Project Management Institute

The process angle




From music, architecture and entertainment to the products and services we consume, innovation is at the root of everything. It crosses all boundaries and affects how companies around the world actually perform their work.

Yet innovation is a tricky concept to execute, especially for organizations in developing countries. In Latin America, the common model of a company consistently investing a fixed percentage of its revenue in research and development of new products and services is scarce. So it's no surprise then that most of the so-called breakthrough innovations, especially in technology, come almost exclusively from developed countries.

In Latin America, innovation is less about dramatic discoveries and more about uncovering new processes or new ways to meet customer needs.

On the Wings of Innovation

Over the last year and a half, I‘ve done some consulting work on an IT project for Mexicana Airlines. It's hard to find a global industry that has been hit harder by economic turmoil than the airlines. For them, innovation isn't an option, but a means of survival.

Mexicana launched an IT project to give the company an edge on acquiring customer information and allow it to offer customers a completely new experience during the reservation and departure process.

I clearly remember Mexicana CEO Manuel Borja telling our team a few months ago: “The success of this project lies not only on the new platform we are implementing, but also on the demonstrated ability of our company to perform changes and innovations in our service that let the market know we can do successful projects and adapt to a new environment.”

Although project management processes and policies are sometimes seen as barriers to innovation, in reality the opposite is true. Establishing a method for innovation can lay the foundation for success. Inspired by the Mexicana Airlines experience and the work I‘ve done inside my own company, I‘ve developed a set of innovation rules:

1. It's up to leaders to establish the culture and environment for innovation. They need to make the case for why innovation is important and how it will be rewarded.

2. Innovation is a social process. Creativity and new ideas come from many different sources. We can't rely on a couple of minds to innovate.

3. Innovation is all about failure. Leaving enough room to crash and burn fosters creativity and eliminates barriers that could seriously limit our ability to change. At the same time, project managers can't be afraid to quickly abandon bad ideas.

4. Cutting-edge creativity alone is not enough. Innovation depends on the ability to make good ideas happen and communicate their value to stakeholders.

5. Innovation can be the number-one competitive advantage. For companies that compete on a global scale, innovation can be the sole factor that truly sets them apart from the pack.

Innovation might sound like the new mantra, but this is not a passing whim. The future has always belonged to the countries, companies and teams that aren't afraid to shake things up. PM


Roberto Toledo, MBA, PMP, is managing director of Alpha Consultoria and a trainer and consultant who works across Latin America. He can be reached at

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