April 4, 2018

The Most Innovative Project Management Strategies

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This post has been updated for 2018.

The traditional role of project management is to put a process in place that prevents failure. Such processes are comforting for businesses, and help to ensure predictability. If something goes wrong after establishing set guidelines, either the process wasn’t followed or the process is flawed.

But the rigid nature of traditional PM, and the predictability it seeks to generate, is often at odds with the key to business success: innovation.

That doesn’t mean project management is the enemy though. Ensuring that projects are finished on time, within budget, and within scope is a huge challenge. Nearly half of businesses surveyed by professional services KPMG said they experience at least one project failure in a given year.

The trick is finding a strategy that allows for oversight, but doesn’t suffocate creativity. Below, we highlight three novel ways businesses are re-imagining project management to suit their unique needs.

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1. Adopting PM methodologies from different industries

Agile project management is usually associated with tech professionals. Many programmers and developers use this iterative process because it allows them to test versions of a product and then make changes accordingly.

When NPR began looking for ways to reduce the expense, time, and risk involved in creating new radio programs, they turned to agile project management. Rather than continuing to develop expensive shows in secret and hoping they’d be a success, NPR changed their process.  

“It just kind of happened out of desire to go further, faster, or for less money. I was looking for some inspiration and found it one floor up inside our building (where Digital Media sits),” says Eric Nuzum, NPR’s vice president of programming.

They began releasing live shows in a series of pilot runs instead of permanent offerings. By asking for and incorporating listener feedback along the way, NPR essentially created a public beta test. This agile approach has led to successful NPR programs such as the TED Radio Hour, Ask Me Another, Cabinet of Wonders, and How To Do Everything – all at an estimated third of the usual cost.

2. Build in time to experiment–and fail

Testing culture is often consigned to software development and high-tech firms like Google, who famously has a 20 percent time allotment for working on personal interest projects that benefit the company. But building experimentation into other departments is also important for true innovation. Stricter and less traditionally creative departments like sales, marketing, and even finance need the flexibility and space to run tests and explore innovative answers to business questions.

But the problem with today’s project management culture is that it’s so pervasive that tasks and initiatives that don’t get assigned don’t get done. If you want to build a culture of innovation, reserve time and mental space for experiments, and make employees responsible for sharing their findings.

Upworthy’s Sara Critchfield knew that the company needed to improve the virality of its content, so they implemented a couple of initiatives: they made every writer test their own content and ideas, they normalized failure, and they tested for optimization’s sake–not to build best practices. These practices ensured that every writer claimed responsibility for the quality of their content, and the whole team could discuss their relative success or failure.

You can build experimentation into your project management culture by:

  • Building dedicated testing time into each employee’s week
  • Scheduling project sharing sessions where teams can collaborate on the success of creative projects
  • Celebrate failures as well as wins

Critchfield acknowledges that testing can take time away from the normal day to day responsibilities. She says,

“Depending on the complexity of your products, team members might be producing 25–75% less than others in the industry, but testing 100% of what they produce with the extra time. This is what I would expect to see in a company that is taking innovation seriously.”

So, there is a trade-off that your company will need to balance with your managers and employees, and you may consider testing an experimentation policy before rolling it out company-wide. 

3. Taking the management out of project management

You know the old saying: you can take the manager out of the project but you can’t take the project out of the . . . Wait, that’s not right – a project without a project manager? How does this end?

As strange as it may sound, a growing number of companies are eschewing traditional management hierarchies and adopting a flat management structure. But if decision-making is left to everyone equally, how are projects handled?

Though companies like Treehouse may not have managers in the traditional sense, they still benefit from (and use) project management software that helps increase communication and collaboration. These tools empower employees to self-organize projects from start to finish and turn their own innovative ideas into reality.

Complex projects require close planning, tracking, and collaboration in order to be successful. Project management tools can provide the necessary functions to make these endeavors a success – without risking innovation.

If you are unsure where to start looking for the best project management software that will help you manage your projects without stifling your creativity, we can help. Use our Product Selection Tool to narrow down your options. You can also contact us directly to speak with our Tech Advisors. They’ll be happy to answer questions you may have. 

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