It has been difficult to pick up any literature on business strategy and business growth recently without seeing the word “innovation” splattered all over the headlines and content.  “Innovation” is such a catchy word these days because the idea inspires people; it connotes taking the innovator to a new height of success.  Likewise, there are some companies whose names seem to “drip” with the word “innovation” whenever you encounter the company’s name:  DuPont, Procter & Gamble, and Apple,  for instance.

A.G. Lafley, in his book, The Game Changer:  How You Can Drive Revenue and Profit Growth with Innovation, defines innovation as “the process of converting or turning new ideas into revenue and profit.”  Similarly, many authors in the PMO field have defined the PMO as a distinct organizational structure which can be used to drive innovation through project management and product development.

A recent article in the Winter 2010 issue of Strategy + Business magazine, entitled “The Global Innovation 1000:  How the Top Innovator’s Keep Winning”, was based on an ongoing Booz & Co. study of innovation in the most successful companies in the innovation game today.  The goal of the study was “to examine the capabilities needed to maximize the impact of the company’s innovation efforts in good times and bad, and to highlight the benefits both of focusing on the short list of capabilities that generate differential advantage and of clearly linking the specific decisions within innovations to the company’s overall capabilities system and strategy.”

Their premise was that “innovation capabilities enable companies to perform specific functions at all the stages of the R&D value chain–ideation, project selection, product development and commercialization.”  The consultants asked the respondents in the Global Innovation 1000 survey which capabilities were most important in achieving and sustaining success in innovation.

Surprisingly, the study found that “all the successful companies surveyed depended on a common set of critical innovation capabilities.  These include the ability to gain insight into customer needs and to understand the potential relevance of emerging technologies at the ideation stage, to engage actively with customers to prove the validity of concepts during product development, and to work with pilot users to roll out products carefully during commercialization.”  The study’s authors also found important the ongoing assessment of market potential during the project selection phase.

Exhibit 1--The Most Important Innovation Capabilities

You will recall that in other blog posts, I have discussed the rise of PMOs for specific purposes in organizations which recognize the special value-added by having an organization focused on project management capabilities as a means of converting strategy into action.  For example, some utilities have formed Smart Grid PMOs to handle Smart Grid projects.  In an organization that is determined to succeed and grow in its industry, with best-in-class products, services, or both, why not consider creating an entity called the Innovation PMO?  What would the characteristics of such an entity be?

First, since feedback and research from consumers, users, and other stakeholders is critical to understanding “what to innovate for,” the Innovation PMO would establish its own unique source of feedback research within the context of its own industry or consumer setting.  This is a key element of success.  Unfortunately, very few PMOs are currently doing a good job in this area, but to become an Innovation PMO, they must.

Second, the Innovation PMO has leveraged its key supplier and vendor relationships.  It knows that frequently, the unsolicited feedback provided by suppliers and vendors provides a fresh look as to where the market is headed, especially in innovation scenarios.

Third, the Innovation PMO has tailored the critical innovation capabilities discussed in the Booz & Co. study to the internal business context of the organization.  This tailoring process is analogous to the benchmarking process, discussed in a previous blog post, which is used by leading PMO organizations, such as American Express and Procter & Gamble, to establish best practices.  Like best practices, to be successful, innovation capabilities can’t be lifted verbatim without being tailored to the organization’s business context.

Margo Visitacion of Forrester has also written about the expansion of the PMO concept to innovation in organizations in her recent Forrester paper “Involve Your PMO to Find the Right Match for Innovation Opportunities.”  I would recommend you read her analysis as well.

Innovation is certain to be a topic embraced by more and more organizations looking for successful growth-promoting projects in their industries.  Your role as a PMO practitioner is to find a spot where you can contribute to that success.  Remember–“Change Creates Opportunity.”  Now, go find that opportunity.

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