Project managers can better manage
the inherent risk of innovative projects
by focusing on elements that cut costs
and incorporating small, original solutions into larger, conventional projects.
“Our philosophy is that when you
build a new system, don’t just focus on
one piece,” Mr. Mokros says. “Use it as
an opportunity to extend the technol-
ogy to achieve less tangible goals.”
He’s currently in the midst of a
massive initiative to transfer 100 mil-
lion paper-based patient records to
electronic format. The project should
deliver substantial cost savings to the
organization by streamlining patient
information and reducing errors. And
that’s exactly how Mr. Mokros’ team
made the business case for the project
and secured buy-in from executives.
passing the test
There’s nothing wrong with going “out on a limb” with an innovative project—as
long as you’ve done due diligence.
“The more data you have to support your idea, the less risky it becomes,”
says Brad Gold, executive vice president at Adams Foam Rubber Co., a cushioning manufacturer in Chicago, Illinois, USA.
Five years ago, Mr. Gold began looking for a green alternative to his family’s
line of foam products. Working with KTM Industries, his company contributed to
the development of a biodegradable material it calls “Green Cell Foam.”
At the time, the economy was terrible, particularly in his industry. But Mr.
Gold forged ahead, devoting 18 months to evaluating the science behind the
foam so he’d have independent, verifiable evidence that it worked—if and when
stakeholders demanded it.
While KTM conducted lab tests to verify the material’s technical specifications, Mr. Gold’s team members conducted their own field tests. They wrapped
one product in conventional foam and another in Green Cell Foam, shipping the
sets all across the country to see how the materials compared.
High on their list of priorities was making sure the foam wouldn’t attract
the wrong kind of interest: One environmentally friendly packaging product
was made with cornstarch, which has simple sugars very attractive to mice,
rats, birds and ants. That creates problems in warehouses, Mr. Gold says. “In
the factory, you could pull the cord to release the cornstarch peanuts and a rat
would fall into the box.”
To be sure Green Cell Foam didn’t have the same appeal to vermin, Mr. Gold
and his project team set a series of traps. They scattered pieces of the foam
on the warehouse roof, in their yards and in squirrel traps around the building.
Nothing took the bait.
“Testing eliminated a lot of our risks,” he says. “It gave us the confidence
that when we brought this product to the customer they couldn’t ask us any
question that we couldn’t answer.”
It added to the project timeline, but for Mr. Gold the investment was worth it.
“Time is the project manager’s most valuable asset,” he says. “Rushing an
innovative new product to market without verifying how it will function under
every conceivable condition hurts the viability of the product and the company.”