Innovation and Projects

Innovation and Projects

Innovation is a popular buzzword in business at the moment.  Any number of articles are published in business publications about how to make an innovation culture in a company. 

Innovation executives have been appointed, culture change communications have circulated... but has it all missed a very salient operational constraint?  If the people implementing change initiatives are not innovative then all these strategies will come to naught.

Contract project and/or change managers are hired for their specialized skills in delivering processes that corporations don't have.  These short-term hires are the foremen who will lead the working teams in company change exercises.  These change projects are the place where the innovation is supposed to be delivered. 

The project managers need to be skilled at nurturing/facilitating innovation and performing the communication/stakeholder management to get innovative ideas approved.

But that is not how Project Managers are recruited.

Most job ads for Project/Change managers are distinctly straight-laced.  The (pretty standard) toolset is specified; brilliant communication, manage stakeholder expectations, control suppliers, document requirements, financial administration and reporting. 

Then the constraints are added; experience in implementing XYZ version 4.1, multiple similar relocation projects or 10+ years experience in industry A (or closely related).  Good criteria for getting a business as usual line manager... but not for attracting the idea/innovation applicants.

Is an innovative project manager going to have a resume full of "did the same thing for Company A, Company B and Company C - 5 times"?  The personality type that espouses innovation and creativity is unlikely to have repetitively completed the same kind of challenge, in the same industry, over and over.  To innovate is to do something new and the type of person who is attracted to the challenges of delivering the new is not going to be the same type of person who does the same thing over and over again.

Even if such a resume was to arrive in response to a project manager job, would they be a good fit for the role?  If a company is embracing a culture of innovation does that mean they want a solution that looks like the ones delivered for Companies A, B & C?  Does Innovation just mean "new to the company" or "new to the market"?  Getting a project manager with extensive subject matter expertise may reduce some risks - but it is also likely to stifle any innovation unique to the organisation.

This is not to say that every company is going to embrace innovation as a core principle, or even that it should (the economy also needs “grinders” who do the same thing reliably).  It is simply that if innovation is the cornerstone of the 21st century winners - why aren’t the job ads reflecting the skills needed to deliver innovation?


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