Project Management Institute

Staying sharp

how to ensure project teams won't lose their cutting edges

By Kareem Shaker, PMI-RMP, PMP

Living on the bleeding edge isn't easy for innovation project teams or their leaders. The high-risk, high-reward culture creates unique demands, such as embracing failure to achieve breakthroughs and maintaining a relentless ambition to disrupt.

Project leaders can cultivate the following traits and practices to build a team that thrives on the challenge of innovation.

A positive mental attitude is a cornerstone of the project team's personality and infuses a warrior's spirit to the already challenging innovation problem. Positivity fuels productivity and encourages the team to push the envelope—and go the extra mile—when necessary. As Winston Churchill said, “The positive thinker sees the invisible, feels the intangible and achieves the impossible.”



Teams that are passionate about a problem are more determined to solve it. Matching organizational objectives with team members’ personal aspirations can ensure project buy-in and drive project achievement. For instance, team members personally invested in issues such as climate change or malnutrition in the developing world are more likely to go to extremes to solve those problems.


Perseverance is everything. Thomas Edison is said to have failed thousands of times before he invented the light bulb. Rovio Entertainment created 51 games that flopped before it launched the global gaming phenomenon Angry Birds in 2009. Innovation project teams must be prepared to fail—and bounce right back.


Dissent among team members can trigger discussions that eventually solidify the outcome. Some team members might be risk-averse while others can be venturesome. Having diverse opinions and personalities on innovation project teams can lead to a balanced team and mitigate the risk of group-think.

Having diverse opinions and personalities on innovation project teams can mitigate the risk of group-think.


Given its iterative nature, the agile approach to project management may be best for innovation projects, with their high degree of uncertainty and their frequent need for trial and error. Agile also helps foster swift decision-making, customer collaboration, market viability and shorter times to market.


George Bernard Shaw said: “You see things; and you say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say ‘Why not?’” Teams should tackle innovation projects from the same “why not?” perspective. The “vujà dé” innovation technique helps teams turn the standard ways of doing things upside down to discover new solutions to everyday problems. Teams that have critical thinkers will do a better job of thinking outside the box. PM

img Kareem Shaker, PMI-RMP, PMP, is a senior manager, projects and enterprise risk, at Dubai World, Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Follow him on Twitter at @kareemshaker.
This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.




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