Project Innovation

Evidence-Informed, Open, Effectual, and Subjective

img

Anne Sigismund Huff
School of Business, Maynooth University, Maynooth, Ireland

img   ABSTRACT

KEY WORDS

Innovation
Entrepreneurship
Intrinsic uncertainty

This research presents new theoretical bases for innovative project management in complex and uncertain environments. It claims that knowledge bases drawn from the past can impede innovation in highly uncertain situations and theories from entrepreneurship provide potentially more viable approaches. Although theories in this area challenge the causal assumptions that support theory and practice in project management, the article outlines four entrepreneurial models for project management that may be useful in intrinsically uncertain settings.

img   THE PROBLEM

“The challenge for project managers lies in deciding when their needs for innovation require going beyond the base provided by currently available evidence.”

Current Project Management theories and practice support innovation, but still the field sees a distressing level of project failures. The challenge for project managers lies in deciding when their innovation needs require going beyond the base provided by currently available evidence.

However, there are barriers for adoption of new paradigms. A shift towards unfamiliar approaches implies personal, project, and organizational issues. Added to these internal problems, there exist external issues related to institutional, sociopolitical, and organizational sources of inertia. Hence, it is not surprising that the adoption of new theories is erratic and slow, despite compelling evidence and rhetoric for change.

The basic claim of this article is that continually adding to a knowledge base drawn from past success (and failure) frustrates innovation in intrinsically uncertain situations. Additional forms of more radical innovation are needed especially as organizational and environmental structures and activities become more entwined and their outcomes less predictable. When uncertainty is very high, new entrepreneurial responses to emerging circumstances without looking back to rely on past practice is more likely to succeed than trying to add new knowledge to existing best practice.

img   FINDINGS AND PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS

Project management has become a dominant method of organizational problem solving. Hence, it constitutes an important innovation per se in how innovations can be achieved. The following sections describe four innovation models identified from literature and practice, beginning with best practice in project management. The full article offers examples of each model.

img   EVIDENCE-INFORMED INNOVATION MODEL

“Evidence-based project management is defined as the ability to respond to new problems by adapting prescriptive knowledge from previous experience.”

Evidence-based project management is defined as the ability to respond to new problems by adapting prescriptive knowledge from previous experience. Managers are motivated to make the most of what they know has worked in the past.

Projects or programs serve both research and practice, drawing as much instruction as possible from “field-tested” rules, but anticipating the necessity of innovative adaptation to the unique conditions of the project at hand.

The process of evidence-informed innovation can be briefly summarized as:

  1. Specifying project goals and parameters.
  2. Assembling needed resources, including a team with desirable capabilities.
  3. Searching for context-relevant field-tested rules and guidelines based, if possible, on systematically collected evidence.
  4. Adapting past experience to the unique conditions of the current setting and renegotiating problematic parameters as necessary and possible.
  5. Testing artfully adapted solutions against project parameters.
  6. Concluding the project with a solution that meets quality standards, on time, and within budget.

img   OPEN INNOVATION MODEL

“Open project management can be described as seeking solutions to problems from sources outside the innovating unit and its networks.”

Open project management can be described as seeking solutions to problems from sources outside the innovating unit and its networks.

Although there are some weaknesses of this approach, there are also promising examples of success. In order to induce innovation, the following processes for project management should be in place:

  1. Recognizing that the organization and its accessible networks do not have the knowledge needed to meet goals.
  2. Framing unmet problems and opportunities for broadcast to solvers beyond the normal reach of the organization's innovation efforts.
  3. Waiting for promising answers to the posted problem from volunteers and facilitating interaction among solvers to improve answers before submission.
  4. Evaluating submissions but also appreciating unexpected solutions with the potential to change the previous definitions of problem and solution.
  5. Overcoming not-invented-here resistance within the organization and among its stakeholders to developing and implanting promising solutions from unfamiliar outside sources.
  6. Recognizing solutions to identified problems and using inputs to reconsider the previous understanding of problem and solution space.

img   EFFECTUATION AND PATH CREATION MODEL

“Effectual project innovation can be defined as discovering the goals and means of new innovation by interacting with interested stakeholders who are attracted to an entrepreneurial project as it unfolds.”

Open innovation begins with a well-formulated question that has not been answered with available resources.

Effectual project innovation can be defined as discovering the goals and means of new innovation by interacting with interested stakeholders who are attracted to an entrepreneurial project as it unfolds.

The overall process is not driven by causal logic, but a good deal of attention is given to coping with events as they unfold. This way of thinking is very different from the core logic of evidence-informed management and open innovation. “The future is neither found nor predicted, but rather made”.

Processes for effectual project innovation include:

  1. Defining opportunity on the basis of personal skills and experiences.
  2. Attracting the interest of others from known contacts.
  3. Clarifying ideas though interaction with potential stakeholders, organizational contexts, and markets.
  4. Responding to inevitable failures by redefining both means and ends.
  5. Focusing on controlled actions rather than trying to predict the future.
  6. Specifying one or more outcomes that can be further developed with causal logic.

img   SUBJECTIVE–INTERACTIVE VALUES BASED INNOVATION MODEL

“Subjective–interactive project innovation can be defined as interactively communicating and modifying compelling principles from which actions new to the project setting “logically” flow.”

In addition to the “hard paradigm” of project management based on positivist and realist philosophies which emphasize control, there is growing acceptance of a “soft paradigm” that attends to social process, interpretivist1 philosophies, and learning.

Subjective–interactive project innovation can be defined as interactively communicating and modifying compelling principles from which actions new to the project setting “logically” flow. The distinctive characteristics of this kind of project innovation can be summarized as a process of:

  1. Observing environmental changes in the project context.
  2. Articulating irresistible opportunity or unacceptable threat/failure in human terms.
  3. Interacting with participants to define and promote values-based principles and consequent actions.
  4. Mixing values-based strategic activities with proven tactics for change.
  5. Altering tactics, goals, strategies, leadership, alliances and so forth as the context unfolds.
  6. Institutionalizing gains to increase the likelihood of continued activity.

img   FINAL COMMENTS

This research proposes that project management and other management fields need increased capacity to collectively imagine and create the possible. The entrepreneurial models summarized in Table 1 outline an incomplete portfolio for the field of project management and include desirable outcomes for each of the four approaches described. Although it is unlikely that an individual or team could be equally adept at all, or would need to be in many realms, it is argued that there is and will be increasing need for project management that does not rely on past experience.

img

Table 1: Four theoretically distinct approaches to project management innovation.

img   FULL CITATION

Anne Sigismund Huff. Project Innovation: Evidence-Informed, Open, Effectual, and Subjective. Project Management Journal, April/May 2016. Volume 47, Number 2.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

img  PMJ articles and Sponsored Research monographs are available to members for free download at PMI.org.

img  Monographs can also be purchased at the PMI Store.

img

From Academia: Summaries of Research for the Reflective Practitioner | April 2016

PROJECT MANAGEMENT INSTITUTE

14 Campus Blvd | Newtown Square, PA | 19073-3299 USA

Tel: +1 610 356 4600 | Fax: +1 610 356 4647

e-mail: research.program@pmi.org | PMI.org/research

© 2016 Project Management Institute, Inc.
All rights reserved. “PMI” and the PMI logo are marks of Project Management Institute, Inc.
For a comprehensive list of PMI marks, contact the PMI Legal Department. ACA-253-2015

1 Interpretivism (also known as antipositivism) is an approach to social science that opposes the positivism of natural science. According to this approach, social science realm may not be subject to the same methods of investigation as the natural world; the social realm requires a different epistemology in which academics work beyond empiricism and the scientific method.

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.

Advertisement

Advertisement

Related Content

  • PM Network

    23: iPod member content locked

    One thousand songs in your pocket. That's how Apple CEO Steve Jobs sold the iPod when he introduced it in October 2001. Roughly the size of a deck of cards, the otherworldly gadget was essentially a…

  • PM Network

    17: Google Search member content locked

    It has become part of the Silicon Valley lore. Inside a rented garage in Menlo Park, California, USA, two Stanford University students created what became the world's most prominent search engine.…

  • PM Network

    12: DynaTAC 8000X member content locked

    It weighed nearly 2 pounds (1 kilogram) and cost close to US$4,000. It took almost 10 hours to charge. And it worked for only 30 minutes before the battery died. Even the creators owned up to the…

  • PM Network

    40: First IVF Baby member content locked

    Louise Brown was born 25 July 1978 in England. From all reports, the birth itself was uneventful. But it marked a turning point in treating infertility: Brown was the first child conceived through…

  • PM Network

    47: Watson member content locked

    In the early 2000s, IBM was looking for its next big initiative, a project that would generate buzz similar to the public and press adoration that followed when its supercomputer beat chess legend…

Advertisement

Publishing or acceptance of an advertisement is neither a guarantee nor endorsement of the advertiser's product or service. View advertising policy.