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From ‘a meh thing’ to amazing! How PMaaS can help build innovation into IT Projects

It’s never good to hear a passionate project manager describe their projects as “meh”!

Bex lives and breathes IT Project Management. She leads a team that, by any measure, would be considered successful: always delivering business case; always on time (and usually early); always within budget. So, when she shared her reason for wanting to move on was, “I just don’t feel we innovate any more”, it got me thinking: How can we build innovation into our IT Projects?

Experience and anecdotal evidence suggest that Bex isn’t alone in seeking a little bit more. In many organisations now, IT project teams feel that the necessary fixed scope, set budgets, tight deadlines, limited resources and defined roles and responsibilities, leave little or no room for experimentation and innovation.

The thing is, if you’re getting the results, do you need the added sizzle of innovating?

I think that you do.

Innovation keeps you, as an individual fresh and motivated, and teams that encourage pushing boundaries are usually the ones that retain the best talent like Bex.

Experimenting and innovating doesn’t mean reinventing the wheel though, it doesn’t have to mean taking reckless risks and gambling with your project’s return on investment. Innovation can be market disrupting but it can also mean making small, incremental changes. Just altering established practices can yield surprisingly better outcomes and deliver more work satisfaction to your team.

By encouraging innovation, organisations adapt more readily to changing market landscapes, and always have a competitive edge. Ultimately, investing in innovation isn’t just about staying ahead – it’s about shaping the future and redefining what’s possible.

Bex is 100% a shaper of futures and ‘redefiner’ of the possible! I asked what had changed and she said among the most depressing things I’ve heard from a fellow project professional:

TOO BUSY TO INNOVATE

Bex told me that her and her team of talented colleagues were too busy to innovate.

Depressing, but I get it, we can all be guilty of getting so lost working in our projects, that we omit to work on them. As Steven R Covey explains in the last chapter of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: “We must never be too busy to take time to sharpen the saw.”

Covey shares a great metaphor, of someone in the woods feverishly sawing down a tree:

“You look exhausted!” you exclaim. “How long have you been at it?”

“Over five hours,” he returns, “and I’m beat! This is hard work.”

“Well, why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?” you inquire. “I’m sure it would go a lot faster.”

“I don’t have time to sharpen the saw,” the man says emphatically. “I’m too busy sawing!”

For Covey, Sharpening the Saw means scheduling time to renew and refresh the four dimensions of our nature: physical; spiritual; mental; and emotional/social. With regular investments in ourselves we reap the dividends later and, what is more, we reap them continuously as new habits are formed.

For our IT Projects, it entails attracting new ideas, inspiration and allowing ourselves the time and space to search-out and try-out different and better ways to do what we do. It means sharpening our practices, aligning our methodology and approach with the task, the project and the desired outcome.

As Abraham Lincoln said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

If you don’t feel that you can dedicate two thirds of your available work time to sharpening your ‘axe’ (who has time for that, right?!), what changes can you make to build innovation into your IT project delivery and busy schedule?

I asked some CIOs and project leaders who I thought were nailing this how they do it, this is what they said:

THREE WAYS TO EASILY BUILD INNOVATION INTO YOUR IT PROJECTS

1 – BUILD A TEAM OUT OF DIFFERENT PERSONALITY TYPES

Some organisations hire similar personality types and reap the immediate reward that they all get on and work well together. “Samey delivers samey,” Andy told me, “When you make your team too uniformly similar you don’t have the spark of different that can be the catalyst to generate and execute new ideas.”

Innovative teams tend to be made up of people with different and yet complementary personalities and skills. Andy says, “We have pragmatists, technical geniuses and creative thinkers who are wired to ask, ‘what else?’. It’s a joy to see it in action, the creative team members are a font of new ideas, they’re sponges for innovation and are always pitching different slants which the technical experts and pragmatists can refine and help implement.”

When Andy reaches out to Stoneseed for Project Management as a Service (PMaaS) talent, he doesn’t just ask for “a project manager” or “a business analyst” – he asks about the availability of a specific individual on our books that he knows will complement his team.

PMaaS is indeed a very effective way of balancing the skills and capabilities of your team.

2 – SCHEDULE THE FINDING OF NEW IDEAS

As Tony Robbins says, energy flows where attention goes.

“Without deliberate focus on innovating, you won’t make time to do it!” says Kim.

“We have KPIs for everything else,” Kim told me, “So we introduced them for innovation. Like every industry, ours is advancing faster than ever, it’s crucial that project teams are given the time to read thought leading articles online or go to conferences, basically look outside the day-to-day and the organisation, and spend time virtually or in person with people from whom they can learn and by whom they can be inspired. Our one-to-one catch ups now include time to assess how each team member is doing in this field.”

Kim’s team effectively scheduled time to explore new thinking and because project teams are masters at getting everything on the schedule done – they always manage it!

They look for low hanging fruit and easy wins too. “When we hire in ‘as a Service resources’, we make ‘stealing knowledge and experience’ a bonus ROI,” Kim says.

This is a great tip. Stoneseed’s PMaaS team are experienced across multiple technology solutions, sectors and industries, and we work on all types of projects and programmes such as Business Change, Transformation, Infrastructure, Digital and IT Project Delivery – to not soak up this “free” knowledge while they’re working with you would be a missed opportunity! They love to share!

And on that:

3 – DARE TO SHARE

“Sharing new ideas is vital,” says Dermot, “what’s the point of giving your team the chance to get inspired by ideas outside the organisation if what they glean isn’t shared within it?”

“We encourage active and effective idea sharing within the team, with a no judgement agreement, as we’d found some team members were reluctant to share what would turn out to be a brilliant idea out of fear of being ridiculed. The reality is that even ideas that are not fully formed, when shared with the whole team, can be refined and improved upon, we can make them workable and ultimately integrate them, but we can’t do that with unshared ideas.”

A culture that encourages idea sharing breeds collaboration and innovation, Dermot believes that some of his team’s best ideas have been developed into workable solutions from organic conversations at the kettle or in the corridor. “If we hadn’t embraced and normalised the sharing of ideas,” he says, “many of these gems might have been lost to the usual awkward small talk or silence that often accompanies office rituals like making a brew. Two of our team, Bev and Suzy streamlined a process once during an impromptu brainstorming whilst, er, sat in adjacent toilet cubicles.”

Great communication is a strength of a great IT Project team, so leverage this natural resource as it is essential for teams to innovate. Whether face-to-face meetings, a Teams call or even either side of a wall in the Ladies loos, information should flow easily between team members!

CONCLUSION – FIND WAYS TO MAKE INNOVATING A HABIT

Innovation is also the catalyst for business, organisational, workplace and individual evolution. Experimenting and innovating drives progress, competitiveness, and business sustainability.

Embracing innovation creates an environment where creativity flourishes, new ideas are abundant and come organically, processes are fine tuned, and end-products are best in class.

Moreover, innovative workplaces attract and retain top talent, like Bex, as individuals are drawn to environments that value fresh thinking and offer opportunities for personal growth, development and self-exploration.

So, it goes beyond survival, innovation can propel a business toward growth and greater prosperity, it can enable organisations to anticipate and meet the evolving needs and expectations of customers.

Never be too busy to innovate.

Find out more about Project Management as a Service from Stoneseed

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