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Forbes: The New Decision-Driven Equation For Successful Innovation Projects

Erik Larson Jan 23, 2019 11:18:01 AM
team of successful business people having a meeting in executive sunlit office

team of successful business people having a meeting in executive sunlit officeIn the past, change was slow. Business leaders believed if they made the right choices from “the list” of well-scoped projects, and the projects ran according to plan, they would usually get the results they expected.

In a slow world, project success was about choosing the right projects and then executing well. Changing direction along the way was a sign of an at-risk project, probably because of the wrong choice up front, a bad plan or weak execution. The old project equation was:

OLD: Approve The Right Projects + Execute Well = Successful Project Results

But in today’s rapidly changing world, almost every project is an innovation project. And that changes the equation.

The New Decision-Driven Project Equation

Innovation projects depend on fast decisions that keep project results and strategic goals aligned. Project decisions must respond rapidly to changing situations, acting on lessons learned and expanding on successes as results come in. Because of this, the new project equation is driven by decisions:

NEW: Make Decisions Fast + Build Feedback Loops = Successful Project Results

Because innovation projects have a high level of uncertainty, the new project equation focuses on “sense and respond” more than “analyze and plan.” It emphasizes the importance of project-related decisions like:

  • New project approvals
  • Decisions about the right project approach
  • Agile commits, sprint planning and retrospectives
  • Design, architecture and requirement reviews
  • Research and development priorities
  • Idea-to-implementation process improvements

Innovation projects are more likely to deliver successful results when leaders make these decisions fast, and continuously feed ongoing results back into new project decisions. Slow decisions and poor feedback loops kill innovation projects, matter how faithfully plans are executed.

How To Know If Your Projects are Innovation Projects

Some projects literally announce themselves as specially anointed “Innovation Projects” aiming to build new products and services or drive research and development. But the more rapid pace of change now also affects projects that used to be more predictable, like creating or improving policies and procedures, procuring and implementing new systems, or re-structuring and integrating new organizations.

Problems like scope creep and schedule delays are common for all types of projects. But you can tell that most of your projects are innovation projects if these problems sound familiar:

  1. New project ideas are continuously trying to get on “the list.”
  2. Critical new information keeps coming up after projects get under way.
  3. Project objectives are hard to measure because scopes and plans keep changing.

If this sounds like your situation, it’s time to invest in a decision-driven approach to projects. And you are not alone.

The Proof Is In The Practices

Our research has found that 95 percent of business leaders think project decisions need to be improved. There is a clear pattern: project decisions take too long and are poorly communicated, and feedback loops are weak because decision results are poorly tracked.

But innovation projects don’t have to suffer that fate, as we’ve seen in our work at companies like Cisco, Sanofi and Moss Adams. For example, a focus on faster decisions and better feedback loops transformed the idea-to-implementation process at Cisco with remarkable results:

  • Sped up decision time for new features from 2-4 weeks to 1-2 days.
  • Cut executive committee meeting time in half, saving hundreds of hours.
  • Gave insights to help improve decision accuracy by 10X.

As Cloverpop’s free 7 Breakthrough Decision Practices white paper shows, the steps required to make these improvements happen are common sense but all too rare in the real world.

Innovation projects are the engines driving the technology, life sciences, financial and professional services industries. Optimizing for the new project equation is required to thrive in a time of change. How does your company compare to the decision practice benchmarks?

An earlier version of this article was published in Forbes.