We believe that partnerships and synergy are catalysts that set innovative processes in motion.  In fact, innovation is one of the most rewarding results of partnership.  It is one of the best ways to capitalize on the effects of synergy, and thereby balance project success parameters.  As positive synergy builds, innovative power increases, bringing life and meaning to projects!  But this can only happen when people, teams and partners truly unite under a common cause.

The experience of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey team brings home the importance of partnership, synergy and innovation.  This “project” brought together a group of people with very different perspectives and molded them into a partnership that achieved greatness.  Their historic and exhilarating journey toward Olympic Gold provides a wonderful lesson in partnership and innovation.

Looking beyond the final outcome and glory that came with this brilliant victory, one can see that the experience of this team was not easy.  These young partners did not truly become great until they united under a common goal and bought into the innovative game plan of the coach.

At first, they literally could not adapt to the coach’s innovative approach.  It was not until they worked together to increase team synergy that the team began to seriously contend for the coveted medal.  At the beginning they experienced significant friction, inertia and turbulence all because they seemed not to be able to work for the team.

The Olympic journey seemed all but dead.  However, once they came together, they not only accepted the ideas of the coach, but individuals began to think and perform innovatively.

In layman’s terms, innovation is the ability for people to develop new and better ways of doing things.  The coach believed they had to play a new style of hockey to win on an international stage.  Even he, however, had little hope of beating the dominant Russian team.  If it were to happen, his methods had to root themselves firmly in the team’s collective play.  His methods were unfamiliar to the young U.S. team members.  Initially the players felt these methods were just different, not better.  However, the coach was very persuasive and helped them see things in a new light (not that we totally agree with his persuasion tactics).  As they came together and adopted his style, innovative power alone propelled them to success.  The victory, of course, filled everyone across the world with admiration.  It never would have happened without the power of innovation.

Like the hockey team, businesses cannot achieve greatness without synergy and innovation.  Peter Drucker says, “Any existing organization, whether a business, a church, a labor union, or a hospital, goes down fast if it does not innovate….Not to innovate is the single largest reason for the decline of existing organizations.” (Drucker, p. 8) This translates easily into the project management environment.  If project teams and partners do not develop a synergistic, innovative environment, they will “go down fast” and have difficulty balancing the project success parameters.

If we think about the purposes of projects and partnerships, we can easily see that they lend themselves to innovative processes.

Projects are implemented to create unique systems that in turn will lead to unique products which will meet the needs of individuals or organizations.  The term “unique” describes the process we’re looking for: individuals, teams and organizations must innovate to produce their products in a new or better way.  In other words, projects must create change.  Innovation is change.  Thus, successful projects naturally generate opportunities for innovation.

Partnerships are almost always created to generate synergy.  As people work well together, synergy increases.  As positive synergy builds within a team, innovative processes become easier and performance improves.  Thus partnerships naturally generate innovation and performance improvement.

Recently we were providing consulting services to a project team that was responsible for making some clinical and facility improvements in a large portion of a hospital.  Part of the project involved some unique improvements to the communications infrastructure.  Along with standard office IT infrastructure, this particular facility was installing a telemedicine system, a remote monitored security system, a high tech environmental control system and a medical equipment monitoring system – all of which would provide the hospital new and better medical capabilities.

The project team had a wonderful knack for partnering.  They truly had a synergistic, partner-focused work environment – with the exception of one particular stakeholder, the IT Division, which had not bought into the team concept.  In truth, it seemed they were actively opposing the efforts of the primary project team.  Furthermore, they had a reputation for providing poor, untimely support.

The communications requirements of this project generated a significant need for innovative thinking.  The project manager began to notice this, and he saw that this need would not be met unless the IT group became part of the team.  To address this problem he began making efforts to bring this group into harmony with the project team’s thinking.  Instead of challenging the IT group’s thinking, the project manager listened to their concerns.  He talked them through the project vision and goals and ensured their participation in future planning efforts.

Slowly a partnership began to build.  As their partnership progressed, synergy began to develop between the IT group and the rest of the project team.  This led to some interesting innovations which surprised the members of the project team.  And certainly the final performance surpassed the expectations of the medical staff.  It also led to an improvement of the IT group’s overall performance.

This experience is just one of many which have showed us that as project teams improve their partnerships and begin to innovate, the bottom line improves.  Sometimes this is dramatic improvement.  Again, as partnerships are developed, synergy builds, innovation becomes possible, life and meaning are infused into the project, and chances of success increase.

The creation of the Project Management Institute (PMI©) is an example of tremendous innovation.  This organization has had a dramatic impact on the success of innumerable projects. And, although it had very humble beginnings, it has become a powerful tool for change.  It was originally formed by a very small group of people who simply understood the principles of partnership and innovation.  This group used the synergy developed through the creation of a partnership to implement innovative processes which fundamentally changed the world view of project management.

Through the organization’s efforts project management is now viewed as a profession, rather than a set of skills.  Through their determination, a common body of knowledge and a certification process has been formed to assist project managers in balancing project success parameters.  Through their vision, the Project Management Institute is a world leader in promoting project management principles.  Their abilities to partner, synergize and think innovatively changed the entire project management landscape.  They literally breathed life into a profession!

As said earlier, we believe that partnerships and synergy are catalysts that set innovative processes in motion. Perhaps one more story might be useful.  Kenny Saunders worked for a large corporation that used multiple forms of film and video products to enhance its image.  These were critical to the success of the company.  Building these promos was the express responsibility of the Audiovisual Department.  Kenny worked as head of one production team.

He was asked by the Department Director to take his team on location.  The promo they were to work on required a western theme.  They wanted cattle and horses and cowboys.  And there was a time deadline that was somewhat unrealistic.  Within three weeks Kenny was to return with sufficient footage so the Department “cutters” could form a promo that was exciting and real.

When Kenny arrived at the Laramie location he found plenty of cattle, horses, and an abundance of cowboys.  He rounded up those he needed and headed for the shoot location.   On the way the cattle broke free from the wranglers.  They ran to an underpass on the freeway in a regular stampede.

There was real danger that the cattle would run onto the freeway and cause severe accidents.  The wranglers seemed unfamiliar with the real dangers.  They were used to the open range.  Kenny and his team, of course, had little knowledge of how cattle would react to fast moving traffic.

In a panic, he reached for his cell phone.  To his director he said, “I’ve got twenty cows on the loose.  I’m not sure we’re insured for this kind of thing.  What should I do?”

The director told Kenny the company was insured, but he also said that the cows were his problem.  “I’ll get the state troopers on the scene, but you’re in charge, be innovative.”

Kenny then did the unthinkable.  He knew he did not have the skills to control the cattle.  So, acting in partnership with the troopers and wranglers, he stayed out of the way and let them do their jobs.  He then grabbed a hand held camera, mounted a horse and filmed the entire melee.  The troopers had slowed the traffic to a crawl.  So there were no accidents.  But the unique mix of cowboys, cattle, ten wheelers, and passenger vans made such an exciting stretch of footage that when the cutters looked at the film they decided to change the entire scope of the promotional.

It finally became one of the most effective scenes ever put together for the company.  It could have been a disaster; it could have been lost time and terrible expense for the company.  But it became a valuable innovation set in motion by a director who trusted his on-site project manager to make the right decisions and innovate.

Each of the examples in this section provides insight into the importance of innovative processes.  As project teams see success through innovation, they become even more united, excited and innovative.  Synergy literally builds and spills over into all their activities.  This upward spiraling movement is the life-blood of successful projects.  Thus, innovation truly gives life and meaning to partnerships and projects.

The previous blog post is an excerpt from the book entitled, “Project Management Paradigms” by Dr. Denis Petersen and Daniel Anderson,

© 2006 Milestone Publishing

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