What’s are the differences between managing an ordinary business project and managing an innovation project? Joyce Wycoff, in a recent issue of the InnovationNetwork’s Heads Up! e-newsletter, provides some important insights:

“Project management is the engine for implementing new ideas and there are a host of tools and techniques that make this process more effective. In most organizations, there is a relatively high level of competence in project management … however, the understanding of how to manage an innovation project is not always as clear. It is important to understand the distinction between a regular project and an innovation project:

  • Innovation projects tend to start with loosely defined, sometimes even ambiguous objectives that become clearer as the project proceeds. The processes used are more experimental and exploratory and seldom follow strict linear guidelines.
  • Teams need to be more diverse and have a higher level of trust as they explore new territory where failure is a possibility.
  • With failure as a built-in possibility, innovation teams are more actively involved with risk management and need to learn to fail fast and fail smart in order to move on to more attractive options.
  • Also, innovation projects generally need to be sold to project sponsors and funding committees, a responsibility usually not required from normal project teams.Since projects are implemented by people, the ability to collaborate and work effectively on a team is critical.Excellent project managers honor and manage requests, offers and promises. They focus on the most important issues and juggle priorities. They have what seems like an innate sense of timing, which comes from their continual scanning of the business climate and understanding of priorities and concerns of others.Projects often involve making hundreds of decisions, a process that can be fraught with hazard and conflict … unless a well-developed set of criteria for the project has been developed in advance. Projects can also drag on and on with endless tweaks and adjustments unless someone knows how to garner an agreement on what constitutes “done.” Once the end is recognized, the completion should be celebrated, regardless of whether the project was a success or failure.”

These are great insights, and should be valuable to any executive who is responsible for managing innovation projects. Thanks to Joyce Wycoff for assembling this insightful list of distinctions!