3 Questions That Can Keep Your Innovation Projects On Track

I am working on two major projects at the moment. And I will use my absence of disciplined working rhythms and feedback loops as a lesson to all of us this week.

On Project 1, I am working collaboratively with a team. We have regularly scheduled meetings with an agreed upon work format. During the meetings we report on our progress or latest learning and then assign ourselves new tasks. I have an engaged manager and an active team. Project 1 is moving forward.

On my second project, I am working alone. I have an ultimate deadline but no intermittent feedback loops. I donÕt have an engaged manager or available collaborators. I am trying to stay disciplined to a work schedule, but my progress is slow. And I find myself spending more time on Project 1 because of the structure in place with it. Project 2 is in trouble. 

If you can relate to either situation, consider the questions below that I wish I had asked myself sooner. And some suggestions for how to stay ahead of the Project 2 situation before you get too close to the deadline to correct it. 

1. What collaboration rhythms are in place to accelerate your teamÕs project work?  When we approach an innovation project with our clients, we typically have two types of regular meetings for the teams. 

An UPDATE meeting and a WORKING meeting. The update meeting includes your manager who a) gets an update on the progress and b) provides helpful advice. The rhythm is typically weekly.

The second type of meeting is a working meeting. This is for the team to roll up their sleeves and execute tasks, give one another feedback, talk through the issues and problem solve.

You might experience push back at first, but setting up a standing meeting for a significant block of time each week (at least two hours) just to work on the important tasks related to your project, is a sure way to keep the thing moving forward.

2. What feedback loops are present to make your teamÕs output better and stronger? The opportunity to get honest feedback from a group of trusted colleagues is an invaluable gift.  

Innovation Improvement through disagreement

Steve Jobs compares effective teamwork to how a rock tumbler polishes common stones. When the team members bump up against each other having arguments, creating friction and noise, they polish each otherÕs ideas. That is to say, if they are all passionate about the projectÕs purpose and feel like they are on the same "side" versus in a competitive environment.

Feedback is especially important when you donÕt have a dedicated team working on your project with you. This means others have to give up time and energy to look over your work and react to it. You could offer to meet and exchange feedback, where everyone comes to the table with their own challenge and gets a boost of diverse thinking. 

Or you could have an open exchange of ideas and questions such that no matter the time or day, people are open to taking a few minutes to offer ideas and advice, for example, through a digital platform. 

The strength of this type of informal collaboration, when colleagues are helping colleagues advance their work within your organization is an indicator of having a culture that embraces innovation. 

3. Will you recognize the signals when its time to push on the gas pedal or the breaks?Dr. W. Edwards Deming teaches us to recognize the variation and psychology inherent in every system. 

Innovation intensity through work pause

EveryoneÕs workload varies depending on the time of month or year. There are times when you need to dial up the intensity to get something finished, or put a temporary pause on something to make space for a different priority. 

Changing the pace or intensity of either the meeting rhythms or feedback loops is one tactic to increase speed. For example, spending a few straight days with a dedicated effort and singular focus against a project can give you that last push needed to take something across the finish line. That means an "out of office" setting on your email and letting phone calls go to voicemail. 

Alternatively, a radical feedback loop can advance a project as well. Instead of the regular team feedback, invite a group of end users to react to a rough prototype of your work. Or bring in five people from a completely different part of the organization, or a different organization altogether.  YouÕll experience a step change in progress by injecting the perspective of the outsider. 

Keeping innovation projects moving forward, especially when they are in addition to other, perhaps more urgent, ongoing work can be a fine balancing act of time, energy and motivation. Think, with your team about the answers to these three questions and you can start to architect a more productive path forward. Especially if you or your team is stuck in a Project 2 situation.

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