Innovation in project management a clash of creativity and control

Paul Naybour

I am currently writing a tender response as part of a project management training course. The scenario is based on High Speed 2 (HS2) and I have come to the last section on project innovation. As normal, the first thing to do is fire up Google to see what everyone else thinks first. The number one result is this blog post on Project Management and Innovation from Wayne Hale’s at NASA. He describes how project management 101 “plan the work and work the plan” can prevent innovation. Innovation requires change, flexibility and the ability to adapt the changing circumstances. Yet every training course teaches that change is a bad thing for projects and certainly exceeding the requirements is not to be encouraged. Wayne tells the story of his wife deciding they they need a new carpet in the dining room. It soon grows to become repainting the skirting boards, walls and fitting new curtains. A classic example of project scope creep; or is this innovation and opportunity management. No-one would change the carpets without bothering the slap a coat of paint on the walls, unless they we sticking to the planned scope no matter what.
So are these the principles of scientific management and innovation in conflict. I clearly remember a partner in a major architectural practice once telling me that

“Project management is just a constraint on my innovation”.

More Google research reveals that the most innovative solutions people seem to identify are a shift from design and then build to design and build, hardly inspiring stuff. All of which leaves me with a bit of a blank to for my model HS2 bid. Can we have controlled innovation? Rutherford discovered the atom after an experiment went wrong and produced an unexpected result. You can bet he didn’t follow a change control process before investigating further.
Anyway I have to write something for my bid document, because I am following the plan and working to a budget.
How about

Project Innovation

We will support innovation throughout this project by proactively identifying opportunities to find smarter solutions to the problems posed by the project. Our value management process and flexible approach to planning will proactively stimulate the generation of new ideas. These will include both technical and commercial approaches to deliver the project in more cost efficient and innovative ways. On previous projects we have:

  1. The use of modular design element to deliver economies of scale.
  2. Flexible planning approaches that can accommodate change between project stage gates.
  3. The use of innovative contract structures to encourage teamwork and collaboration.
  4. Maintaining a loose definition of scope at the early stages to allow for innovation.
  5. Building teams with high levels of diversity and trust thereby encouraging the generation of creative ideas.

I am not very happy with than so if anyone has any other ideas they are most welcome to post comments below.

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