Is Project Management Hindering Innovation?

innovationProject management is all about ensuring clients receive results by the agreed upon deadline. Supervisors are supposed to work with their teams to keep production on pace and meeting every specification laid out by the stakeholders.

This seems very straightforward, and there are some project managers who have everything down to a science. These leaders barely even think about what steps are necessary as they can quickly move through every procedure without any delays.

From an efficiency perspective, it’s hard to find fault with this approach. After all, project management is a results-driven field so few people would be upset with someone who is always on schedule and consistently delivers satisfactory work.

This strategy does possess its share of drawbacks, and chief among them is the lack of innovation. According to Harvard Business Review’s Markus Lorenz, “efficiency-minded project managers are inadvertently discouraging the explorations – and therefore the learning – that make radical ideas practical” in some companies.

Unfortunately, efficiency and predictability seem to be valued more highly than innovation these days. Many enterprises are only focused on the bottom line and don’t want to invest in anything that hasn’t previously yielded positive results and ROI.

The challenge for project managers then becomes how to balance steady production while encouraging innovation. These two factors aren’t in opposition of each other, and can actually lead a staff to unprecedented levels of success.

Who has the power?
One reason employees don’t develop radical ideas is because they haven’t been empowered to do anything outside of the scope of their basic responsibilities. As a result, workers focus on the task at hand and don’t anything beyond basic procedures.

In a recent post on our blog network, Jeanne Bradford wrote that one way to drive innovation is to empower contributors. She notes that when employees are given authority they’ll usually develop creative strategies.

Bradford also explains that companies have to hold workers accountable for their actions to ensure that every new idea supports corporate objectives. This will prevent staff members from focusing on issues that don’t affect their projects or might not be beneficial to the organization as a whole.

Search for rebels
There’s no universal standard for what makes a great employee. Some project managers might want an contributor who has expert-level knowledge, while others may prefer staff members who can produce a great deal of work in a short period of time.

If you want innovation, you need someone who’s willing to break the rules. Robert I. Sutton, author of “Weird Ideas That Work: 11 1/2 Practices for Promoting, Managing, and Sustaining Innovation,” told TechRepublic’s Bob Weinstein that rebels have some of the most radical ideas.

The idea of working with someone who doesn’t adhere to corporate standards or care for the company’s culture might seem off-putting to many project managers, but it could change everything for the better. Employees who aren’t content to follow normal procedures can likely find shortcuts and efficient solutions that reduce production time.

The key to managing these contributors is keeping them on track and ensuring that they know they’re allowed to create unique strategies. The former task is quite simple as project managers just have to explain that every employee is expected to complete a certain number of assignments by a specific deadline or there will be consequences.

As for the latter, that goes back to the issue of empowering team members. Supervisors have to be willing to cede a certain amount of control to their employees so they can innovate and don’t feel trapped by basic processes.

Of course, you can’t assemble a team with just rebels and freethinkers. This approach would likely be a disaster from the start as everyone would be trying to develop new ideas instead of focusing on the actual work.

Project managers can’t give their employees complete autonomy to do whatever they want. Leaders have to keep enough control that they can guide their contributors through the various steps of a project.

Further, a team should be comprised of straightforward workers and freethinkers. The combination of the two groups will lead to strong collaboration and ensure that every project is on pace while innovative ideas are tested.

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