Do You Need to Define Project Scope on Innovation Projects?

Innovation projects are, by definition, ambiguous. People wouldn’t head into the unknown to create something new if they already knew what they were doing. Right now, we are all eagerly watching COVID-19 vaccines being developed, performing arts groups trying to engage with patrons without live performances, and schools trying to figure out whether and how they can open safely. All of these efforts could be classified as innovation projects. The people involved are racing against the clock. Should they stop and try to define the scope on innovation projects?

The examples that I named are just a fraction of the many efforts that are going on, across the globe, to keep economies rolling, people employed, and everyone safe. This doesn’t touch on innovation projects that have been executed for years just to stay ahead of the competition or improve profits.

What are innovation projects?

Innovation projects are those efforts to create something new — whether it’s a new product, service, or process. They aren’t a new concept. We’ve done them for years and we’ve often failed. And to hear Jeff Bezos talk, that’s what we’re supposed to do. “Multibillion-dollar failures are actually a good thing.”

Tell that to the loved one who just watched a friend or family member die from an unsafe vaccine. Tell that to those who just haven’t loved watching their favorite performers being live-streamed — and pretending it was the same as being in a concert hall with other fans. And try comforting a startup founder who has just lost his or her entire investment because the grand experiment failed.

Nevertheless, innovation projects are here for the long-term and it behooves us to figure out the best way to manage them. And one of the first objectives after launching a new project it to define scope.

Should we be approaching innovation projects with the same commitment to plan, execute, and manage them as we do other projects? If so, we must define the scope on innovation projects. If not, why not? Are costs only important when we know what we’re trying to achieve?

What’s the answer?

I would argue that it is just as important to define the scope on innovation projects, as well as plan and manage them, as it is with other projects. It may be that we have to tackle this in phases, rather than trying to think all the way through to the end — but there isn’t anything new there. We’ve been doing projects in phases for years.

The race against the clock on some projects, more than others, may be pushing us to skip the basic disciplines that have proven valuable for years. I understand that push. But those disciplines have been perfected over years and years of study. And many of them do have value. So, I’d encourage you to define scope on all of your projects, innovation and otherwise.

Don’t let the need for speedy results stop you from effectively managing your projects.

If you need some help, I have an upcoming online course that teaches the Smart Projex methodology. It is limited to a small group of participants. Email me at suzanne@smartprojex.com if you’d like to be on the list when it launches. Please use a subject line of SPM Crash Course.

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Writes on project management, leadership, team building, and value delivery. Imagining work management in the future. Smartprojex.com