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Why Innovation Value Is Lost During Project Development



Why Innovation Value Is Lost During Project Development

The root cause of innovation waste is due to the application of the wrong style of project management during development.

To be clear, I’m not against the structure and accountability of project management systems and software. They help get things done. The classic approach works very well when there are very little uncertainty and invention required on a project.

Classic project management sets up a list of requirements and tasks. They’re assigned to people to execute. Then, they’re checked on conformance to requirements. It’s a system of accountability — using transparency and focus. The classic approach is also known as the “Waterfall” approach to projects: the idea is defined and then executed.

Today, companies are using various methods to avoid this at the “front end” of innovation. However, they’re not seeing a high return on investment from the effort, as they’re focusing on the wrong place. The real waste for innovation is in development — not in the front end.

With innovations, and in particular big idea innovations, two separate studies find that classic project management results in a 50 percent decline in the value of innovations during the development process. This is because the aim of classic project management is very much the tactical “Plan, Do, Check, Act” (PDCA) cycle of work. The focus is on task completion.

When a task is found to be hard to execute, then it often gets a “red flag” in the software. Soon, those responsible identify a compromise on the innovation so as not to slow down the project. These changes are often small, however, over time the impact often adds up to the 50 percent decline in the value of the innovation.

The alternative approach is a more dynamic form of Innovation Project Management. In this case, the system and software are a hybrid, where low uncertainty tasks are managed in the task completion manner and high uncertainty tasks are treated in a cycle of learning approach that involves Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA). Here, rapid cycles are used to discover, invent and problem solve.

The difference between “check” and “study” in the cycle of learning is a difference that matters. A check is tactical. It’s about ticking the box, as in “the activity worked” or “the activity failed.” A study is learning. It’s about thinking deeply. It’s a theory of knowledge. It ignites understanding and discoveries.

Importantly, during the early stages of PDSA cycles, it’s not uncommon for new discoveries to identify an even more powerful benefit promise than was currently envisioned, often representing a bigger opportunity. In fact, research finds that, instead of a 50 percent decline, companies realize a 28 percent growth in ideas during development using this PDSA approach.

To see a demo of Innovation Engineering’s Trailblazer project management software for teams, and ThinkStormer software for individuals, click here.

Doug Hall is the founder of the Eureka! RanchInnovation Engineering Institute andBrain Brew Custom Whisk(e)y. His newest book is DRIVING EUREKA! Problem-Solving with Data Driven Methods & The Innovation Engineering System. For a free one-hour audio book summary, visit

Doug Hall is an inventor, researcher, educator and craft whiskey maker. He is founder of the Eureka! Ranch, Innovation Engineering Institute and Brain Brew Custom Whisk(e)y. He’s been named one of America’s top innovation experts by Inc. magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Dateline NBC, CNBC, CIO Magazine and the CBC. His new book, Driving Eureka! Problem Solving with Data Driven Methods & the Innovation Engineering System (Clerisy Press, Oct. 16, 2018) describes how to transform innovation from random acts to a reliable science. Learn more at