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With most projects focused on meeting requirements within specific constraints, how do you create innovative solutions on a project?

From a portfolio management approach, how do you encourage innovative projects and get them funded?

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6 Answers 6

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Innovation is all about creativity. Let your creativity loose and you will see innovation coming your way. The problem with creativity is that you cannot encourage too much of it all the time.

Now your statement on requirements is true. I urge my team to look at the requirements and be creative within them to create innovation.

An example: If to build ABC you need 160 man-hours, to get 40% benefit. And with creative thinking you can build ABC with a twist of creativity in 180 hours, to obtain 50% benefit.

I think as a portfolio manager you have to focus on pushing the right values to your program and project managers.

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When you want your team to do something (innovate, for example) you need to give them motivators and get rid of de-motivators.

Typical motivators:

  • career path: "I create it = I own it when it's huge", like Google says
  • money: "My innovation helps the project = I get my stake"
  • recognition: see for example Oracle Innovation Showcase
  • freedom: "Friday is mine!"

Typical de-motivators:

  • fear: "innovation mistakes will be my faults?"
  • unclear corporate objectives: "why would I innovate if the company just needs requirements?"
  • overload: "I don't have time for a lunch what innovations are you talking about?"
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Innovation comes from giving people the room to create. Google does this with their 20% projects. Each engineer can spend his or her entire Friday working on a self-created project. He/she must document it just as it were a regular project and also set deadlines, but he/she owns it.

There are many Google products that started out as 20% projects. Innovation doesn't come from doing what the client wants you to do, it comes from letting your engineers run free.

This interview with Seth Godin on The Difference Between Leadership and Management also offers some excellent advice on how to create a culture of innovation.

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+1 for showing a great example of urging people to innovate. –  Geo Mar 13 '11 at 19:26

We have a separate budget for what we call "venture" projects: these are short, innovative but high risk development projects to try things out, but with the likelihood of failure. They are more ideas that look promising but for which we haven't (yet) have a good business case. Everybody with a good idea may apply for it. The results are often working prototypes released in the market to see what our customers think about them. Our first iphone apps started this way. When we see that the ideas catch on, proper development starts. The 'prototype' is then thrown away.

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Within a project ask the team what is slowing them down. I look for process improvements, e.g. automation, removing reports that don't need to be done. Not exactly innovation, but sometimes that discussion results in it.

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  1. Employ radical constraints ... get rid of those nice-to-have requirements that nobody really thought through all that seriously ... go through your requirement specification again and ask, "Is this really, really, REALLY necessary?" ... use the Pareto principle to create innovation by REMOVING 5% of the features that cause 95% of the headaches.
  2. Attack thorny problems ... design out big headaches that no one can effectively overcome, take out the waste, frustration, nuisance factors ... change the things about your product or your development process that people don't use, don't like.
  3. The best writing, like the best sculpture or film, is usually a matter of patient editing and diligently taking things away ... you have to genuinely, fanatically love the product to do this; you have to "sleep" with it ... otherwise it's just butchering and hacking.
  4. Don't Unnovate in an attempt to make it look like your innovating ... unnovation is about complexification, clumping more shiny crap on top of other shiny crap to get a really big pile of shiny, clumpy, automated unnovative crap.
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