Project Management Institute

Intrapreneurship in project management


by Muhammed Ershad, MBA, PMP

Entrepreneurial skills aren't limited to the realm of starting a new business.

As project managers, we need to be “intrapreneurs,” adding entrepreneurial value inside our existing organizations and exploring the latest technologies, markets and processes to make project management more efficient for the benefit of the organization and customer. For mega and complex projects—such as infrastructure or product development—the intrapreneurship approach is in high demand.

Here are a few areas where intrapreneurship can be applied directly to project management:

Project Startup: Project startup is a different concept than project initiation. Project startup is more focused on strategy, the business outlook and uncovering risks. This conceptual approach is applicable for large projects and provides a high-level view for project sponsors, project directors and senior executives.

Treating project startup as a business startup enables you to analyze the business needs of the project to the end user or end product stage, which unveils risks that typically are ignored. For example, as part of project startup, the initiating group would focus on the influence of stakeholders within the project boundaries. This business plan format of project startup as compared to the detailed project management plan helps the project sponsor and senior executives better follow project requirements.

Latest Tools and Technology: One principle of project management is the ability to realize a concept or a business need, so the “intrapreneurial” project manager should be the first to recognize and apply the latest technology. This can be anything from online collaboration tools to shared portal services to cloud computing. Cost-effectiveness in implementing a new technology or tool must be determined from a platform perspective in order to benefit all projects in the organization's portfolio.

Process Improvement: Existing standards and procedures don't mean that a new process cannot be proposed or improvised. During the planning process, more hours should be spent identifying and customizing the existing process to suit the project requirement.

One of my former employers had a strict quality procedure in place for document/drawing correction and revision using defined color codes. The engineering and drafting departments were on different floors, so documents normally were transferred physically between the departments for correction.

Creativity should not to be confused with the ability to invent. It is simply an out-of-the-box approach— to do things differently or to achieve something in an easier way—and something an “intrapreneur” should use.


Muhammed Ershad, MBA, PMP, is a project manager for Emerson in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

In one project, I used editing software with a different color-marking tool and made documents accessible to both engineers and draftsmen in a common share folder, which saved a lot of time. Engineers had not adopted this simple method because they incorrectly interpreted the company's quality procedure. The intent of the quality guidelines was to use the color-coding as a communication tool for engineers and draftsmen. The company's procedure did not mean to discourage creativity; in fact, the company director presented me with an innovation award.

Creativity: Creativity is one of the most underutilized skills that human beings possess. Creativity should not to be confused with the ability to invent. It is simply an out-of-the-box approach—to do things differently or to achieve something in an easier way— and something an “intrapreneur” should use.

Consider the current project to digitize at least 2.5 million books a year launched by Recaptcha, a technology company owned by Google. Recaptcha uses the optical character recognition (OCR) technique to scan each page as an image and convert it to plain text using OCR. But approximately 30 percent of books cannot be translated to plain text by the technique and must be manually translated.

That's where the real creativity comes in. It uses forms called “captchas” to display a distorted word image that went unrecognized by the OCR technique. Web users then are required to type in the words before entering websites to ensure they are human—and in doing so, they help the translation process. So far, 750 million people have participated in the project, most without even knowing they were part of the project team to digitize the world's books.

Even if project managers never start a new company, there is plenty of room for entrepreneurial skills in the form of intrapreneurship. PM

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