By Giacomo Bersano
The techniques of project management (PM) created during the 1950s in the United States are considered among the most effective procedures for improving efficiency when launching new products and services.1 TRIZ techniques can be adopted to improve project management processes.
Project management, best practice, Relevent™ diagram, risk management, communication management, quality management
To improve the efficiency of creating new products and services, organizations developed many operating procedures capable of describing and then optimizing internal processes. Among the factors that accelerate this phenomenon are increased competition, market maturity and the pressure for Quality ISO9000 certification. Project management (PM) procedures were created to increase the probability of success for large military projects. The Project Management Institute® is a nonprofit organization developed to spread project management best practices throughout the world. Founded in 1969, it is now the largest project manager organization, with more then 200,000 members worldwide. According to author John Adams, companies whose activities are characterized by the use of advanced technologies, the presence of highly qualified personnel and a high level of uncertainty are more likely to use PM procedures.3
Because there are so many companies involved in technical innovation, there are always people looking for ways to improve business practices whether through project management or other innovative techniques. Genrich Altshuller and his colleagues (of the former Soviet Union) developed the Theory of Inventive Principles (TRIZ) during the 1950s as a way to find inventive solutions for technical problems. Starting from this technical focus, various authors including Darrell Mann and Valeri Souchkov studied the adaptability of classical TRIZ to management and business problems. Greg Yezersky, author of the general theory of innovation, proposes a more general approach on systems defined as an "orderly set of elements designed to satisfy a need of the environment."6 Some of these approaches can address the weaknesses of project management and provide useful insights for over-pressured project managers.
Society is facing an increasingly complex series of problems – the increasing complexity of technology, globalization, limited natural resources, climate change, migration, ethnic crises, new economic players and market instability. Many consider innovation as the best way to compete in a diverse market.7 In 2000 the European Commission established a roadmap to becoming the most innovative society in the world by 2010. Among the actions to support innovation in Europe, the commission prepared a study entitled, "Innovation Management and the Knowledge-driven Economy."1 This study lists the most suitable techniques for fostering innovation capabilities according to the parameters of: knowledge-driven focus, strategic impact, availability, quality of documentation available, practical usefulness, maturity, required resources for implementation and measurability.
The techniques recommended to foster innovation for European organizations were:
Based on the author's experience, only a joint application of these techniques is a distinctive sign of best-in-class companies and a path to follow.
In general, introducing working procedures, quality tools and better options including Six Sigma had improved the phases of product development in companies. According to Harvard professor Clayton M. Christiansen, the global rate of success at the end of the line is less then 10 percent.8 Figure 1 shows a graphical representation of the approximate standard design process observed in a variety of companies. Considering the sequential structure of this process, it is evident that global efficiency is the product of the efficiency of every block. All blocks need to be optimized to achieve acceptable results, and companies need to excel throughout the cycle to obtain good results.
In 2005 and 2006 the author interviewed approximately 30 top and middle managers of companies operating in various sectors – automotive, oil, luxury brands and services. These interviews showed how ideas are generated and managed in organizations. The study indicated that idea generation is the weakest step of the whole process as diagrammed in Figure 1. It was also interesting to analyze managers' perceptions of creativity and its link with innovation. The following definitions were used as a reference to evaluate the maturity of the answer:
Using these definitions, the answers were categorized on a scale based on having a good understanding, an acceptable perception and being completely off target. The results were evenly dispersed. Some of the most critical answers were:
Recall that the largest benefit of TRIZ is generally achieved at the initial phases of the development cycle – the idea generation and selection phases that normally constitutes less structured activities in companies. Knowing that project management techniques cover all operational steps of the process, from the feasibility analysis to the sales activity, the complementarity of the two approaches become clear. Figure 2 shows that project managing is efficient for the non-creative phases (needs identification, selection, feasibility, etc.) although systematic innovation techniques are helpful for the design phases.
The American Project Management Institute (PMI©) classifies PM activities as process groups – initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and control, and closing processes. The processes are schematically divided into input elements, tools and techniques, and output elements.
Another mapping of PM processes is based on nine knowledge areas:
Today the penetration of PM techniques is continuously increasing, but not all recommended PMI best practices have been fully implemented in companies. Two standards have been created to evaluate PM practice compliance:
Preliminary results of audits of these tools by PM professionals and a study performed by the Standish Group showed major management weaknesses in risk, quality and communication management.13 TRIZ techniques can help improve the global effectiveness of PM. The following example is based on a specific sub-process of PM – risk management.
Risk management (RM) is an adaptation of the failure mode and effect analysis technique (FMEA) – a safety technique developed in the United States in the 1950s for the design of nuclear weapons. FMEA was adopted in Japan in the energy sector and then spread through Europe in many application fields. Similarly, the military initially developed risk assessment and it was later transferred to other fields. The goal of project risk management is to reduce the probability and gravity of negative events and increase the probability of positive ones. Risk management is an effective method. Unfortunately few organizations adopt it completely and, therefore, they do not receive the full benefits. Normally organizations involved in complex technological projects – chemical, aeronautics, railways – adopt a developed strategy. For less critical projects simplified or no risk management is adopted. What are the reasons behind this slow penetration?
Often organizations are unaware of the need for risk management and have no structured approach to deal with uncertainty, resulting in a series of crises for each project or operation. The typical organization is mainly reactive, with little or no attempt to learn from past projects or to prepare for future uncertainties or to develop contingency plans. When a critical situation occurs, planning is abandoned and the chances of project success are based on heroic managers and seasoned teams. Occasionally capable managers can identify and work to mitigate risks during the project, but when they leave their influence leaves with them. Another difficulty implementing RM is due to the management procedures and activities that must be in place, together with a lack of a perceived need, to change. Unrealistic expectations can also be a factor as can the lack of a clear vision of what implementation would involve or how it should be managed.
After an organization realizes the benefits of RM it can use TRIZ tools to boost penetration of risk management. Practitioners can use some standard TRIZ tools as the system operator (also known as multi-screen analysis) centered on project management, to identify some useful trends.15 Below are the results of the analysis. It is quite standard to focus first on global project management activities using the system operator approach – enlarging the focus before treating the specific problem.
With this multi-level approach, risk management, as an area of knowledge inside project management, is considered a sub-system. Dark blue arrows depict Altshuller's laws of evolution and Darrell Mann's trends are shown in light blue. The figure then shows possible evolution paths for RM.
This picture offers many possibilities for the evolution of project management. By focusing again on risk management the picture can be enlarged and include more of the sub-system side and include the sub-elements of risk management and its ancestors. This is shown in Figure 5 and includes new PM techniques like PM rules.
This analysis shows that the laws of ideality, energy conduction and parts development played a role in the past and, therefore, could be significant for the development of new approaches. In specific cases an integrated risk management system will become a constitutive element of a more virtual and flexible project management team, part of more project-oriented organization where project management practices are more adaptive and generalized.
Figure 6 represents risk management processes based on the PMI structure of risk management and completed using a problem analysis technique from Greg Yezersky's book, General Theory of Innovation.6
This technique analyzes a system in the present using a graphic model of a system of events. In this figure green ellipses represent positive activities that impact the supreme goal of the system (represented by the ellipse filled in green). The input elements – those that can be controlled – are in black dotted boxes. In the Relevent™ representation, an orange box and arrows reflect negative events that block positive events, and can generate the supreme system anti-goal, represented in red. Introducing all these elements in the global risk management process generates a complex picture. Therefore, for the clarity of presentation, only the risk identification (RI) sub-process will be mapped, showing the negative events affecting it – Figure 7.
The main goal of RI is to identify which risk can affect the projects and document its characteristics. In Figure 7, the orange boxes again represent negative events and orange lines represent the fact that the negative event can stop the cause-effect relationship between two positive effects.
This diagram shows a variety of negative events – a lack of responsibility, time and resources dedicated to documents review; and a lack of tools, know-how and climate to perform specific techniques to gather risks (Delphi, brainstorming, root cause identification, etc.). According to the Relevent™ technique, all improvements must be focused on eliminating or contrasting the negative events – keeping in mind the final super-goal and considering the rest a waste of time and resources. All actions oriented in resources and time optimization, together with traceability and repeatability of the activity, will be beneficial for the document review. Training on creativity techniques and risk management will be beneficial for information gathering and on using external resources. Defining clear responsibilities and rules in the working environment will also help.
Reformulating this using TRIZ could reflect that although risk management works, companies do not implement it because of limited resources and knowledge. The main functions of RM are:
Figure 8 portrays a possible functional model where the functions can later be considered insufficient or absent.
Below are some possible TRIZ solution strategies:
In Figure 9 this law is applied to risk management and identifying the engine, the transmission, the tool and the control element.
The essential elements shown are the engine and the transmission. RM is a value-added activity where know-how and experience are necessary. The control function can be maintained and delegated to a small RM team or assigned back to the company. RM takes time and know-how that can be either found within the organization or through an outside agency. Companies working on a single product/market may better off investing money on RM for long-term purposes. Once RM is established it involves minimal effort.
Another TRIZ approach is to highlight the essential problem behind the low penetration of risk management as the main technical and physical contradictions.
Innovation is a goal for many companies and institutions. Precise techniques like project management can be used to assist and control the emergence of innovation. While these techniques are well formalized, often there is little control of the ideation phases where TRIZ has already proven efficient. In this article, the author integrated the ideation phase and project management using TRIZ techniques to improve current project management techniques – multi-screen analysis, Relevent diagrams, evolution laws, as well as technical and physical contradictions. These tools offer guidelines to improve project management techniques.
The integration of project management best practices and TRIZ can be fruitful in developing new products, processes and services. TRIZ can bring a new perspective to project management theory as well as support project managers in finding fresh ideas and solutions for typical project optimization problems. Project management best practices can also improve the efficiency of systematic innovation activities.
The author extends his many thanks to Greg Yezersky, the creator of the general theory of innovation and founder of Institute of Professional Innovators.
Giacomo Bersano is the owner of Active Innovation Management, a French innovation consulting company. He is a certified project management professional at Project Management Institute, a member of ETRIA from 2004 and has 15 years experience consulting in technological fields (auto, railways, oil and electronics) with large multinational companies. He has recently published a book on Systematic Innovation techniques and sustainability in Italian, entitled "Creare il futuro." Contact Giacomo Bersano at g.bersano (at) aim-innovation.com.