Innovation breakdown – the dangers of losing focus


The importance of focus and clear objectives cannot be understated when it comes to innovation.  Having everyone singing from the same hymn sheet continuously requires clear objectives and compelling communication from the very beginning.  Securing initial buy in and consensus from your stakeholders is only the start, it’s essential to monitor and maintain traction as you head towards your collective goals.  With today’s technology organisations can communicate, brainstorm, share and innovate from any corner of the Globe.  For some, these capabilities have brought the potential for continuous innovation among members of geographically distant teams.  However, these endeavours don't always work out as planned. Losing focus can cost organisations dearly.  In the short term bringing potential risk to revenue/profit and in the longer term damage to reputation.  There are a number of factors to consider in order to ensure your project or program doesn’t slide towards failure.

Scope Creep – is a particularly furtive threat, defined by the Project Management Institute as:

  • Scope creep: Adding additional features or functions of a new product, requirements, or work that is not authorised (i.e., beyond the agreed-upon scope).

The negative effects of scope Creep can become destructive and if they take hold, are impossible to miss.  Increased costs, additional tasks, missed deadlines, loss of morale, dropout of team members.  Remarkably the roots of scope Creep can from your team’s best intentions.  Change in scope often comes about from small, seemingly insignificant changes that the project team accepts without proper evaluation of their benefit.  Eventually, the changes become numerous enough, or one of the changes demands more effort than initially expected.  Individual desire to become a key contributor can have a negative impact on team harmony as well as shifting focus from the project’s initial objectives.  This can also stimulate a further issue...

Dominance - It’s natural that some team members will see collaboration as an opportunity to assert themselves.  True leadership is required in order to prevent a virtual rutting season derailing your project. Establish the rules of engagement early on.  Encourage co-authorship of this if the concept is brand new to your organisation. Consider flattening your hierarchy, project is king when it comes to innovation.  Agree milestones and objectives together, keep these visible and you will find the process of collaborating mitigates a great number of potential conflicts.  Carefully select what you praise, wherever possible bolster this with data, evidence, consensus.  This will ensure team members continue to see the value and rewards associated with being innovative.

Too Few Conversations – Another pitfall to be aware of when it comes to ensuring your innovative idea continues on the right path.  Are your team conversing enough?  This does not necessarily mean too few meetings, or not enough detail, it’s more about inclusivity and the quality of your communication.  Make a distinction between conversations and a session filled with monologues.  Ensure your team are speaking to each other and not at each other.  This can repress input from members of your team and form a barrier which prevents progress.

Distance - working across multiple disciplines can often bring the challenge of keeping project teams connected.  With greater distance between colleagues, there is an increased risk of lost focus and communication losing volume.  Ensure that this is recognised as a risk and task your team with the responsibility of mitigating it.  Provide them with the right platform to collaborate and ensure their efforts are visible.  By challenging them to solve this challenge, you will stand a better chance of avoiding the project descending into chaos.The success of any project is dependent on multiple factors, not least creating and maintaining an engaged and motivated team.  Providing the right and the obligation to focus on collaborative projects may take some compromise.  Having the right physical and virtual platforms to let collaborative ideation flourish is also crucial.  The right meeting space, for example, allows those face to face interactions to really resonate when the time comes to work virtually.  Provide a suitable environment with adequate resources and time for face to face meetings.  When the team then need to work remotely, ensure they do so with a platform that is up to the task.  Blend the physical world with the digital to ensure your innovators remain connected.

Slippage on any of these elements can disrupt the flow of your project or program.  Something as simple as a missed email could result in a domino effect of missed deadlines, disgruntled customers and a catastrophic drop in your team’s dynamic.

Shared responsibility and shared ownership are crucial principles for preventing chaos in your ambitions for innovation.  Keep every innovation related activity, communication and objective visible at all times.  This will promote unified focus within your culture and will ensure you keep your finger on the pulse of each innovative project.

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