Achieve greater project outcomes: innovate!

High-performance projects: 5 ways to create and harness innovation

You have probably heard Albert Einstein’s expression, “the true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination”. Replace “intelligence” with “outstanding project management”, and you have pretty much hit the nail on the head. Now, more than ever, it is not enough to know how to deliver the project and tick those boxes; projects must provide the best possible outcomes. To do this, we have to continuously test the boundaries and find new ways to do things; we need to innovate.

But how?

A 2019 study of more than 130 Australian construction projects analysed the enablers of client-led innovation. The clear finding was that to achieve the highest levels of performance, a project must include five key elements: idea harnessing, relationship enhancement, incentivisation, project team fitness, and innovative performance.

So, what does each of these mean?

Idea harnessing 

“Other people and other people’s ideas are often better than your own.” –  Amy Poehler

Amy Poehler may be an actress and comedian, but her sentiment applies to project-land too.  Actively seek ideas of new or alternate ways to do things, and where an idea has merit, capture it and pursue it fully, monitoring its progress. There is a myriad of ways to identify and harness ideas. You could network and brainstorm or set up an idea database, complete scenario planning, run risk assessment planning, conduct value management, or value engineering. Find what works for you and your project team and see the outcomes improve.

Relationship enhancement

“I believe that you can get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”– Zig Ziglar

As one of the world’s most recognised salesmen, Zig Ziglar knew a thing or two about relationships.  Key stakeholders underpin projects, and often the relationship between those key stakeholders dictates the level of project success. It makes sense that a no-blame culture of trust, free and open communication, cooperation and collaboration, and joint problem resolution is going to remove a whole lot of obstacles, thereby improving project execution. Even in project situations where there is a traditional contractual relationship between key stakeholders, setting the tone of the project as collaborative and encouraging strong stakeholder relationships will enhance performance.


“It’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen.”  Scott Belsky

As a highly accomplished entrepreneur and one of the early advisors for Uber and Pinterest, Belsky knows how to convert ideas into action, and is incentivised by that.  Innovative projects place a tangible value on innovation and the generation of useful new ideas. For an incentive strategy to gain traction, it must provide recognition, encouragement, support, and powerful incentives for innovative activities. It could be formally recognising and rewarding the team innovators or idea generators, giving priority to innovative proposals when making purchasing decisions, or including contract clauses that share project upside. Incentives will vary depending on the project, organisation, and people involved. However, if you think outside the square and consistently implement meaningful and appropriate incentives, you are likely to be surprised at how the investment returns in multiples.

Project team fitness

“Good leaders do not take on all the work themselves; neither do they take all the credit.” – Woody Williams

It is unlikely that Woody Williams, the oldest surviving US marine Medal of Honor winner from World War II, was thinking about anything besides his comrades and survival during the war.  In the trenches of a project, innovative thought and practice can only thrive where the team culture and climate are conducive to innovation. Such an environment features top management teams that are committed to promoting innovation through their actions. Moreover, project managers earn the respect of their team due to their innovative leadership skills, and when experienced and technically knowledgeable project members are motivated, helpful, and free to explore any idea. Assessing the strength of a project team based not only on their professional competence but also on their flexibility, judgment, conceptual thinking, impact and influence, and ability to be a team player will deliver higher project outcomes.

Innovative performance

“You may delay, but time will not.” – Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin was an extremely busy man, and so it was with some authority that he spoke about one of a project managers’ critical operational goals – time.  Although projects can be all-consuming for those involved and all have operational objectives of time, cost, and quality, there are only very few externally recognised for their innovative performance. Such measures could be that the project outcomes are adopted as standardised practice in the industry, formal recognition by professional bodies, or favourable mentions in the media. Maybe the project used more advanced materials, products, plant, or equipment than is standard. Whatever the measure and no matter if it is internal or external recognition, what gets measured, gets done, so…aim high in the innovation accolade stakes.

Put briefly, irrespective of the industry or project size, there is real potential for improved project outcomes by going all-in with innovation. What about you? What innovative approaches have you adopted to increase performance?