Is Your Project Management System Working?

Teresa Kowal
6 min readJun 11, 2020


Have you ever started working on a “small” backyard project and found yourself making multiple trips to the home improvement store? If you’re like me, you began with an honorable vision and — sort of — a plan. But we tend to grossly underestimate the types and numbers of parts needed — not to mention the time and cost to finish the project.

It is not the lack of vision that causes innovation projects to fail. All of us can envision a brand-new product or service, we can see (in our mind’s eye) customers flocking to buy it with all the snazzy features and functions. No, it is not a lack of vision that yields failure. It is a lack of proper planning.

Watch the 30-second summary and then read on for details.

Project Planning

Project planning, especially for product innovation has two parts: (1) understanding the customer and (2) executing the project. We have discussed understanding customer needs elsewhere, especially the focus on what challenges a customer faces to solve their everyday problems. In this article, we will concentrate on managing the project and the importance of matching the project management (PM) system to the project type or complexity.

Traditional PM Process

You will use a traditional PM system for projects with clearly defined outcomes, processes, and applications. While the technology may be sophisticated, it is known up-front. There is little R&D required to transform product ideas into commercial offerings.

Furthermore, the steps required to complete the project, including necessary resources and equipment, can be estimated in advance with a high degree of confidence. This means, as a project manager, you know how many workforce hours it takes to complete each task, and the risks of failure are low and predetermined in situations like these , the best project management system is the Traditional PM Approach as shown in this figure, the steps include the following.

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· Initiation — defining the scope of work and expected outcomes

· Planning — creating project schedule and budget estimates and creating a risk management plan

· Executing — doing the work of the project according to a set of well — defined tasks and activities

· Monitoring and Controlling — measuring the progress of the project and establishing course corrections if the current status varies from the plan

· Closing — completing the project and turning the output of the project over to respective operations

In our example of a backyard project, the Traditional PM System is ideal for planting an annual vegetable garden. The parameters and risks can be determined up-front, and the resources and required supplies can be accurately estimated before the work commences.

Scrum Project Management

On the other hand, creating a brand-new flower bed is a more complex project since the outcomes are determined as the project progresses through different stages. A typical Scrum methodology is shown in the figure below.

Some of the key components of Scrum are the increments and rolls. Work is conducted with iterations to ensure frequent customer feedback. These iterations or work increments, are called sprints, typically lasting for two to four weeks for product innovation. On the other hand, timeboxed increments include the sprint planning meeting, feature release, and retrospective.

Agile methodologies, like Scrum, allow for frequent course corrections as the team gathers inputs on specific features during each sprint. So, in designing a new flower bed, you can decide — as you go — whether you want to add some perennials or evergreens.

Design Thinking

While technically Design Thinking is not a project management methodology, it is an ideal set of tools to execute new product development (NPD) projects. Design Thinking, as shown in the figure below, is especially useful in situations where the problem is not clearly defined. As with Scrum, frequent customer feedback helps the project manager and project team ensure customer needs are integrated into the final product design.

There are really only two steps in design thinking: identify the problem and solve the problem. However, we use a set of creative and collaborative tools within each step to discover and define the problem and to create and evaluate solutions. Each action (discover, define, create, evaluate) is iterative so that continued learning can inform the problem identification yielding the optimum solution for any point in time.

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On a large scale than a backyard project, you would use Design Thinking to create architectural plans for your dream house. The methodology includes rapid prototyping as a tool, so you might stay in a two-bedroom Airbnb one week and a four-bedroom house another week to determine which fits your needs the best. Learn more about Design Thinking in our complimentary Q&A webinar on 18 June 2020. (Register here.)

Apply the Right PM System for the Project

All projects are not the same. NPD projects vary in complexity from the sophistication of the technology, the expectations of the market, and the innovativeness of the business model. You, as the project manager, must follow the system that will deliver the best outcomes in the shortest time with the least cost.

Traditional PM is best applied in situations with little uncertainty. Agile methodologies, like Scrum, are useful for projects with high uncertainty in markets or in technologies. Sprints allow the project team to determine the optimum set of requirements as the project progresses. When there are significant risks in planning or executing the product innovation project, Design Thinking tools inform the team to ensure the right problem is addressed to meet customer needs. Design thinking includes a high degree of collaboration with the end-user leading to more creative solutions.

Learn More

Learn more about project management systems for innovation in Chapter 3 of The Innovation ANSWER Book available at Amazon (now available on Kindle). Review a discussion of these three PM systems from my presentation to the PMI Houston chapter on 2 June 2020 (YouTube, 75 minutes).

Finally, as PMs and NPD practitioners navigate uncharted waters in a confusing and conflicted economy, join me for a complimentary Q&A on Life Design Master Mind on 18 June at noon CDT. We will investigate how to apply Design Thinking tools to your career, finding a job, or whatever the next stage in life is. Register here for the complementary LDMM Q&A. We’re also offering a new workshop Reset Your Strategy to help all business owners, project and product managers, and engineering leaders to clarify objectives as we put the chaos of 2020 behind us and look forward to a more positive future. PRE-REGISTER HERE for Reset Your Strategy workshop.

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Building Innovation Leaders

About Me

I am inspired by writing, teaching, and coaching. I tackle life with an infusion of rigor, zeal, and faith. It brings me joy to help you build innovation leaders. Teresa Jurgens-Kowal is an experienced innovation professional with a passion for lifelong learning with a PhD in Chemical Engineering and an MBA in Computer and Information Decision Making. My credentials include PE (State of Louisiana), NPDP, PMP®, and CPEM, and I am a DiSC® certified facilitator. Contact me at or area code 281 + phone 787–3979 for more information on coaching for entrepreneurs and innovators.

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Teresa Kowal

I tackle life with an infusion of rigor, zeal, and faith. My passion is innovation and helping others improve their new product development ecosystems.