I follow lots of different people in the Twittersphere, as it’s known, who tweet on subjects as diverse as project management through to community development, innovation and technology, culture, and international development. Quite a range! Serendipity recently presented me with two independently generated tweets almost next to each other in my timeline. The first was a project management tweet ‘Fail to plan, plan to fail’, the second a community development tweet “if failure isn’t an option, innovation isn’t an option”. As a project manager this got me thinking, does having a plan mean that your project can’t be innovative? Surely, if you know what you want to deliver you’re not open to new ideas, concepts and opportunities? You’ve effectively closed off innovation!?!
Well, let’s think about that more clearly? If I had no plan at all would I be more open and innovative, or would I simply be a headless chicken in crisis management mode? Through an insightful conversation I had recently with a project management friend, it was pointed out to me that if your project doesn’t have a plan then you can’t fail, there is no criteria against which to assess whether you have achieved your initial objectives or not. This was an interesting observation for me, and very true! Having a plan means that you have objectives, you know what you want to achieve but you don’t necessarily have solutions. A plan means you can innovate in controlled way, and then assess your progress against the objectives. Ultimately your project may fail, that is a risk but being open and upfront about what you want to achieve actually enables and encourages innovation. It allows your project team to be creative within a defined structure. Of course, your approach may change over time, depending on how your project evolves, new ideas and inputs will come in. The challenge for any project manager is to know how to manage these. When is a great idea a change in scope, when is a different approach a new risk? These are the skills of a project manager.
So to go back to the two original tweets, in actual fact I would argue both need clarification – having a plan doesn’t mean that your project can’t fail, failure is always a possibility. However, project plans and innovation are not mutually exclusive a project plan provides a structure in which innovation can be managed and nurtured, the key is how you bring these two competing elements together, manage the risks and deliver your project successfully.