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Open Innovation and Project Recovery

No matter how brilliant the idea and how cohesive the team, project failures happen. Actually, an astounding number of projects — 37% according to this study by pmsolutions — are at risk for failure.

Sure, some failed projects start as half-baked ideas anyway, but there are piles of great ideas that fall on every company’s cutting room floor simply because the project was mismanaged in some way. To keep good projects (and cash) from slipping through the cracks, you might sometimes find yourself on the business end of a project recovery — but it’s not always an easy task to pick up the pieces, let alone figure out what went wrong.

Good Projects Going Bad

So a team has good idea. The project manager makes the business case, and the project is approved to go forward. As the months drag on, everything seems to be going well when project stutters to a halt, with termination looming in the near future. How could something that sounded so great go so badly? If a project is over budget, significantly behind schedule, out of scope, not meeting customer expectations, or (gasp) all of the above, the project is in trouble and in danger of failing. But why can’t you just cut some costs, work overtime, or revisit customer feedback?

According to a study of over 160 organizations, the top 5 causes of failed projects are unclear requirements, misallocated resources, unrealistic schedules, insufficient planning, and misidentified risks. If a project manager fails to address any one of these problems before they sink the project, it’s pretty much doomed from the start.

Recovering Failing Projects

There are many way things can go south — you’ll notice because, when it does happen, heads tend to roll. After all, millions of dollars could be at stake. Resources could be wasted. But if this is the case most of the time, how come every project manager in the world isn’t perpetually unemployed, or at least stark raving mad?

First, everyone knows that sometimes, things go wrong that can’t be controlled or stopped by anything outside of divine intervention. Second, it turns out project recoveries are actually pretty common, and in the end, only 12% of at-risk projects end up failing. But — and here’s the kicker — staging an intervention to save them can be uncomfortable at best, and at worst, combative, confrontational, or extremely frustrating (although, some maniacs find it fun). While the project manager may sell a project recovery to senior management, that project manager is often removed along with other resources (a.k.a., people). To get a fresh point of view on what went wrong, other folks may need to come in to execute the recovery. Consultants sometimes manage recoveries for a full-on outsider’s view, but what happens when the failure is more complex and you need more input to move forward?

How Open Innovation Can Help

We’ve talked about how open innovation — merging internal assets and resources with those outside of your organization — can help you build competitive advantage. But can you leverage it to solve problems with failing projects? Well, open innovation is not without its risks, but rescuing a potentially costly (or profitable) project is just the time to take the chance.

If you already have an established innovation hub, it’s a lot easier to do. And it’s a great reason to start establishing open innovation connections now. Innovation hubs are made up of subject-matter experts assembled in standing teams, which allow you to quickly gather ideas that can help recover a troubled project. In this case, sharing technical and procedural innovations with other organizations could benefit everyone involved. Outsiders can more easily point out where your team went wrong, and at the same time, potentially learn from the errors of your ways. When there’s a mutual benefit involved, everyone is more willing to share.

In the end, involving a more diverse set of people and assets than you’re able to find within your own organization will give you access to new ideas and direction. That way, you can steer your project in the right direction — before it fails.

Want to learn more about getting innovation done right? Check out our new infographic, What Really Fosters Innovation.

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