Sustaining Innovation in Teams Print E-mail

Figure Two shows each of six project stages from the Roberts et al model (red italic text) mapped roughly onto the Cycle of Renewal for teams, based on the focus of energy and activity for a project in each stage.  The six stages of a typical innovation project in the Roberts model are:  1) pre-project; 2) project possibilities; 3) project initiation; 4) project execution; 5) project outcome evaluation; 6) project transfer.  (In this model, a project is a coordinated activity by a number of people over a period of time to define and achieve a goal.  It is a work effort.  A team, in contrast, is an assembly of people who may contribute to execution of one or more projects.  A team may participate in several projects, in different stages of execution, simultaneously.  Or, many teams may work on a single large project.  In many organizational models, the team lives on after the project completes).

The activities in each stage correspond well with phases in the HI cycle model.  Pre-project activities involve information gathering, reflection, and discussion.  Project possibilities involve the exploration of several more specific concepts to determine feasibility and desirability, including technology, business, and customer/market investigations.  Project initiation requires choice and focus to create a specific, executable plan.  Project execution reflects momentum and intensity toward a chosen goal, shifting heavily into execution, along with ongoing activities that monitor external events and trends to ensure the validity of the project's purpose in the face of a changing external environment.  Project outcome evaluation is an assessment and validation of the adequacy of project results relative to current goals/needs and may lead to additional implementation.  Eventually, success results in project transfer, where responsibility for the project's results shifts to another organizational entity.

This project evolution model is quite general and could apply to almost any type of project.  Innovation projects, however, are those that pursue something "new and significantly different".  The challenge of "new and different" creates additional requirements on the competencies of the team members who are executing the project.

According to the model of Roberts and Fusfeld, roughly 70% to 80% of the human activity in an innovation project over its lifecycle is "routine problem-solving".  The other 20%-30% of activities, however, involve five additional work roles that appear essential for an innovation project to begin, become established, and proceed to a successful conclusion.  These five roles are 1) idea generating; 2) entrepreneuring or championing; 3) project leading; 4) gatekeeping; and 5) sponsoring/mentoring.  These roles are typically occupied informally by the individuals with the interest and required talents to perform them and are rarely visible (aside from formal project leadership titles) in formal organization structures.Innovation model

Figure 2.  The Cycle of Innovation for Teams

Figure Two also shows each of these five roles (green italic text) placed on the Cycle of Renewal at roughly the point of greatest relevance for each role.  Idea generation, which involves creation of new ideas from analysis and/or synthesis from a range of sources internal and external, technical and market, is particularly essential in Exploring.  Championing, the recognition and promotion of a useful new idea more broadly within a team or the organization generally, is necessary to allow a project to move from Exploring toward Fully Aligned.  Project leading, essential in Fully Aligned, involves the decision making, planning, and coordination effort required to allow a team take a chosen idea, shape it into an executable project definition, and move it effectively forward toward successful realization.

Two other roles appear to be essential across the entirety of the Cycle.  Sponsoring involves the informal activities of facilitation of work inside and outside the responsible team, as well as informal mentoring and development of less experienced project participants.  Gatekeeping is similarly valuable over the entire Cycle.  In the Exploring phase, gatekeeping provides the exposure to events, trends, technologies, and ideas from outside of the embryonic project that stimulate thinking and form the fuel for idea generation.  However, even when a project is in the full execution phase of Fully Aligned, gatekeeping provides a continuing window onto the outside world to allow adjustment of goals in response to changing marketplace realities, technology changes, or business priorities.  Projects that lose touch with the "whitewater" (Vaill, 1996) of the world outside themselves risk being rendered irrelevant by external events.

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