Innovation Project Management

By Harold Kerzner, Ph.D. | Senior Executive Director, International Institute for Learning (IIL)

We are excited to bring you this blog post on Innovation Project Management, which is adapted from Dr. Harold Kerzner’s new book of the same title. Below, he explains why this topic is so important, the types of challenges that innovation project managers face, and much more. Get your copy today! Use code KERZNERBLOG for $20 off. Order on the IIL website.

The Project Management Institute (PMI) has recently celebrated 50 years of providing the world with project management competencies. In the early years, a large portion of the competencies were established to support the Department of Defense’s (DoD’s) requirements placed upon their contractors. Most of these projects were engineering oriented and headed up by project managers with engineering backgrounds. Project sponsors were assigned to make many of the business-related decisions whereas project managers focused heavily upon the technical decisions. In many instances, contractors were opposed to the acceptance of project management practices. They would accept them after the DoD made project management a requirement to be awarded a contract.

As seen by the contractors, the bulk of the contracts were traditional or operational activities with well-defined statements of work, minimal risks, and an agreed upon budget and schedule. Executives placed limited trust in the hands of the project managers for fear that project managers may end up making decisions that were reserved for the senior levels of management. To limit the decisions that project managers could make, senior management created a singular project management approach (a one-size-fits-all methodology) that all PMs had to follow. The singular methodology was based upon rigid policies and procedures. The evaluation of project management performance was based upon how well the PMs followed the methodology. In many companies, project management was not seen as a career path slot but was instead treated as a part-time activity one had to perform in addition to one’s normal duties.

Projects related to strategic planning or strategy development were placed in the hands of functional managers because executives trusted the functional managers more so than they trusted the project managers. Functional managers were given the freedom to use whatever approaches they wish on the strategic projects and most frequently did not follow traditional project management guidelines.

By the turn of the century, companies began to reevaluate whether functional managers were the right people to manage strategic projects, especially those involving innovation. The critical issue was with bonuses. Functional managers were receiving year-end bonuses based upon the firm’s profitability over a 12-month period. As such, functional managers were using their best resources on the short-term projects that would maximize their year-end bonuses and the long-term strategic projects that would provide the firm with a sustainable competitive advantage began to suffer due to staffing deficiencies. Short-term profits became more important than long-term growth.

Competitive factors were now forcing companies to realize that survival was predicated upon growth and innovation was a critical component. All companies desire growth. But without some innovations, the opportunities may be limited. And even if the firm does have a few successful innovations, failure can still occur if the company focuses on past successes without developing a culture for continuous and sustainable innovations. Today’s industry leaders can become tomorrow’s failures without constantly challenging results.

Recognizing the need for some changes in the way that strategic projects, especially those involving innovation, were being managed, the focus naturally turned to project management applications. But there was the critical issue as to whether the core competencies used by PMs for the management of traditional or operational projects would be applicable to innovation projects. Competencies for managing traditional or operational projects are reasonably well-defined in documents such as PMI’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) and IPMA’s Competency Baseline, Version 3.0. However, for innovation projects, there is no universal agreement on the content of the competencies. Many of the traditional project management competencies are also components of innovation project management competencies, but there are others related to the types of decisions that must be made based upon the company’s core competencies for managing operational work and the type of innovation project at hand.

Over the past two decades, there has been a great deal of literature published on innovation and innovation management. Converting a creative idea into reality requires projects and some form of project management. Unfortunately, innovation projects may not be able to be managed using the traditional project management philosophy we teach in our project management courses. Innovation varies from industry to industry and even companies within the same industry cannot come to an agreement on how innovation management should work. This is the reason why project management and innovation are often not discussed in the same sentence.

Some of the challenges facing innovation project managers include:

  • Inability to predict exactly when an innovation will occur
  • Inability to identify what the cost of innovation will be
  • Inability to predict how the enterprise environmental factors will change over the life of the project
  • Working with just an idea or goal rather than a formal statement of work
  • Working with strategic/business objectives rather than operational/traditional objectives
  • Inability to predict changes in consumer tastes, needs and behaviors
  • Inability to deal with extremely high levels of risk, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity and variability
  • Having to use a new flexible methodology or framework based upon investment life cycle phases rather than traditional waterfall life cycle phases
  • A focus on metrics related to business benefits and value rather than the traditional time, cost and scope metrics

There are many more challenges that could have been included in this list, but it does show that what we traditionally teach as competencies in our project management courses must be revised when considering innovation projects.

Competencies are the roles, knowledge, skills, personal characteristics and attributes that someone must have to fulfill a position. Most companies, especially large firms, have operational core competencies used by PMs when managing traditional projects that are burdened with formal procedures that often make it difficult to react quickly to take advantage of opportunities that can lead to a sustainable competitive advantage. These companies are generally risk averse and perform as market followers rather than leaders.

If a company wants an entrepreneurial environment, then there must exist some degree of autonomy and flexibility in the operational core competencies that impact innovation activities for both product and process improvements. Typical core competencies for an entrepreneurial environment include:

  • Inventiveness
  • Understanding business strategy
  • Understanding value propositions
  • Having a business orientation
  • Having knowledge about markets and customer behavior
  • Working with high degrees of risk, uncertainty and complexity
  • Managing diverse cross-functional teams
  • Team building skills
  • Coordination and control over activities
  • Design thinking
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Brainstorming
  • Rapid prototype development
  • Innovation leadership

Some of these competencies may apply to both innovation and traditional projects. Competencies can vary from company to company in the way that the characteristics of the competencies are integrated together and the relationship to the firm’s business model. Competencies are also dependent on the type of projects and corporate leadership.

Unlike traditional leadership, innovation leadership must include allowing for autonomy accompanied by the acceptance and support of risky ventures often in reaction to technological changes in the marketplace. Autonomy is usually measured by the speed by which the firm’s cross-functional activities are integrated to take advantage of opportunities for delivering innovative products. For entrepreneurship to work, there must be a corporate culture that supports risk-taking and experimentation without fear of reprisal if the results are not what was expected.

The success of an innovation corporate culture is measured by:

  • The number of new products created
  • The number of new products created that were first to market
  • The speed by which commercialization took place

If continuous and sustainable innovation is to occur, then innovation leadership and traditional project management must be married together and with a clear understanding of each other’s roles. Innovation defines what we would like to do, and project management determines if it can be done. The marriage also may require that both parties learn new skills and create a corporate culture that supports idea management practices.

Understanding each other’s roles is the first step in making a company more innovative. This requires that the project managers and other innovation personnel understand what they do not do now but must do for long-term successful innovation. This also includes understanding the interfacing with marketing personnel and customers.

Innovation project management is now a strategic competency necessary for the growth, and possibly survival, of the firm. Properly trained innovation project managers can be expected to make presentations to those people that reside on the top floor of the building as well as members of the board of directors.

The Innovation Project Management book was written with the intent of providing project personnel with the additional competencies needed to manage innovation projects. The book also discusses the corporate governance needed to create the appropriate culture for innovation to occur.

Get your copy today! Use code KERZNERBLOG for $20 off. Order on the IIL website.

The book is broken down as follows:

  • Chapter 1: Discusses why innovation and project management are often not discussed together and some of the links that are needed to bridge innovation, project management and business strategy.
  • Chapter 2: Discusses the different types of innovation. This is essential because each type of innovation may require a different form of project management.
  • Chapter 3: Discusses how business strategy may determine the type of innovation required and links together project management with the different types of innovation.
  • Chapter 4: Discusses the new tools that traditional project managers need to learn in order to manage innovation projects. Many of these tools are not discussed in traditional project management programs.
  • Chapter 5: Discusses why some of the processes used in traditional project management activities may not work within innovation projects without some degree of modification.
  • Chapter 6: Discusses the growth in innovation management software that project managers are now using in the front end of projects for idea management, alternative analyses and decision making.
  • Chapter 7: Discusses the new metrics, such as benefits realization and value metrics, that project managers and innovation personnel are using for the monitoring and controlling of innovation projects.
  • Chapter 8: Discusses innovations related to business models rather than products and services.
  • Chapter 9: Discussed how disruptive innovation requirements may need a completely new form of project management and the need to interface closely with the consumer marketplace.
  • Chapter 10: Discusses the roadblocks affecting the working relationship between project management and innovation.
  • Chapter 11: Discusses how some projects, including innovation activities, have degrees of success and failure rather than complete success and failure as defined by the triple constraints.
  • Chapter 12: Discusses the innovation culture that several companies have developed as well as the functional units they created to support innovation creation.
  • Chapter 13: Case studies that discuss issues with innovation.

About the Author
Harold Kerzner is Senior Executive Director with International Institute for Learning (IIL). He has an MS and Ph.D. in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering from the University of Illinois and an MBA from Utah State University. He is a prior Air Force Officer and spent several years at Morton-Thiokol in project management. He taught engineering at the University of Illinois and business administration at Utah State University, and for 38 years taught project management at Baldwin-Wallace University.

He has published or presented numerous engineering and business papers in addition to more than 80 college textbooks/workbooks on project management, including later editions. His latest book is Innovation Project Management: Methods, Case Studies and Tools for Managing Innovation Projects (Wiley, 2019).

Contact IIL to find out how we can support your individual, team, or organizational Learning & Development needs in 2020 and beyond. Email, call +1-212-758-0177 or request a free consultation on our website.

PMBOK is a  registered mark of Project Management Institute, Inc.

People Innovation: A New Vision to Innovate

By Luigi Morsa, Ph.D. 

Nowadays, companies are very conscious that if they want to be competitive, they have to innovate. The conquered market shares can rapidly disappear or drastically be reduced. The only way is to keep pace, to be reactive and introduce new solutions, ideally before their competitors. It is worth quoting a sentence of the father of the Open Innovation concept, Henry Chesbrough: “Most innovation fails. And companies that don’t innovate die” [1].

In the complex companies’ world, as is well-known to the experts (contrary to what is broadly thought), innovation is not only linked to a new product; the innovation can be also relative to a new process, a new company asset, a new procedure, or a new business model. In a nutshell, we can agree that innovation is all about bringing improvement and efficiency; and affecting the development of a company in a positive manner.

It is also true that there are innovations with different importance, namely there exist innovations with different impacts on a company and on a market; for instance, the strongest innovations are the ones able to replace an existing market or create a new one. This leads to the fascinating economic concepts of “Creative Destruction Innovation” by Joseph Schumpeter in 1942 [2] and “Disruptive Technologies” by Joseph Bower and Clayton Christensen in 1995 [3].

On the other hand, a less important innovation does not really affect the old scenario but brings some benefit to the company. It is clear that a company has to focus on innovations at each level. In order to efficiently pursue this task, companies have adopted several tools, procedures and strategies that help the birth of new ideas – in addition to adopting the classical Research and Development department (especially if we are speaking about product innovation).

The ideas are clearly generated by people and therefore the companies realized that a secret to obtain as many new ideas as possible is to create the “ideal condition” to allow people to bring their contribution. One interesting way to accomplish the task is represented by the so-called “Innovation Management Software (IMS)”. This has been developing during the last two decades and it can be seen as the last evolution of the “suggestion box”, introduced more than 100 years ago and still present in some offices.

The Innovation software programs are usually conceived in a way that there is a common platform where all the users (basically employees of the company) have access and can freely leave their proposals or opinions about a possible new idea. Then, each new proposal generates an online debate or discussion with the effect to improve it. Once a certain number of ideas is reached, the selection phase starts. This is conducted by innovation project managers with the support of sector experts and business unit people. Their intent is to evaluate the feasibility from a technical and business point of view, respectively. Finally, this committee selects the ideas which are worthy of an investment [4].

In most cases, even though the IMS is very fascinating, a good percentage of employees are reluctant to contribute their ideas to the company. Possible reasons may be because they have not developed a sense of belonging, they simply do not believe in the company, or they think that an idea given to the company is a kind of gift without a sure repayment. In order to avoid such inefficiencies, the latest tools like IMS should be supported by an additional software that we could baptize “People Innovation (PI)”. The purpose of this article is not to give a detailed description about the software concept, but to discuss the main guidelines and benefits.

The starting point is the slight change in the philosophical approach between the IMS and People Innovation (PI). We can say that the innovation management software is based on the assumption that the main heritage of a company that wants to innovate lies on the ideas of the people of the company; therefore, the software “simply” helps the development of ideas. In the case of PI, the basis goes beyond: the main heritage of a company to innovate lies on the people of the company; therefore, the software helps people to innovate themselves and, consequently, also the company.

If the company believes in the employees, the employees feel more motivated to give their contribution to the company and, finally, to innovate.

The weak side of the IMS is, on one hand, it favors peoples’ connections and discussions to help generate ideas. On the other hand, it does not care about how an employee can develop himself or herself during this time. How can a sense of belonging or the desire to participate in the innovation process of a company be generated in employees? The answer is the following: through the idea that a company wants to take care of its employees, wants to bet on them, wants to donate a future vision and want to define professional development for them.

We can imagine that the PI software could have a special section where all the employees’ profiles are stored and for each of them, the possible career paths are shown, the courses needed to achieve some results are advised, as well as how their innovative ideas can be supported or promoted. 

The other important aspect is, who are the players that ensure PI works properly? In this regard, we are talking about people in Human Resources, the project innovation managers and the line managers. All these players have to have access to the PI shell, and they have to help employees in their development in the company. In general, HR could monitor if an employee is satisfied and understand all of his/her needs, the line manager could define what can be done for their professional development and the project innovation manager could stay alert in case of new potential ideas.

The software could definitely be a powerful tool to motivate employees. One of the biggest challenges in organizational management is how to provide recognition (and possibly rewards) to workers that make a significant contribution to the business. There are two critical issues with recognition systems.

  • First, not all employees are in a position where their performance can be directly related to business success. This can alienate workers who believe they are missing out on these opportunities because of their current work assignment or position.
  • Second, the company must decide if the recognition will be done monetarily or non-monetarily. Believe it or not, having a diagram with the visible professional development, with the past achievements and above all with the future targets for an employee is priceless. People could believe that regular meetings with HR and managers of various kinds are enough, but they are not. Software is needed since it is important to have a visible, professional situation and clear prospects.

In conclusion, we observe that PI’s purpose is not to replace traditional innovation software management. On the contrary, PI actually completes the IMS by enlarging potential. The IMS encourages cooperation for the development of an idea, creates the useful connections and improves the concepts promoting discussions. PI accompanies and drives the employees during their stay in the company in order to find out the best way to be motivated and to better express themselves, and it creates more suitable conditions to generate ideas. It is something that a company (devout to innovation) should have and develop according to its needs.

About the Author
Luigi Morsa (Ph.D.) is an Aerospace Engineer and Project Manager working in Germany at the consultant company SII engineering & IT. Luigi’s passion for project management has led him to contribute to two books by Dr. Harold Kerzner, the pioneer and globally recognized expert in project management. More in detail, Luigi wrote the case study “The Airbus A380” and the chapter on “Innovation Management Software” for the books Project Management Case Studies, Fifth Edition (Wiley, 2017) and Innovation Project Management (Wiley, 2019), respectively. In 2018, he was a speaker at the Project Management Institute (PMI)® EMEA Congress to discuss the complexity of the aircraft-industry market, with particular emphasis on the relationship between the product and customer needs.


[1]. Henry W. Chesbrough, “Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating and Profiting from Technology”, Harvard Business School Press, 2003.

[2]. Joseph A. Schumpeter, “Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy”, Harper & Brothers, 1942.

[3]. Joseph L. Bower and Clayton M. Christensen, “Disruptive technologies: catching the wave”, Harvard Business Review, 1995.

[4]. Harold Kerzner, “Innovation Project Management”, John Wiley & Sons, 2019.

Efosa Ojomo on Market-Creating Innovation

Efosa Ojomo is Senior Research Fellow and Lead of Global Prosperity Research at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation. As a keynote speaker at IIL’s Leadership & Innovation 2019 Online Conference, he shared impactful theories and models that left us thinking about innovation in an entirely different way.

We received so many great questions during the 15-minute Q&A that we didn’t have time to get to them all. Thank you to Efosa for taking the time to answer each and every question. This blog post is a compilation of some of our favorites.

The recording of Efosa’s keynote, and all other speaker presentations, are available to watch on demand through June 9. Log in or register here.

Of the three types of innovation [market-creating, sustaining, efficiency], how do you determine which one to focus a team’s energy? Or how to split their time between the three?

This depends on your organization’s existing business. A general rule of thumb is 20% market-creating (future), 40% sustaining (present), 40% efficiency (improving the past). I think the main thing about market-creating innovations is that they must have their own metrics if they are to be successful. Organizations can’t measure them the same way the success of other types of innovations are measured.

By developing these [separate business] units [for market-creating innovation], is this a means to bypass the shortfall of efficient innovations (i.e. a backdoor to keep jobs even though the organization is pushing innovations that would ultimately reduce the workforce)?

Not really. I think the reason to develop these units is to keep the organization viable for the long-term. If a company focuses only on efficiency innovations, it is bound to be disrupted someday. Other organizations are also doing the same. Investing in market-creating innovations give you the biggest chance for success.

Creating new markets does include expansion into economies without or with small such markets; does this represent disruptive innovation? Is the process of bringing an innovation from one economy to another economy without considered disruptive?

Creating new markets is sometimes considered disruptive. In Chapter 2 of our book The Prosperity Paradox: How Innovation Can Lift Nations Out of Poverty, we explain the relationship between market-creating and disruptive innovations.

How do we utilize these principles in operations driven businesses?

These principles are key for operations driven businesses but are also less obvious. For one, I would consider the value chain within which your business functions and see if your suppliers or those you supply to are market-creating, sustaining, or efficiency. This is important because if any of them loses out, so do you. This happened to Intel. As smartphones slowly became the dominant electronic gadgets of the day, Intel missed out on this opportunity because it was focused on sustaining and efficiency innovations in the PC industry.

What would you do differently to change from a push strategy to a pull strategy, knowing what you know now? In other words, the current business models are built on push strategies. What would you recommend to change cultures? 

First of all, I would be patient. I wouldn’t rush in to build the well* or simply invest in the most expedient solution. Second, I would work to identify entrepreneurs in the community so that I can hand over whatever investment I make to them. This is the best chance of making the solution sustainable. Third, I would check to see if there is a business close by that needs access to water. They are most likely going to be the ones most incentivized to keep the well going.

*Background: In his keynote, Efosa speaks about building a well for a poor village in Nigeria and how that demonstrates a push strategy: “where we go in, often with the best of intentions, and we push what we believe is the right solution onto people.”

How do you feel about innovation through acquisition? 

I think innovation through acquisition holds a lot of promise. However, the fundamental principles remain true. For an innovation to truly be a new growth engine for a company, it has to target nonconsumers. Here’s a great Harvard Business Review article about M&A in organizations.

Do you see disruptive innovation affecting greater social equity?

By their very nature, because disruptive innovations democratize products and services, they have the potential to reduce inequality.

How do we manage the balance between the risk and benefit of new, disruptive innovation? 

(This question was also answered during the live Q&A.) I recommend a great book titled Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth. It discusses this exact issue. It is a tough balance, but companies must anticipate that their existing strategy will someday be obsolete. As such, the risks associated with disruptive opportunities begin to look different once they are viewed with this lens.

Lisa Bodell on Simplification and Innovation

Lisa Bodell is the CEO of futurethink and the bestselling author of Why Simple Wins. As closing keynote speaker at IIL’s Leadership & Innovation 2019 Online Conference, she delivered a powerful message on how complexity is holding most of us back, and what we can do to get back to the work that really matters.

We received so many great questions during the 15-minute Q&A that we didn’t have time to get to them all. Thank you to Lisa for taking the time to answer each and every question. This blog post is a compilation of some of our favorites.

The recording of Lisa’s keynote, and all other speaker presentations, are available to watch on demand through June 9. Log in or register here.

Should it always be so simple? What if the situation is really complex?

It should be as simple AS POSSIBLE. We use an acronym called M-U-R-A:

Minimal – Making something as minimal as possible is the one part of the definition everyone always knows. Simplicity makes you initially think of all the things you need to eliminate or streamline, but what you might not realize is why that’s so important. Of course, simplicity is a subtractive process. You can get more value from your company or employees by being more focused, more nimble. If we can get in the mindset that less equals value, that’s the very first step. But this is where most people stop; there is more to simplicity than just minimizing.

Understandable – Another element of simplification is to ensure something is as understandable as possible. This is about clarity — no acronyms, no jargon, no big words to sound important. Being ‘understandable’ means getting to the heart of what you mean quickly.

Repeatable – Next: simplicity involves being as repeatable as possible. This is about effectiveness through consistency — avoiding one-off efforts or customizing everything you do. We want to avoid reinventing the wheel each time we do something –this helps us save time, share learning, and ensure we’re repeating best practices. Think of it this way: it’s important that every time a pilot gets into a cockpit, they understand how to fly the plane because the experience is repeatable from plane to plane. And every time a brain surgeon operates, he knows the repeatable ‘best practices’ to use to ensure patient safety.

Accessible – Finally, simplicity is about making things as accessible AS POSSIBLE. This involves being more transparent and open to a wider audience to accomplish more things in an easier way – like Geico and Progressive Insurance did with their pricing models. Their customers are excited to work with them because they believe they are honest by sharing more of how their business works. Or opening up your code like Google does so others can help them create new offerings, or like IBM does with their Idea Jams – collaborating between employees to encourage the sharing of problems and ideas and building on each other’s knowledge to solve them faster, together.

These are the keys to simplicity: making something as MINIMAL, UNDERSTANDABLE, REPEATABLE, and ACCESSIBLE as possible. Notice that I tack the phrase “as possible” onto each element of the definition. I’m not arguing that everything needs to be a single line. That would be impossible, and not at all desirable, either. Albert Einstein famously argued: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

Do you have an example where this didn’t work?

You mean where simplifying didn’t work? It *is* possible to oversimplify. Let me give you a couple of examples of what I mean: A group within GE set an ambitious goal of cutting down its contracts. They cut a 100-page contract down to 1 page which was fantastic. But they found they were now taking a lot of time explaining all the things they left out. They decided a 10-page contact – which was still a tremendous improvement – was better.

How do you balance simplifying complexity with assuring processes remain in control and the business does not drop into chaos? 

Simplify one area or thing at a time. Chaos will happen if everyone starts trying to simplify everything without knowing why. So define WHY you want to simplify (in service of what? More time with customers? Save money?), and then focus on one simplification area at a time – reports, meetings, etc.

How do you connect simplicity to the bottom line for a business, budgets? 

Simplification has tremendous impact on efficiency, and the bottom line. Per the recent Siegel+Gale simplification report: Customers are willing to pay a 6%+ price premium or MORE for companies that offer a simpler way to deal with them, they are 70% more likely to recommend you to others, and companies that were viewed as ‘simplified’ outperformed others in their category by 214%! Culture and Ethical benefits: 30% retention of your employees – because they are doing work that MATTERS. Those are the benefits, but you may also be asking how you MEASURE simplification to show its impact.

A few metrics:

Vision/Communication Metric: Decrease in time spent communicating on irrelevant social media channels
Structure Metrics – Increase in staff decision-making due to simplified org. structure
HR Metrics – Decrease in number of approval layers for hiring qualified candidates
Strategy/Planning Metrics – Decrease in number of approval committees
Operational Metric – Decrease in number of required sign-offs/signatures for approval
Product/Service Metric – Number of steps or layers removed from our product-development process
Meetings Metrics – Number of meetings eliminated; increase in time meeting with customers
Email/Calls/Voicemail Metrics – Decrease in volume of internal emails
Reports Metrics – Number of reports killed
Presentation Metrics – Amount of time saved by eliminating PPTs from internal meetings
Value of Staff Time Metrics – Number of activities eliminated to make room for new ones

Project Management is one of the most complex and procedure-oriented activities. What do you recommend for Project Managers to simplify? 

We practice EOS – eliminate, outsource, or simplify. First ask – is it necessary? If not, eliminate. If yes – can you outsource it or give it to another group/person to do? If not, can you simplify it? Reduce the steps, reduce the frequency, reduce the time, reduce the people or resources. Doing this with policies and procedures gets incredible results.

In an aging workforce environment, how do you change the culture to move it towards ‘simplification’? Thinking of situations where a lot of procedures are based on overcomplexity ‘to cover all the bases’ and ‘because we’ve always done it that way’.

Kill A Stupid Rule is a great way to question assumptions around ‘how work gets done’. It’s not that all rules are bad, it’s that many have outlined their time. ALL AGES enjoy kill a stupid rule because it moves a culture towards eliminating unnecessary things and opens a dialog to taking a new approach.

If we do the work that really matters to us personally, isn’t it likely that we will ignore or shortchange the work that must be done for the benefit of the company?

It’s not about the work that just matters to YOU, it’s the work that matters for the company and its strategic goals. Some work has to be done, but the issue is we spend far too much time on unnecessary work that isn’t getting us towards our collective goals. It’s the higher purpose work we want to get to, and if there are some necessary things we have to do in service of that, that’s fine. Your goal is to eliminate the stuff that doesn’t matter to anyone (you or the org).

Are there any good tools?

Yes! In my book (Why Simple Wins) and we sell a toolkit on Amazon with 13 tools to get started RIGHT NOW.

How do you ID the best chief simplifier?

For the past 10 years, I’ve helped leaders embrace simplification. The ones who are successful share these 6 traits:

Courage: When Dave Lewis became CEO at European grocery store Tesco in 2014, the company was struggling. Lewis recognized that shopping at Tesco had become a chore. Customers shopping for a single product—like ketchup, for example—were faced with dozens of brands, flavors, and types. Lewis hired a team and mandated them to cut the variety of products by 30 percent, from 90,000 items to 65,000. Lewis anticipated blowback from customers and from suppliers, but Lewis stayed true to his mission. A year later, the company’s first Christmas season beat financial expectations.

Minimalist mindset: To drive simplicity, leaders must understand the value of paring things back. They need to envision how a simpler company will be more efficient, productive, and profitable.  It’s easy to demand more, more, more, but what could it mean for your business if you sacrificed a third of your product offerings? We rarely see the harm in adding new functionality to a website, a new option to a service plan, or a new series of internal meetings. But those sorts of additions do have a cost, like overwhelming customers — even if it’s not readily apparent on a balance sheet.

Results orientation: Smart leaders know that successful simplification isn’t just about making do with less or making people do more with less. It’s about enabling employees to do more of the work they’re excited to complete.

Focus: Leaders with a simplicity mindset refuse to get bogged down by distractions. While simplicity benefits the company as a whole, it often challenges certain individuals and groups whose authority is rooted in inefficient and overly complex rules, processes, and systems.

Personal engagement: If hoping to instill an ethos of simplification, you need to exemplify, empower, and reinforce the behaviors associated with simplification. You eliminate redundancies, you kill stupid rules, you say ‘NO’ to meetings that you don’t need to attend. If you’re not prepared to simplify your own work environment, don’t direct those who work for you to strip things down.

Decisiveness: Leaders who are driving simplification lay aside the need to seek consensus. Complicated organizations tend to be overloaded with people who claim they can’t get things done because they need more time or analysis, or that some other department hasn’t signed off or another team hasn’t sent them the specs. Leaders operating in a simplicity mindset short-circuit those complaints. They make decisions quickly and cleanly, and they inspire those around them to do the same.

What about those of us who are not decision makers and stuck with “complexity”? How can we advocate “simplicity” to our management? Sometimes it is difficult to get people to change.

It could just be in the positioning of it. Simplification IS an efficiency exercise, which management LOVES. Kill a stupid rule is an excellent way to get them on board.

When you talk about 45% in meetings/23% doing email, shouldn’t these really be considered at least partially as productive time? Generally, we need to work with other people to come up with the best solutions.

Of course. I’m not saying ALL emails and meetings are bad. I’m saying that many of them aren’t necessary. The goal is to eliminate the self-imposed and unnecessary work to make more space to focus on the necessary ones.

How does one manage a change in a siloed organization that espouses innovation, but is encumbered by legacy structure?

Simplification starts on the ground level. The individual level. I strongly suggest to teams to simplify within their sphere of control first. You’ll get results, and others will soon want to follow your lead. I’ve seen it happen hundreds of times.

I can’t help but think this applies well to home and family life as well. Do you hear stories from people where they applied this at home? What is your favorite?

Absolutely. I tell people to try the exercises on their personal life. Especially the exercise on figuring out where to simplify your work/life. I discussed in my speech creating a t-chart, and on the left side, right down all the typical things you do in a week. Circle the ones that are valuable/meaningful to your life goals. If a task isn’t circles, why are you doing it? Can you stop doing it for awhile and see what happens? Often in our personal life we do things our of obligation that just suck our time and aren’t meaningful to us.  Then on the right side of the t-chart, list all thing things where you WISH you could spend you time. What holds you back from doing that?

Rich Sheridan: Change Begins With You

Originally published at

Rich Sheridan: Change Begins With You | Part 4: Culture Guest Blog Series

[Intro by admin Scott]

“In this interview, Rich Sheridan — founder of Menlo Innovations and author of the new book Chief Joy Officer — shares the trials and tribulations in cultivating and leading a positive work culture in an ever-changing business world.

I first met Rich Sheridan when we toured Menlo Innovations as part of a career transformation program I was leading in 2010, called “Shifting Gears.” I was taken with Rich’s passion for his team and their culture at Menlo as well as his authenticity, evident as he talked about their mistakes and the way they approached change by performing experiments with daily team-generated ideas

A culture conversation would not be complete without including Rich, and I’m excited to share some of his thoughts with you.”

Q: Tell us a little about the beginning. When did you start your business? Why did you decide to start it? What vision or goals did you have for your business in the beginning?

Menlo Innovations was launched on June 12, 2001, at the depth of the dot-com bubble burst. The decision to found an IT-services firm during the darkest day was born out of two basic ideas:

  • We had recently experienced a dramatically positive transformation of a public company, Interface Systems, where I was VP of R&D, and where co-founder James Goebel had worked shoulder-to-shoulder with me on creating that transformation. While the economic tragedy of the internet-bubble burst had caused us all to lose our jobs, this dramatic downturn couldn’t take away what we had learned in that transformation. We knew we could do it again. As I like to say, when the Titanic sank, it took a perfectly good engine room with it, and it wasn’t the engine room’s fault.
  • A downturn is actually an excellent time to start a business because everything — real estate, equipment, office furniture, you name it — is less expensive! There is also an abundance of available talent seeking work.

We wanted to bring to Menlo Innovations what we had experienced at Interface Systems: teamwork, energy, results and positive culture.

Q:  When did the culture of your business become a focus for you? What were some of the first things you remember doing to start focusing on culture?

Culture was a focus right from the start. We were all in the later stages of our careers and wanted to do something meaningful and compelling. We were past the life stage of simply needing a job. We knew we could all find a job. We wanted something we could build that would last and would have impact. Our belief is that an intentionally positive culture was the only way to do that, and intentionally positive cultures were rare. We wanted rare because it energized us and we knew it would energize our team and those whom we serve.

We started this focus by teaching our culture to others. We began offering all-day classes. It was one of our first offerings to teach our “Why” (namely, to end human suffering in the world as it relates to technology and return joy to software) and our “How” (i.e., the processes and practices of the Menlo Software Factory).

Q: What are three successes and one failure in your journey of establishing a great culture in your business?


  • We instituted a brand-new way of hiring that we dubbed “Extreme Interviewing” which energized a very tired process in most organizations. We interview without reviewing resumes and without asking questions. Rather, we conduct an unusual audition.
  • We focused on the physical space of Menlo, and we got lucky and found a compelling wide-open space in which to build our team and practice that was consistent with the values we espoused of openness, transparency, teamwork and collaboration.
  • We opened our doors to tours so that people could come and see exactly what it was we’re describing in words. Those tours quickly increased to more than 1,000 visitors per year and now number between 3,000 and 4,000 per year.

What got in the way:

  • Our intention was to build a team that would operate in this compelling space that we had. Our early clients wanted our staff members to work at their locations. We agreed and started putting staff in several locations around Ann Arbor. This thwarted our ability to grow the culture we intended to build, because we just weren’t spending enough time with each other. Whenever a client engagement ended, half of the team that worked there would end up taking another job with another company.

Q: How would I see your culture in action if I walked through Menlo Innovations today?

The good news is that you could join the thousands who come every year from all over the world to see it firsthand. I often get to walk through our front door with visitors, hoping to catch their initial reaction. Typically, the first word out of their mouths is “Wow,” because they can feel the human energy of our team. You walk in and hear the noise of work, see people working shoulder-to-shoulder with each other at a shared computer and keyboard. You hear laughter. You’re likely greeted by a Menlo dog or two. You might hear the sound of a baby brought in by a parent that day. The space is bright, colorful and visual. Our most important artifacts are push-pinned to the wall, and draw the attention of our visitors. These artifacts include handcrafted posters with our most important cultural values, including a great Frank Zappa quote: ‘The computer can’t tell you the emotional story. It can give you the exact mathematical design, but what’s missing is the eyebrows.’ They also see our famous work authorization boards which outline the daily and weekly project work of our team. The projects are described on handwritten index cards and their status is reported with colorful sticky dots, using strings of yarn to mark the current day in each plan so we instantly know whether we are ahead or behind without having to ask.

Q: As a leader of a growing and dynamic business, how do you personally monitor the health of the culture?

I sit out in the room with everyone else. There is no corner office for me. While, as CEO, I will always get a skewed view of the culture, this presence knocks down a lot of the barriers. Many executives will declare that they have an open-door policy. I can’t do that. I don’t have a door.

Q: What final wisdom or advice would you share with a leader that wants to create healthier culture in their own business?

Know that change begins with you. You have to become the example to lead a dramatic change. I was taught to be a different kind of leader early in my career. I had to unlearn some things and re-learn others. Ultimately, I found that if I could learn how to bring my authentic self to work and share my joy in the present and my hope for the future, I could set the stage for a very positive and intentional culture. This kind of leadership requires the ability to envision a bright future and to pay attention to the minute details of running the business today.

My other broad advice is to stay in learner mode, and one of the best ways to do that is to read. Culture is not a program or an initiative that is separate from our daily work. Culture is the way we work.

Hear more from Rich Sheridan at IIL’s first Leadership & Innovation Conference 2019

For more ways to learn about Menlo, or Rich Sheridan, view the original article here.

Recap: International Project Management Day 2018

By Henk-Jan van der Klis (@hjvanderklis)
Capgemini Engagement Manager, Financial Services and Project Management Consultant

On 1 November 2018, thousands of people gathered online for International Project Management Day 2018: Project, Program, and Portfolio Management in an Age of Digital Disruption, an online learning and knowledge sharing event organized by IIL. The virtual conference gives attendees the opportunity to watch live content, interact in Q&A sessions right after keynote speakers finish their talks, and select some prerecorded presentations in between the keynotes, even in the weeks after the actual event on 1 November 2018.

(Registration is still open for those who would like to attend on demand. REGISTER HERE.)

I will highlight takeaways from some of the presentations I have attended so far. There’s way more content available, ranging from Microsoft® Project going Agile, cracking social media, building machine learning models to transparency being key to project success.

KEYNOTE: Innovation Project Management

Dr. Harold Kerzner (Senior Executive Director, IIL) first introduces his audience to innovation. Be aware that cost reduction measures are a short-term solution, whereas innovation aims at future profits. The outputs of innovation are products and services, new business models. Peter Drucker stated that only marketing and innovation drive growth.

Kerzner explains the difference between incremental and disruptive innovation. Project management approaches should differ between the two. Project management is what delivers business value. Innovation management, in its purest form, is a combination of the management of innovation processes and change management. While incremental innovation may not bring significant changes, disruptive innovation will demand changes.

Three ways the project management and innovation combination is criticized:

  • Traditional project management is a one-size-fits-all approach
  • There’s no controlled environment for contemporary projects
  • The devil’s triangle for project success (time, cost, scope) cannot be used for innovation

Note that the Sixth Edition of A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) addresses value and benefits management. Just like Agile and Scrum are frameworks and require project management to accommodate, innovation also requires project management to evolve and be less rigid. Managers need to recognize the type of project at the start, resist institutional pressure to adapt traditional ‘rational’ approaches to all projects, and apply an appropriate approach – one tailored for the type of project.

Must-haves in innovation project management in order to deliver value:

  • Feel comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty
  • See the big picture
  • Know and relate to the team and the firm’s growth objectives
  • Know the firm’s tangible and intangible assets (capabilities and resources)
  • Get close enough to the customers to know what they will buy

KEYNOTE: Reaching New Heights in Project Management

Alan Mallory (Speaker / Author / Performance Coach) shares his two-month quest to climb Mount Everest with his parents and siblings.

His keynote highlights the importance of project management strategies and techniques such as procurement, scope, time management, planning, work breakdown structure, communications, risk, and stakeholder management, and so on.

In hindsight, a hybrid approach with elements from a waterfall and an Agile approach could be derived from the expedition.

KEYNOTE: Design Sinking: How to Fail at Design Thinking – And How to Do It Better

Lukas Bosch (consultant, moderator, trainer, lecturer) teases his audience that he may be talking about Design Sinking. Design thinking could mean thinking about (re)design. Design Thinking can also be understood as a design of a thinking process. Combining the two leads us to think like designers, even if you’re not trained as a designer, and to design thoroughly. A holistic view of innovation combines feasibility, viability, and desirability. Design Thinking starts at desirability.

Design Thinking focuses radically on the users, their behavior, and needs, instead of asking what they want. Ideas, innovation, and culture are three dimensions to apply and fail at Design Thinking.

Bosch shows examples of:

  • Putting ideas of a perfect solution by using our experience and imagination as a guiding principle and risk designing for our users rather than ourselves.
  • Claiming to know your customers. First-hand customer insights are critical for Design Thinking’s success. We often build on assumptions.
  • Falling in love with an idea. Are your ideas solutions to users’ problems? Can you kill your darlings? Fall in love with your users.
  • Not implementing the ideas by lack of ownership and execution power.
  • Judging the new by old standards.
  • Being chained in the system (organization, network). Not only sparks innovation but gives space for solutions to be implemented and improved.

In conclusion, Bosch’s presentation teaches us to start, be prepared to fail at some points, avoid pitfalls, and take Design Thinking as an open-ended journey to the future.

Shared Knowledge is Power – Building an Agile Project Management Community

Paul Jones (EMEA Project & Prog. Mgmt. Community Lead, Fujitsu) presents how the project management community at Fujitsu is empowered and stimulated to share knowledge and experience among each other. Use projects to enable change by taking a more Agile approach instead of managing by command and control, require different skill sets, and thrive when lessons learned are passed onto next projects.

The myriad of approaches and practices nowadays is overwhelming, shows the Deloitte blog and tube map Navigating the Agile Landscape. How to meet the challenge?

  • Empower your people to drive the direction of your project management capability
  • Utilize the combined knowledge and experience of your people
  • Put in place a supportive environment to foster knowledge transfer
  • Make knowledge sharing part of the culture

Company size doesn’t matter. Learn from failures, embrace what works. Everyone has the opportunity to shape the community. How do you engage with your people? How do you foster knowledge?

Are You Another Project Manager or Mission-Critical?

Mario Arit (Vice President, Project Management, ABB) stresses the importance of critical thinking, way beyond the technical project management skills. Why? The project environment requires certain awareness, if not competencies of the field of expertise, e.g. Financial Services, Construction management, health, and safety. Project managers and teams should be problem solvers and critical thinkers, proactive managers, out-of-the-box thinkers, and fire preventers, rather than firefighters.

Technical skills are not sufficient (think of the factors such as communications and risk management that were failing at the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986). The National Education Association lists four C’s:

  • Critical thinking and problem-solving. Be aware that bias leads to poor decisions.
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Creativity and innovation

Where do you learn these skills? Arit doesn’t give an answer but states that adding creative and critical thinking skills is a rewarding opportunity and can make the difference between being just another PM or a truly strategic asset.

I’d recommend you study books like Thinking, Fast and Slow and Heuristics and Biases: The Psychology of Intuitive Judgment by Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman.

KEYNOTE: Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation

What does it take to build an organization that can innovate in today’s global economy and embrace new technologies? What kind of leadership is needed? How can you select and develop the kind of leadership talent needed?

These are questions that organization anthropologist Dr. Linda Hill (Harvard Business School Professor) has been researching along with, among others, the former SVP of Technology for Pixar.

She shares examples of leaders from her book, Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation, who have learned how to cultivate “collective genius” and provide a framework for creating organizations in which people are willing and able to innovate.

KEYNOTE: How to Get in Front of Conflict Before It Gets in Front of You

In this presentation on workplace conflict management, Christa Kirby (VP, Global Learning Innovation, IIL) first distinguishes between functional and dysfunctional conflicts. What makes conflicts so hard to deal with?

Can’t conflicts be solved in a collaborative and productive way? There’s a strong business case for it because the costs of dysfunctional conflicts are embedded in time spent on dealing with the conflict, resulting in increased absence levels, legal procedures, and disengagement, and loss of productivity and motivation.

Feedback from managers directly impacts employee engagement. Perceptions often are only assumptions, but with real emotions coming in. Human nature (fight, flight, freeze), culture (the way we do things here), and our own personalities (e.g. using the DISC model) kick in.

Are biological survival mechanisms, cultural elements, and our own personality traits effective in a specific situation?

Kirby refers to Thomas Crum’s The Magic of Conflict. Conflict is just an interference pattern of energy. Although many ‘tricks’ don’t have a lasting effect, you can try to transform the patterns, channel energy in a more effective direction. What pops up as an issue, may have many underlying problems like personalities, emotions, interests, self-perceptions, hidden expectations, and unresolved issues from the past. Feelings are important and cannot be neglected.

It’s easier to dehumanize other people than to accept them as complex human beings. Kirby explains the lifecycle of conflict. Challenges on the personal, cultural, and biological level can make conflict management difficult. Solutions can be found in taking a ‘whole brain’ approach.

Six steps to a conflict resolution conversation:

  1. Identify your goals for the conversation
  2. Create a safe space for the discussion to take place
  3. Seek out the other party’s perspective
  4. Listen to understand instead of reply
  5. Share your observations and perspective
  6. Engage in collaborative problem solving


The IIL International Project Management Day virtual event is a great learning opportunity, with personal experiences, insights from project management trainers, and research-based findings to help you face tomorrow’s challenges as project manager.

About the Author
Henk-Jan van der Klis is a Capgemini engagement manager, financial services & project management consultant, project management trainer for the Capgemini Academy, seasoned editor, and daily blogger. He lives in Balkbrug, the Netherlands with his wife and three children. Check out or connect through