Project Practitioners > How to obtain the best ideas

How to obtain the best ideas

By Alfonso Bucero

In any organization everybody has a unique viewpoint. These viewpoints generate a tremendous opportunity. In my experience working for multinational firms as a project manager, employees have many ideas for improvement of the work that impacts them. And in many cases those ideas are not collected by the management team.

Some of these may be raised in the form of questions to the manager or upper manager. Why do we do it this way? Some may occur over lunch, in hallway conversations, or while the employee is performing a routine task. Although there is clearly no shortage of ideas within an organization, unfortunately, these ideas are seldom captured in most organizations, except in the few cases where a handful of employees are sufficiently entrepreneurial to drive their own ideas through to implementation.

This can happen in spite of the organization, rather than because of it. To assume that the best ideas will somehow rise to the top, without formal means to capture them in the first place, is too optimistic. But today with simple, portal-based solutions combined with portfolio management tools, setting up a process for doing this is low-effort and low-cost. However the results are still dramatic.

Is your organization innovating?

Innovation is a high priority for most organizations looking to differentiate themselves from the competition. Yet organizations frequently achieve far greater success with incremental improvements than innovations and consistently lament their ability to innovate. In my opinion genuine innovation is much harder to deliver consistently than incremental improvements.

Innovation requires forecasting or shaping of future trends, which is difficult, often because a combination of different trends must come together to make the idea viable. Innovation requires taking significant risk, fostering a creative mindset, and collaborating across organizational boundaries. None of which is simple to do. Conventional project management systems must share some of the blame for the lack of innovation.

To drive real innovation, more ideas must be captured, ideas must be allowed to feed off each other to create more ideas, and metrics for success must be relatively soft during the early stage of the process. So what you would need is a list of proposed projects.

Why a list of proposals is necessary?

The usual scenario I have lived in the project field is that many organizations have a list of projects only about as long as they can execute. The essence of strategy is to choose what not to do. So if your list of projects is about as long as you can execute, then clearly there is not much you are not doing.

In my experience, putting in place a simple but consistent mechanism for idea capture can help dramatically increase the number of ideas that could become projects within the portfolio and magnify the portfolio’s effectiveness. Regardless of the different levels of rigor applied to projects, if there are only a handful of formal proposals, then any idea that is given serious consideration by management is implemented.

Using informal processes 

Sometimes proposals are written up and analyzed in excessive detail. In other occasions the opposite happens. It is also frustrating to those submitting the proposals if there is no transparency or consistent rationale as to why their projects are not selected.

Without feedback, it is hard for participants to improve their proposals or even remain engaged in the process. It is important to have a transparent process because, in order to collect a large number of strong proposals, idea submission must be encouraged by building faith in the proposal system. Without it, there will be a reluctance to submit proposals in the first place.

Greater formalization of the process can also be encouraged by including an element of employee compensation. Another level of rigor can be applied to particularly risky or critically important projects. Here, proposals can be held in reserve to be executed, should the primary project fail or go irretrievably off course as will likely occur across a large portfolio. It is rare that organizations are able to develop a broad and extensive list of projects to truly prioritize explicitly.

“To govern is to choose” (as Napoleon said). But how can you choose without options. The best ideas do not come from you; they are coming from within your organization, given the unique perspectives of the different divisions and functional roles. It is clear that any attempt to prioritize ideas must start with an effective mechanism for capturing a large number of potential project ideas.

I selected some questions that helped me to obtain some best ideas when dealing with building up a better portfolio.

Key questions 

I suggest you to answer the following questions when you are trying to build up a good portfolio of projects in your organization. Use your main stakeholders to answer these questions:

• How are you splitting your metrics and processes for innovative and traditional projects?

• Are your expectations for innovative projects distinct from those related to process improvement?

• How many ideas are you considering on your project shortlist?

• How can you increase the ratio of ideas to executed projects?

• Can you widen the net of people who can submit ideas?

• Can you make the process more transparent and less bureaucratic?

• Do you really use everything required in a project proposal to make a go/not go decision on a project?

• Are you comparing projects against each other?

• What are you consciously choosing not to do?

Those practical questions have helped me to obtain the best ideas in organizations. Go for it...!

Alfonso Bucero, MSc, PMP, PMI-RMP, PMI Fellow

BUCERO PM Consulting

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