5 innovation best practices for 2020

What should a good Innovation Project Manager do in this innovate or die world? At our recent PPM Best Practices tour in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in partnership with MI-GSO | PCUBED, speakers highlighted the different techniques, processes, and frameworks, along with the teams required for successful innovation project management.



1. View the future as something you can shape

“The relevance of your strategy experiences an exponential decay, coupled with an exponential rise of entirely new realities.” Anthony Mills

It’s a disruptive time: the pace of change is happening exponentially, and we need to reframe our philosophy about the future. Anthony Mills, Executive Director of Global Innovation Institute, highlighted that we typically approach the annual strategic planning process with the wrong mindset. 

“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence – it is to act with yesterday’s logic.”
– Peter Drucker –

First, many organizations are moving to a more agile portfolio planning process, where planning is done more than once a year. In addition, one needs to adopt what Anthony refers to as a “Future Driver” mentality.  This is a mentality where you are flexible, highly focused on the market, and very intentional in creating the future that you want to see.  It also involves relentless experimentation.

Though first introduced 20 years ago, McKinsey’s 3 Horizons of Growth framework is still relevant today and is a useful tool for ensuring that you have the right mix of projects in your innovation portfolio.

So, as you approach your strategy planning sessions, ask yourself a couple of questions.  Which part of your innovation portfolio is aligned to running the core business? Which parts are aligned to expanding or renewing the business? And which parts are aligned to truly transforming or reinventing the business?  Basically, do you have a Future Driver strategy?


2. Keep a Design Mindset

If one of the leading failures in innovation is the lack of an innovation strategy, the next common failure for innovation projects is the lack of human centered approach to design. Breanna Recker, MI-GSO |PCUBED, was first introduced to Design Thinking with the LUMA Institute, and has applied the concepts of design thinking to her projects to improve outcomes. During her session Breanna highlighted 3 project pitfalls to avoid when working on project innovation and value delivery.

1. Don’t assume what people need. When having new product ideas, make sure to have a clear understanding of people’s need. You can only accomplish this by understanding your customer, interviewing them and immersing yourself in their environment.

2. Don’t lose focus on the basic problem you are trying to solve.

3. Don’t forget to take a reality check. What has worked in the past might not work anymore.  Or what we believe should work, in reality does not.

So, as you progress your innovation projects, make sure that you keep a Design Mindset. Are you asking the right questions? Do you know what your customer needs and are you open to new feedback?

3. Have the right people in the right place

The right skillset is obviously necessary for an innovation team. “Ask a CEO what keeps them up at night and they will likely point to skills.” 

However, Brad Barbera, author of Keep Innovation Simple, pointed out that “adding functional diversity does not increase product development outcomes”. In fact, his number one driver for team success may surprise you. It’s team cohesion.

Do you have the right mix of skills and personalities on your team to successfully bring innovation to market? What types of personalities are required to for team cohesion?

Through 9 simple questions, Brad asked the event attendees to assess whether they were an Explorer, an Adaptor or a Chameleon. While Explorers are creatives, Adaptors are more structured and aligned to process. The Chameleon on the other hand can understand both sides. Chameleons bring both Explorers and Adaptors together, critical for getting innovation to market.



Why wouldn’t you fill your whole team with chameleons you might ask? Chameleons don’t have a strong pull to either side and are not going to push the boundaries.

So, during your next strategic planning session, when forecasting your resource needs, assess whether you have a good balance between your team’s profiles as well as skills. Do you have enough Explorers, Chameleons and Adaptors on your teams, each with a different approach to innovation and different mindsets?

4. Deploy an Innovation Framework

Colin Palombo, Stage-Gate® International Group Head North America, shared the Stage-Gate® Innovation Performance Framework, highlighting the four critical drivers that top innovators use for superior results. Innovation Strategy and the right skills for Leadership and Culture have already been highlighted. The two remaining critical drivers are Portfolio Management and an Idea-to-Launch Stage-Gate governance process.

Portfolio Management is a systemic way to govern innovation, allowing you to select an innovation portfolio ensuring investment across multiple strategic areas. 

An innovation framework allows you to understand where your innovation projects are at in the lifecycle? What value am I getting out of them? And are there higher priority projects better aligned to my strategy that I can realign resources to?

5. Scale for Agility

Our final topic is much talked about, Scaling Agility.  Rich Weller, MI-GSO |PCUBED, highlighted that for many organizations, Agile is not just one thing. It can be SCRUM, Disciplined Agile, stand-up meetings, a Kanban board. It also does not affect just one area. Agile influences the people, processes, tools, culture, strategy, organization and leadership. Therefore, becoming more Agile is a transformation project and should be planned as such.

“Becoming more agile is a dial, not a switch.” Rich Weller, MI-GSO | PCUBED

Agile is most often applied at the team level, however in order for Agile to be effective, it needs to be incorporated at all levels. Agile needs to be scaled for the business up to the Portfolio level.

Tips for scaling up Agility within an organization including the importance of being a lifelong learner, following a proven approach and championing the change.

Thanks for letting us share 5 Innovation Project Management Best Practices for 2020. Look forward to additional PPM Best Practice Summits as they continue across North America in 2020.