comprehensive view of the inputs, outputs, actors, and competitive landscape of the organization in order to create a solid strategy.
Your organization is a part of an ecosystem that consists of interactions with your key stakeholders.
Each organization has its own level of complexity, based on industry constraints, and has different key stakeholder groups; each with potentially differing characteristics.
Strategy is abstract. However, it will help get everyone in your organization on the same page and aligned on the what you do, why you are different, and how you create value.
Given that your organization is a systems of systems within a system of systems, the process of creating strategy is an exercise in systems design.
Systems design is the application of systems theory to organizational development.
Every system has its own set of defined boundaries, has an environment that it exists in and that it impacts, and has a identifiable structure, mission, and operating model.
The aim of systems theory is to methodically discover a system's dynamics, constraints, conditions and clarifying principles, i.e. its purpose, metrics, methods, tools, etc., which can then be applied to constituent systems, and for each of the organization’s sub-divisions in order to achieve optimal equifinality.
Equifinality is the principle that in open systems a given end state can be reached by many potential means.
The process of creating strategy is entirely about producing positions on your organization’s strategic factors that can create value for your organization’s key stakeholder groups.
When the leaders of your organization go to a retreat to create your strategy, utilize the following game plan to maximize your chances of crafting good strategy:
For example, if your team views “price” as a strategic factor for your customers, then a sample strategy may be “We guarantee the lowest price. If a customer finds a lower price, we will match it.”
It is important to remember that your discussion on the key stakeholder groups must be guided by customer research.
After performing your strategy creation process, you have to start the coalition building, fit analysis, and change management needed to ensure that employee relations, customer relations, supplier relations, and other groups are aligned.
Putting Strategy To Work
From the strategy creation process, you have discussed what each key stakeholder group wants from your organization (strategic factors) and what your organization wants from its key stakeholders (strategic objectives).
To ensure that your strategy is implemented, you have to translate your strategy, and its related objectives, into project and or program level actions.
For example, if you know that your customers want effective performance on the strategic factors of price and customer service, then you have to define programs and projects that promote your strategy on these factors for the everyday activities of your team members.
Too many leadership teams fail to approach strategic planning from a systems design mindset.
This is normally because leaders tackle the task of strategy creation from their own functional viewpoint. Thus, they default to “action” when they are aiming to think about “strategy”.
Employing a stakeholder approach to strategy encourages leaders to elevate their thought processes to the organization level.
Strategy is living and dynamic. It must be regularly re-evaluated and updated to reflect the changing dimensions of the world around us all.
Go forth and create better strategy.
This post was also published on GovLoop.
I have struggled with whether I should pen this article for a few weeks now. Fortunately, I concluded that the benefit of putting this topic in front of the public far outweighs the negatives. Building inclusive and diverse teams is not just about increased profitability and better efficiencies. It is simply the right thing to do. It is the decent thing to do. It is the human thing to do. It is the humane thing to do. It is worth it in the long run.
As a leader, of African descent that is working in the United States, I am exhausted by 10am most days. Building mental models for employees, bosses, peer managers, and random people who I have interacted with that day is exhausting. Constantly analyzing and over-analyzing every interaction, business and otherwise, consumes energy that could be better used to successfully drive towards business and or personal goals.
Imagine what the minority members of your team have to go through each and every minute of every day.
It is my strong belief that it is my duty to ensure that my team is inclusive and diverse. My peers and bosses have the same responsibility. Here is how we get there.
INCREASE YOUR UNDERSTANDING OF THE PROBLEM
The problem is you. The problem is the system you are in. The problem is the set of (flawed) beliefs that you have, consciously and subconsciously, accepted.
The legislature, the market, and governance structure are steeped in racism. Let that sink in. Don’t resist it. Be comfortable in your discomfort. Brush up on your history and verify the truth for yourself. Recognize the privilege and advantages that you are receiving from this rigged system.
Now appreciate that the system benefits some and oppresses everyone else.
As someone who benefits from this system, it is your job to understand the problem, know the historical context, and shine a light on the inequity and inequality generated from this system.
Start with this blog to deepen your knowledge in the space.
CREATE AND NURTURE THE RIGHT CULTURE
It is your job to foster a culture of inclusion. This may include performing blind screenings in the resume review process (to minimize unconscious bias), banning “culture fit” as a reason for rejecting a candidate, starting or sponsoring affinity or employee resource groups for under-represented collectives, or uncovering your biases, and those of your team, by having everyone take the Implicit Assumption Test.
Jennifer Kim’s post provides a lot of ideas on tangible steps that you can take in order to cultivate this environment. It is definitely worth reading.
Nurturing this culture involves introspection – for you and your team.
It has taken decades to ingrain your current values and behavior. It will take time to realize that they are false and to replace them with beliefs that foster inclusivity and diversity.
Self-awareness and vigilance will be key for you as a leader. Honesty and willingness to have (potentially) difficult conversations with your team has to become second nature.
MAKE IT A WAY OF LIFE
Cultural change sticks when you embed the changes into the processes and procedures that are an integral part of your team’s business life.
Examine the systems that your team uses for performance evaluations, for onboarding, for assigning and evaluating work, etc. Through the eyes of a black woman, critically think about how these mechanisms can be modified to be supportive and democratized.
Before long, it will just be the way we do things around here.
We are all humans. We all make mistakes. We all have our own biases. Creating great teams is not easy. Creating great, diverse, and inclusive teams is an order of magnitude more difficult.
However, it is rewarding and it is what your organization needs you to do.
This post is also published on GovLoop.
In your lifetime, you will go through dozens of transitions. Whether you relocate for a job, get a promotion, move to a different team or organization, or get a new boss, we all have to navigate transitions. As a leader, how well you navigate a transaction can make or break your career and will most definitely influence how happy you are.
During a transition, you have throw out the notion that you can hustle your way through it, that you can employ the same skills and know-how from the past to be successful going forward, that you have to be in action-mode all the time, and that you know how to fix all the problems before you.
In a transition, these are traps. Traps that many of us have fallen into and seen the negative effects on our psyche and career.
From first hand experience and lots of reading, successfully leading through transitions boils down to doing three things really well in the first few months of the transition.
Your first, and most important, responsibility during a transition is to learn. Whether you got a promotion or a new job, you must spend your initial time in the transition preparing yourself. You should never ever skip this step. Many a career has been derailed by skipping the Learn step and going straight into execution mode.
Focus your learning on the new environment. If the business or mission is foreign to you, then delve into. Understand the nuances of its operation and the levers available to you to impact it. Identify and connect with the employees that have been in the organization the longest in order to get a true sense of the culture and the historical context of the organization. Be hyper aware of the team’s critical stakeholders and how they interact with each other and your team. Establish your own positive connections with them. Be clear with your boss and employees on expectations; checking in regularly and adjusting with their feedback.
Focused learning increases the chances that you will make good initial decisions. This, in turn, will, increase the trust that people have in you and your judgement.
Our second duty is to build your team. I don’t just mean your direct reports. The higher you go as a leader, the more you realize that your team is your peer leaders. Build relationships with your peers and your boss to ensure that they are aware of your learning plan, the insights that you are gaining, and the strategy that it is informing.
Whatever the transition, your peers and boss are also experiencing it with you. Your job is to take them on this journey safely and quickly.
As time permits, you should try to perform the Learn and Build phases together.
Effective relationship building and a comprehensive learning agenda produces an informed strategy and vision that will be supported by your peers, boss, and direct reports.
Early wins bolsters your credibility and create the momentum that you need to exit the transition and enter into a period of trust and stability, which is what we all want.
Rank the opportunities that you find in the “Learn” phase by complexity, value to the business, and effort. Create a sequence of initiatives where the high business value, low complexity and low effort ones are implemented first.
This is an easier way to increase your credibility and gain institutional capital.
As a leader, transitions are difficult. They are even worse if you don’t realize that they are happening.
It is your responsibility, to have the flexibility, curiosity, inclination, and presence of mind to ensure that you and your team go through a transition unscathed, victorious, and with a string of successes under your belt.
This post is also published on GovLoop.
Dr Tyrone Grandison
Executive. Technologist. Change Agent. Computer Scientist. Data Nerd. Privacy and Security Geek.