Project Management
Project Management

Ask PMI Anything: How does PMI innovate?

3 Sep 2021
Joe Cahill
We’re all evangelists for innovation these days. It’s proclaimed from every business pulpit and preached by every corporate consultant—even here at PMI. But do we at PMI practice what we preach? Joe Cahill, Chief Customer Officer, and Dave Stadler, Innovation Team Lead, share the importance of innovation to PMI and the innovation journey PMI has been on these past few years.

Image by Ying Ge on Unsplash

 

There has been extensive discussion of innovation recently at PMI, especially in the wake of a global pandemic that has pushed virtually every organization to work in new ways. We’ve identified “cultivating an innovative mindset” as a key “power skill” that today’s project professionals need. We took a deep dive into what makes innovative organizations tick in research projects like last year’s Pulse of the Profession report, “The Innovation Imperative.” And we recognize and reward innovation through PMI’s Most Influential Projects and Future 50 initiatives.  

What we don’t often do, however, is talk about the role of innovation here at PMI. Just as innovation is an important skill for project professionals—and a crucial capability for businesses more broadly—it’s critically important for our organization; you don’t endure for over 50 years if you aren’t capable of change.  

So, let’s take a look at the PMI innovation journey—how it started and how it’s going. As part of that journey, we have: 

  • Identified and responded to an important business need. 
  • Invested in a dedicated innovation team. 
  • Integrated our innovation efforts with other functional areas of the business. 
  • Driven a cultural shift aimed at creating a more innovative mindset among our employees, as well as giving them the skills and tools to be more innovative. 

In many ways, PMI’s innovation journey mirrors that of many other organizations. And it can perhaps serve as a useful roadmap for companies seeking to foster innovation across their enterprises. 

Where and when did PMI’s most recent innovation journey begin? Like most innovation efforts, which often start with a customer pain point, our focus on innovation grew out of a distinct business need. As part of a comprehensive strategic review a few years ago, we had identified a need to increase our impact up to ten-fold to reach a much broader range of changemakers, many of whom don’t have “project manager” in their job title. Achieving this kind of impact required a digital transformation of our operations and a renewed commitment to innovation—in both the products we offer and in how we operate.  

This effort is still underway and is led by a dedicated innovation team, which seeks to go beyond product extensions to address new customer challenges. That has led to the development of a range of new offerings, including new resources for citizen development and Wicked Problem Solving; new courses for aspiring changemakers; and new training programs across multiple fronts, including in vertical segments like construction.  

Our innovation team isn’t set off in an ivory tower, however. In fact, it’s physically located right in the middle of our executive team. That’s intentional; we want innovation to be top of mind in our strategic direction-setting and day-to-day operations. To that end, the team’s work is tightly connected to that of our Business Development and Marketing functions. The team also works closely with the Strategy group to develop data and insights—particularly A/B tests, personas, messaging and visuals—that help in exploring new opportunities with key stakeholders.  

The final area of focus for our innovation efforts is perhaps the most important: fostering an innovative mindset among PMI employees and giving them the skills and tools to be successful. That’s critical because innovation isn’t something that just happens in a lab. It needs to permeate all parts of an organization and drive improvements not only in products and services but in how work gets done.  

That’s why we have committed so many resources to this area. PMI research has found that relatively few organizations set aside dedicated time for innovative thinking and ideation among their employees. We have committed to do the opposite—to build a culture of innovation that extends deep into the organization and reaches all employees anywhere in the world:  

  • We have sponsored lunch and learns, product showcases and open sprint demos to highlight and normalize the innovation activity that’s happening at PMI.  
  • From a skills perspective, we’ve trained teams on virtual collaboration techniques and registered more than 120 staffers to learn Wicked Problem Solving, which provides design thinking and creative collaboration techniques.  
  • And we’ve embedded collaboration tools into our workflows, training people in Trello and Miro for shared visualization and better virtual collaboration.  

Finally, we’ve tried to make it psychologically “safe” for people to innovate. Our leadership encourages teams to approach customer problems actively and has been willing to invest in experiments to help them solve those problems. We try to give people the freedom to innovate wherever they are in the organization and to provide the support and resources they need to succeed. At the end of the day, innovation doesn’t follow a formula, and it isn’t something that just happens. It’s a mindset to be cultivated and allowed to thrive. 

The management pioneer Peter Drucker is credited with famously saying that, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” At PMI, we’re dedicated to infusing innovation into both our culture and our strategy—doubling down on its power to uplift and transform. In doing so, we hope not only to serve our members and stakeholders more effectively but to operate more authentically—to truly “walk the innovation talk.”

Joe Cahill Joe Cahill

As Chief Customer Officer (CCO), Joe Cahill is responsible for all PMI’s Global Customer Group. He oversees the Global Customer Engagement Team, the Global Customer Experience Team and PMI’s eight geographic regions. Joe previously held the positions of COO, Interim CEO and SVP of Finance and Administration in his time with PMI.