What is Innovation Project Management?



By John Cable, Director

Project Management Center for Excellence
A. James Clark School of Engineering
University of Maryland

College Park, Maryland, USA

In our 2021 Virtual Project Management Symposium, Michael O’Connor, Director Strategy and Project Management at Medtronic, shared his insights on this topic during his presentation, titled “Innovation Project Management – A Practitioner’s Approach.” I would like to share his many insights and experiences here.

Dr. O’Connor, one of our PhD graduates, introduces Innovation Project Management as the intersection between leadership and project management. Innovation can be messy, complex, and takes time; when bringing project management in to meet it can help make innovation more predictable.

In terms of business need, there is a call for technical and innovation project managers. Innovation needs to happen, so the question becomes how can project management fuel that? Dr. O’Connor recommends “Innovation Project Management” (2019) by Dr. Harold Kerzner as a resource for this newer term. Not only did Dr. O’Connor write an excerpt for this book, but he personally worked with Dr. Kerzner to have O’Connor’s product development management association and Kerzner’s project management institute collaborate – which they have since done! Furthermore, PMI and PDMA are working on a microcertificaiton for both the project manager and product manager.

Innovation is the transforming of knowledge and intellectual product into commercialization and innovation that can receive continuous improvement or disruption. There are many different types of innovation such as service and products. There is not simply one innovation path. Dr. O’Connor emphasized that innovation occurs from beginning to end and in many ways. The value of innovation can be everywhere, across service or industry, but again service and products are two of the main areas for this.

Innovation planning requires background information, projects, and portfolios. Early in the innovation process it is important to figure out why this innovation is going to be good for the company or organization. Market and customer needs can be difficult to discern especially with a new or disrupted market, but Dr. O’Connor encourages creativity in how that information is obtained. Portfolios need balance as well as the short-, medium- and long-term innovation bets. Placing many bets can lead to one or two that move forward. Projects require resources, strategic importance, and qualified innovation project managers. No one can ever know what the project will end up looking like, but Dr. O’Connor advised “going with your gut and experience” and always reach out to your professional group!

On the topic of “Innovation and Early Feasibility”, Dr. O’Connor focused on three main factors: skills, culture, and leadership. Leaders need traditional project management skills such as budgeting and scheduling skills, but soft skill and change management should also be required. Culture and innovation have changed over the past years and have made virtual and remote working additional types of skills. The lack of people being together and ability to work close to each other poses the question – how can we change that culture going forward and increase innovation? The answer to this question relies on leadership to plan how to create that time for people to work on innovation specifically.


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How to cite this article: Cable, J. (2021). What is Innovation Project Management? Commentary, PM World Journal, Vol. XI, Issue I, January. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/pmwj113-Jan2022-Cable-what-is-innovation-project-management.pdf

 About the Author

John Cable

Director, Project Management Center for Excellence
University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA


 John Cable is Director of the Project Management Center for Excellence in the A.James Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland, where he has been a professor and teacher of several graduate courses in project management. His program at the University of Maryland offers masters and PhD level programs focused on project management. With more than 1,300 seats filled annually with students from many countries, including more than 40 PhD students, the program is the largest graduate program in project management at a major university in the United States.

John Cable served in the newly formed U.S. Department of Energy in 1980, where he was involved with developing energy standards for buildings, methods for measuring energy consumption, and managing primary research in energy conservation.  As an architect and builder, Mr. Cable founded and led John Cable Associates in 1984, a design build firm. In 1999 he was recruited by the University of Maryland’s Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering to create and manage a graduate program in project management. In his role as founder and director of the Project Management Center for Excellence at Maryland, the program has grown to offer two undergraduate minors, 3 master’s degrees, and a doctoral program. Information about the Project Management Center for Project Management at the University of Maryland can be found at www.pm.umd.edu.

In 2002, PMI formed the Global Accreditation Center for Project Management Educational Programs (GAC).  Mr. Cable was appointed to that inaugural board where he served as vice chair.  In 2006, he was elected as chairman, a role he held through 2012.  As Chair of the PMI GAC, John led the accreditation of 86 project management educational programs at 40 institutions in 15 countries in North America, Europe, the Middle East, Latin America and the Asia Pacific Region. John was awarded PMI’s 2012 Distinguished Contribution Award for his leadership at the GAC.  He can be contacted at jcable@umd.edu.

To view other works by John Cable, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at https://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/john-cable/