Ideation #1: Obtaining Senior Leadership Team Support for Ideation

Ideation1headPublished in the Project Post-Gazette, February 2014

by Paul Lohnes,. MBA, PMP

February Project Post-Gazette

In our December 2014 PPPM Mini, there was listed the specific Project/Program/Portfolio Management (PPPM) ideation steps that organizations wishing to begin or improve their PPPM environment with an ideation or project idea incubator activity should take to put this valuable additional vector of business project management into operation. These steps, listed for review, are:

  1. Obtaining Senior Leadership Team (SLT) support for ideation,
  2. Review organizational vision or mission initiatives,
  3. Define your PPPM selection criteria based on the step #2 review,
  4. Setup an ideation incubator,
  5. Establish a periodic ideation evaluation event,
  6. Prioritize ideation results based on criteria, and
  7. Build business cases for highest priority ideation selectees

The first step will concern this article of the PPG’s PPPM mini, and it forms the foundation and Key Success Factor (KSF) for the ideation concept to be of value to the organization wishing to enjoy the benefits of ideation listed in the January 2014 PPPM Mini article. Without the support of the senior leadership team (SLT), it will be almost impossible for any ideation process or activity to be fully instantiated or continued since it is an extension of the SLT domain of strategic thinking into which ideation seeks to venture.

However, simply saying you need your SLT’s support is very different from actually obtaining it in the form needed. Many readers will think that ‘what SLT members would not want to setup and support an ideation process?’ These readers are the rational, the logical, and clear thinking types that believe all SLT have the best interests of their organizations at heart. Our experience has shown that this is not always the way things are. Many organizational SLT give lip service to their businesses’ future and growth, but are more interested in maintaining the status quo. Change is painful, and many want to remain in firm control of the organizational power structure, and what could be of more threat to that than a ‘good idea.’

So how does a non-SLT member attempt to sway their SLT into supporting the concepts of an ideation program? To begin with you should not have to do this; however, it is necessary in some organizations to get the SLT team engaged as they are focused in non-strategic areas. One way to understand the level of strategic thinking in your organization is to review The PPPM Mini article in our January 2014 issue dealing with strategic thinking at the SLT level. We have worked with several organizations where the SLT team was not initially behind the use of ideation at the enterprise or strategic level, and the two best suggestions we offer are:

  1. Begin at your own level (division, department, or office) – nothing succeeds like success,
  2. Find an organization that is using ideation (user group, monthly coffee, internet search) and show how your own organization is getting left behind by not using strategic ideation.

Once you get the SLT team to bite, or you are on the SLT with the authority to begin a strategic ideation program, you need to have a plan or it will simply be another “rah rah rah let it die down next month’ activity that many organizations go through the sizzle without any true substance or support. The planning for any project should begin with understanding your current environment, or As-Is, as we say in project management. Now before just thinking that you know your current environment, remember, we are speaking about your strategic ideation As-Is, not your operational or tactical perspective. You need to be very honest with yourself about if your organization is currently using ideation for the instantiation of strategic project formulation or projects are simply chosen based on what we did last year, what we have to do, and what sounds good. Nothing will ever change unless at least 2-3% of your annual discretionary funding is used to advance such game changing concepts – and we consider this low for organizations in more innovative and competitive environments.

Take your As-Is and begin to design your strategic ideation To-Be world. What would a program of strategic ideation look like, what impact would it have, who would be involved, what would be our successful outcomes, and what benefits would we be enjoying? From these inquires about one possible future, you can begin to do the necessary gap analysis that will help you move from your As-Is to your To-Be. By having your goal or horizon in mind, getting there is much easier since now you have to figure out the tasks and activities that will morph your current into your desired. This is not brain surgery – it is simple project management.

A part of your To-Be will be determining the role of your SLT in your or their new strategic ideation program. Remember, you SLT team is the strategic guardians (or so they should be); it will be extremely difficult to continue a program of strategic ideation and project selection if your SLT has not the appetite for such seeming intrusion into their prevue. You will need to use diplomacy and tact to gain their acceptance if you are not part of the ‘C’ team. Help them move from their daily grind of dealing with budgets, HR, regulations, taxes, and a hundred other urgent, but not important items that liter their work day. The logic chain is simply that strategic project ideation supports the achievement of the organization’s mission / vision initiatives, and if these initiatives are correctly formulated, then the right mixture of project selections will be made in direct action on moving you towards actually completing one or more of the initiatives that define the existence of your organization.

Finally, obtaining your SLT team support for project ideation at the strategic level may involve getting them to see what is in it for them, or what is in it for their future either financially or in promotions. Getting down to such personal orientation is what drives many SLT members, we are sad to say, but do what is necessary. Find a SLT champion with whom you have a professional relationship and turn them into your in-road for furthering the concepts of project ideation. Champions already have the trust and standing at the SLT level you may lack. In addition, make sure you have a plan in mind before approaching this possible champion figure – use facts, figures, charts, and images (no PowerPoint slide decks here). Do it one-on-one outside their office at a nearby coffee shop or restaurant. Try to get approval for small moves, small successes. They are much more likely to approve baby steps than giant strides – less risk, less impact if it does not bloom.

Strategic ideation is such an important activity for any organization that it is almost funny that we have to write about it in a project management / business analysis newspaper; however, we have turned from the long-term in favor of the short-term in such a strong movement that strategic is now thinking about 2 quarters hence or next year’s funding. We have to get our heads up and looking to the future or it is simply just happens to us, but under someone else’s control or thumb. “Determine your own future or become a part of someone else’s.” CJS Stoneman, 1987.


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