The Innovative Project Manager

Traditional project management models have focused almost exclusively on delivery of products and services—defined deliverables with clear and measurable execution criteria. In this context, opportunities for innovation generally center on problem solving. For example, when facing a risk that must be avoided or mitigated, a project manager must often generate ideas, which add value (innovate) in order determine an appropriate risk response and contingency plan.

Newer project management models, in contrast, focus primarily on the achievement of a result. Scope, schedule, and cost are important, but subservient to the “big picture” results the organization is trying to achieve. For example, a project manager may be asked to manage an initiative to improve customer retention by 10% in eighteen months. In this model, the project manager is part tactician—responsible for executing the scope of work (once decided) in the time frame given—and part strategist, responsible for:

  • Interpreting the business strategy
  • Assessing feasibility of the objective
  • Analyzing the cause of the problem
  • Recommending and/or innovating a solution
  • Formulating a scope of work
  • Progressively elaborating the scope of work
  • Executing the project, monitoring performance along Triple Constraint
  • Ensuring the strategic objectives are met

In this model, innovation becomes is more central to the project manager’s work. The project manager must actively seek ideas that add value throughout the project life cycle to ensure that the result is achieved.

Regardless of the model in which one operates, innovation has become a core competency for project managers. Unfortunately, several critical obstacles stand in the way of project managers developing this skill. Chiefly:

  1. Risk. Many project managers operate in risk-averse organizations, where best practice is valued above new ideas.
  2. Lack of knowledge. The tools needed to innovate effectively are not widely known or understood—and in fact, are actively misunderstood—by many organizations.
  3. Lack of time. The tactical demands on a project manager’s time (“fighting fires”) leave little room for innovation and root cause solutions.


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