Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Is Innovation Management a Process or a Project?

Is Innovation Management a Process or a Project?

By Dennis D. McDonald

I've been thinking about innovation management recently in connection with some consultingprojects. The question I've been considering is how to best manage the innovation process that surrounds adopting various social networking and collaboration tools.

One can view the adoption of such tools as an innovation. The real issue is how the tools facilitate and/or improve the organization's existing processes, i.e., one innovation enabling another innovation.

Piling innovation on innovation scares some people. It is one reason that the question of how you manage the innovation process is so important.

A key question is the degree to which innovation can be managed in a "top down" or a "bottom up" fashion. When we talk about adopting social networking and collaboration tools, the ability of these tools to be adopted and promoted in a viral or bottom up fashion within an organization has been discussed quite a bit. At the same time, introducing a major change into an organization in how employees communicate or operate is not something that can be left to chance. What we usually end up with are recommendations for "balancing" both top down and bottom up approaches.

Jeffrey Phillips is one of several commentators who discusses such questions. In Org Chart for Innovation he discusses both top down and bottom up approaches as well as the manner in which cross-organizational resources need to be managed when considering innovation as a process. In one sense,  Phillips is talking about issues that have already been much discussed in the field of Project Management. Projects in a large organization typically involve both technology and process change as well as individuals and resources drawn from different business units. Determining how to balance a "project centric" view and a "business unit centric" view, however, is something seasoned project managers are accustomed to doing (or should be accustomed to doing).

Not that such a balancing act is an easy thing to do. There can be significant challenges when introducing project management techniques into an organization that is not accustomed to managing projects that cut across resources groups and business units. In such instances both project management and the project's target processes can be viewed as innovations. Both need to be carefully -- and appropriately -- managed.

I admit that I come down on the side of managing the process. That doesn't mean that you need to take a "crack the whip" approach, though. There are many aspects to managing the innovation processes; goals and rewards, removal of barriers, the setting of expectations, brainstorming, allowing for mistakes -- all elements that need to be addressed. Luckily, an entire cottage industry has sprung up in recent years devoted to studying and managing the innovation process so there is no lack of useful input.

In my opinion, the fundamentals defining innovation management are:

  1. Process is king; technology is only an enabler.
  2. Organizational strategy, goals and objectives need to be clear.
  3. The innovation process needs to be managed.

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Copyright (c) 2006 by Dennis D. McDonald

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