PM Essence
Parallels till Horizon

- Sudeendra Koushik, PMP

Project Management is a key concept for managing uncertainty. In other words when certainty is to be achieved in prevalent or potentially volatile situations Project management can be a great tool.

Innovation has always been around for a long time and the successful innovations are plenty, which has changed the life style of so many across the globe. Be it a hard tip pen which writes when dropped on its nib or a dream liner aircraft with the lightest material available for an aircraft or in-body implants, innovations are plenty and its impact tremendous. While there is a body of knowledge on project management there is also a lot of literature on innovation as a process.

Innovation has at least two relative meanings in the context of project management. A project could include elements of innovation within the scope of the project while the main goal is already known, identified and quantified. In such a classical case the project management practices are effective. In case the project outcome itself is an innovation, hence the final goal is undefined and not quantifiable, we need to assess the Project management practices that are applicable. A product or service is realised by an organisation in a project mode.

An internet search for 'Project Management' delivered 676 million webpage hits compared to 620 million hits for 'Innovation'. A search within PMBoK 3v1.13 for innovation gave zero search results while a search for the word 'R&D' gave a result which was found in the reference section. PMBoK edition 4 states that “Projects are often utilized as a means of achieving an organizations strategic plan. Projects are typically authorized as a result of one or more of Market demand, Strategic opportunity, Customer request, Technological advance, or Legal requirement.”

Any innovation has to meet the strategic goals of an organization within the constraints of the organization. An innovation for an organization is needed to create a new product or service. A product or service is the currency for delivering innovation to consumers. A product or service is realized by an organization in a project mode. Project management tries to achieve an agreed outcome and does so by balancing Time, cost and Quality. This is achieved using the 10 areas of project management as prescribed in the body of knowledge, for example. The table 1 shows the various key knowledge areas around which the project management framework is built upon. The table also indicates which knowledge applicability to Innovation projects whose outcome is of innovation in nature.

table2 While most knowledge areas are very suitable for Project Management they are not so much suited for Innovation management. Human resource area is one where people are encouraged to come up with new ideas to solve problems. In the risk management area new ways of doing things are developed to mitigate risks or generating alternatives to an identified risk. However in the rest of the areas three is not much scope for encouraging innovation. If innovation is about selecting the target project management will be about hitting that selected target.

If Innovation is about choosing the target or goal or solution before a project takes up the real execution. An overview of key differences between Innovation and Project Execution is shown in table 2.
Innovation is about generating idea, developing alternatives and having a broad scope which involves various kinds of Risk. Project execution is about focus on a particular idea which the goal of the project, limiting the variations of the scope of the project to prevent scope creep, managing risks to keep to the plan.

Project Management is a key concept for managing uncertainty by having processes in place and managing risks effectively to execute a baseline plan to achieve a predefined goal. Innovation can be seen in pockets within a typical project and it will be more in the form of managing risks or solving problems as long as the main defined goal is unchanged or further secured. In contrast to Project management, innovation is about generating alternatives and does not have a fixed goal upfront.