‘There isn’t a child alive who dreams of being a project manager’ – so said Scott Berkun.
He pointed out that project managers can unintentionally reinforce their work as (let’s be honest) dull – by trying to get everyone to pay attention to spreadsheets, specifications, PowerPoint presentations and status reports, failing to realise these are the least interesting and most bureaucratic things produced in the entire world of work.
Last year I suggested that you should never take an idea to a project management team -unless you want it to be accompanied by a risk log, a contingency plan and a Gantt chart.
It was said tongue in cheek, but it upset a couple of people who thought I was criticising project management. The intention was the opposite: I was trying to show the value of controlled management – at the right time, in the right places.
The issue is one of differing perspectives.
Exploration and implementation are completely different mindsets, never mind skillsets.
- The purpose of project management is to predict as many dangers and problems as possible; and to plan, organise and control activities so that the project is completed as successfully as possible in spite of all the risks.
- The purpose of innovation is to help us see beyond current convention, to counter the natural risk aversion that lies within organisations and to mobilise employees to experiment and discover new value for customers.
The behaviours this requires are fundamentally contradictory as one is about controlling risk and the other is about creating risk, usually in risk-averse environments.
Innovation tends to start with loosely defined, sometimes ill-defined objectives that gradually become clearer over months or even years. The processes used are more experimental and exploratory and don’t follow linear guidelines.
Because failure is a built-in possibility innovation teams have to fail fast and fail smart in order to move on to better options.
This is feasible in a ‘Lab type’ environment as you can control the cost and impact of failure. Whereas innovating in large projects is problematic as there are interdependencies between the components that make changes risky.
Can we combine the two approaches to get better outcomes?
At Bromford we’ve been exploring a better way to deliver change for a few years – and have now combined a broad range of colleagues with very different skill-sets all focused on one thing: solving the right problems.
You can see from our publicly accessible Trello board that the areas we are exploring are completely aligned to projects – indeed Project Managers and analysts are involved at the outset as part of innovation ‘discovery’ sessions.
Increasingly, as work gets automated, simple problems should be eliminated. We’ll be left with the complex, messier ones – and these need a different approach to what once served us.
Traditional management models have focused almost exclusively on delivery of products and services. Newer management models, in contrast, focus primarily on the achievement of a result or the answer to a complex question.
As John Mortimer has said – maybe we need to unlearn our thinking that says, before we start doing anything, we need to define what the outcome will be, how long it will take, and what the solution will be.
Whether you are a Project Manager, Business Analyst, Designer, Researcher, Self Styled Innovator or Corporate Rebel – we have a common purpose:
Understanding problems, putting zombies down and reallocating resources to the most promising opportunities.
Everything is a project: and we are all project managers.