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Project Management Breeds Innovation
By Michael L Young

One of the earliest activities of the Rudd Government was to recognize the importance of innovation to Australia’s future and to commission a review of the management of innovation in Australia.

Both the Gershon Review and the Review of the National Innovation System (Cutler, Sept 2008) released reports characterized by a strong focus on innovation to achieve efficiency within Government.

Projects are fundamentally all about innovation. Project Managers are ‘agents of change’ -facilitating what hasn’t been done before. They solve problems to get things done. If we take a direct line from the Rudd Government’s strong support of improving innovation through the Gershon recommendations we arrive at a conclusion that Government agencies need to take more of a project management approach to their business to achieve better outcomes. What is required in order to achieve this efficiency and the resultant savings is a strong organizational focus because in essence, taking a project management approach to business is about changing the way things have always been done.

First, Government agencies need to shift their project management focus from “schedules and budgets” to “outcomes and benefits”. Second, they need to examine their ‘business as usual’ activities (such as program management and policy administration) and identify opportunities for innovation through project management. Third, they need to examine whether there are indeed opportunities to increase innovation in their project management methodology.

The Gershon report found that agencies’ spending was very much skewed (77%) in favor of ‘business as usual’ (as opposed to projects) and that this resulted in insufficient scrutiny on the achievements of the investment.

Herein lies an opportunity to harness the existing knowledge and experience within project management to generate better approaches to managing ongoing business of agencies. It’s about creating more efficiencies through innovation. Either learning to do more with less or do what they do better. While the Gershon Review and the Cutler report may be in synch on their support of innovation as the way forward, neither report gives agencies a blue print for how to be innovative.

From the perspective of a provider of project management services to Government, I have some ideas for ways that Government agencies could achieve the benefits promised through innovation.

Addressing the issue outlined in Cutler (Pg 9) – regarding harnessing the innovative ability of people at lower levels in organizations – a good place to start is within project teams.

Every new initiative or program implementation needs to start with a strong business case with identified and measurable benefits to be reaped rather than “pie in the sky” statements about the way things ought to be.

From there, agencies should focus on outcomes and (as Gershon suggested) not prescribe specifications or inputs. Allow providers of project management services the flexibility to distil innovative ideas into new ways of delivering results, rather than locking in archaic approaches based purely on the justification that it has always been done that way.

There will be a short window of opportunity for Government agencies to make fundamental and far-reaching change in this area. We know that as a result of the Government’s will to deliver efficiencies in ICT management and it’s passion for innovation, there will be a likely 30% increase in funding for change.

To be truly innovative in project management agencies will need different types of people with a different set of skills – not just how to implement PRINCE2, but – how to achieve outcomes through innovative thinking and practice.

The time is right for Government agencies to start thinking about how to build their project management capability to be able to deliver the results the Government is seeking in the nearer future.

Michael Young is Principal Consultant with ‘Transformed’ – Project Management Unleashed. http://www.transformed.com.au

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