Project Management Considerations for the Open Organization

Posted by Jo Edwards on Dec 12, 2017 9:02:35 AM

Having the right project management tools and techniques are essential for successfully embracing open innovation. As traditional boundaries are crossed, established project management approaches simply don’t provide the kind of tools and techniques that are needed to maximize the multidisciplinary inputs.

So what might work better? Here, we explore some potential approaches to managing open innovation projects.

One size does not fit all

Organizations that have successfully embraced open innovation have begun to adapt how they manage projects, both to promote joint problem solving amongst stakeholders and to reduce misunderstandings that can arise. The most effective have identified that one size definitely does not fit all projects.

1. Market-based approach

Market-based open innovation projects involve customers, suppliers and other producers within the market. This type of involvement can bring information on market and customer needs, data and intelligence on new trends, and expertise in new technologies, services or approaches. They demand practices that can coordinate these inputs at relevant stages of the project. Tools must help each stakeholder to develop a clear knowledge of when and how they can input to the project. And each party should be involved in developing joint goals, so that success is jointly understood. In many cases, this will mean integrating and adapting existing project management tools, and developing new, shared approaches.


2. Science-based approach

Science-based open innovation projects are more theoretical in nature, involving stakeholders from universities and/ or research institutes. The end results may be less defined, and the whole project might be much more exploratory, using ‘blue skies’ research to identify possibilities. While the organization will be looking for market value from new products or services that emerge from the exploration, the researchers will be motivated by the new discoveries they can make, and the research outputs that result. In this type of endeavor, project management approaches need to be much more flexible, recognizing the different motivations of the stakeholders and what each is trying to achieve.


Common tools

Regardless of approach, there are a range of common tools and techniques that can be applied. We look at six of these below.

i. Scoping phase:

The very start of the project should involve a comparison of project management and R&D processes, to identify areas of alignment and to build common working practices. Customers should know when and how they can interact with the team and make inputs to the project. Project goals should be jointly developed, and clearly communicated.

ii. Milestones, gateways and projects tools:

All commercial stakeholders should have a common understanding of milestones and deadlines, sharing tracking tools like Gantt charts. Gateways – decision points linked to milestones – should be jointly scoped, and progress towards them jointly charted. As above, customers should have a clear understanding of when and how they can influence the project.

iii. Evaluation:

To ensure an open innovation project meets the needs of all stakeholders, evaluation boards and steering committees need to be inclusive, with representatives of each stakeholder perspective. The evaluation board should be able to make decisions about progress and future direction of the project, based on the feedback from the project gateways. Evaluation criteria should incorporate both the internal and external perspectives. Creating working practices that are appropriate for all stakeholders will be essential to success.

iv. Attitude to failure:

As open innovation projects tend to be more loosely defined, failure must be built in. The adage ‘fail fast and fail smart’ should be applied. Project participants should embrace failure, using lessons learned to inform the next stages of development.

v. Managing diversity:

The role of the project manager within open innovation projects is essential. Not only will they have to interact with other project managers, they will also need to bring together teams with multiple needs. Team members might be their own customers, creating a very different dynamic. And they might be based all over the world. The ability to manage a wide range of diverse perspectives will be crucial for success.

vi. Communication:

As with any project, there needs to be open communication throughout the different phases, established from the very beginning. This is even more crucial with open innovation projects, as different stakeholders and perspectives are brought together. Perhaps most importantly, all participants should use a common language throughout the project, so that everyone involved knows what is being meant. That way, everyone will understand what success looks like, and the steps required to get there.

Key lessons

Successful projects are those that can accommodate changing circumstances and meet changing needs. Flexibility, adaptability and learning on the go are even more important for open innovation, where projects are likely to be less linear and more experimental. Effective projects will be those that put the tools in place that recognize the different needs of the stakeholders, and that develop common approaches and language. Creating an environment that encourages exploration, and embraces diversity, is the key to successful open innovation projects.



Brown, M. & Townsend, S. (2013). Driving strategy: how leading companies are enabling open innovation. Paper presented at PMI® Global Congress 2013—North America, New Orleans, LA. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

Gama, F., Rönnberg Sjödin, D., & Frishammar, J. (2017). ‘Open innovation in technology development : how an integrated set of project management practices can help companies to collaborate better with market- and science-based partners in technology development’. Management of Innovation and Technology, 2(1), 5–7.

Gauthier, S. (2007). Delivering innovation through value and project management. Paper presented at PMI® Global Congress 2007—Asia Pacific, Hong Kong, People's Republic of China. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

Grönlund, Johan & Rönnberg Sjödin, David & Frishammar, Johan. (2010). Open Innovation and the Stage-Gate Process: A Revised Model for New Product Development. California Management Review. 52. 106-131. 10.1525/cmr.2010.52.3.106.

Topics: Innovation Insights

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