Searching for the Elusive Digital Unicorn

The Emergence of the Elusive Digital Unicorn — How Digital Disruption is breeding new roles within the project and business landscape, are you ready for it?

Disruptive Technologies are changing existing landscapes

Technology has had a profound impact on the business world. Simply walk into any business, no matter the size, and you will see the prolific adoption of technology. Digital project boards, virtual teams scattered across the globe; are all indicators of business reliance on this “fourth industrial revolution.” From industry data and anecdotal evidence, this tech utilization is on an exponential increase.

In 2016, Fujitsu conducted a survey of 1,180 C-suite executives. The survey stated that 98 % of them were experiencing the effects of “Digital Disruption.” (1) Of the executives interviewed, 54 % believed that the most significant changes were still to come.

New technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), and machine learning (ML) are impacting established industries such as the automotive and agriculture sectors. Mercedes Benz is using these technologies to drive their supply chains and ferry their customers in luxury. (2)

European farmers are using AI to better monitor their cattle. Devices with sophisticated sensors will track the cow’s movement. This data gathered will be tabulated and displayed to the farmer. Farmers are provided with data to their cows’ grazing, lying down, and other activities. This information leads to a better prediction of breeding times and helps lead preventative initiatives around general health care of the animal. (3)

Technology leading to the emergence of Digital Unicorns

Within all organizations, new roles are emerging to accommodate and exploit these new opportunities.  The Project Management Office, as the chief driver of change within the business, is feeling these effects as well. This can be seen in a greater demand for projects, as well as the emergence of new roles within its own domain.

These new roles have emerged like the fabled unicorn of myth and legend. Like the unicorn, they resemble traditional project roles. In the same way, unicorns resemble the average horse. They are a hybrid of established positions which have been re-packaged and defined to better fulfill their original mandates.

The horn of the unicorn, in the case of this article and these new project roles, is the technology that helps these roles flourish. The more these new roles utilize emerging technologies, the more they will be able to grow and succeed in their new callings.  This article is the start of a series of articles on the emergence of these new roles and characteristics and the real-life application of technology that is forcing them to change.

The Roles we will be reviewing

The hands-on project owner or sponsor, now product owner, is surfacing as a new role in the project landscape. No longer are project owners able to burden project teams, especially the project manager. The project manager has the sole responsibility for ensuring the project is a success. Using digital technology, they are expected to ensure that they make accurate predictions of the markets readiness to receive features they are calling their teams to focus on.

The Agile Project Manager versus the traditional Project Manager.

What are the skills and competencies that project managers need to develop that will prevent this role from being replaced by a machine? How is the project manager going to use Artificial intelligence to help deliver a better quality of service and leverage their unique human ability of emotional intelligence and unique leadership skills to guide their teams to greater heights of delivery?

The UX designer vs the traditional graphic or front-end designer.

Companies no longer just want a pretty design. They now want to see a design that has been driven by data and intensive research. A design that has been evolved, quickly and incrementally through continuous interaction with customers and future users over the lifecycle of the project.

The Quality Engineer vs the Tester.

No longer just required to test and pick up bugs, these roles have evolved into highly skilled engineers. These engineers often have as much technical ability as the developers who produce the code in the first place. Automation and regression pack testing is the norm and no longer the exception.

The Future

Yes, these new roles are dotting the landscape like never before. I encourage you to join us in this journey, over the next couple of articles, as we start to learn to believe again in unicorns because we are going to start to see a lot more of them in our future, some of us may even find us transitioning into these roles. These articles will help to prepare you for that change.

  1. Fujitsu. Fujitsu. Fit for Digital Report. [Online] 2016.
  2. [Online] 
  3. CBC News. [Online] 
  4. MacBan, Ryan. Cisco Blogs. [Online] 

Cultivating a Robust Organization: 5 Stages of the Innovation Process

Most business leaders recognize the value of innovation. In a study from consulting firm Accenture, 93 percent of executives surveyed said that their organization’s long-term success depends on developing new ideas. However, only 18 percent of leaders believed their company’s innovation efforts delivered a competitive advantage, despite an increase in business investments for innovation.

Why are businesses unsuccessful with innovation? Accenture notes that only 46 percent of companies had an effective and holistic process for new products and services. And according to an exploratory study of more than 30 companies in the United States and Europe, researchers found that companies generally lack a process to guide innovation.

In too many organizations, innovation occurs by serendipity rather than by deliberate management. Without a process to understand, stimulate, and analyze innovation and an organization’s strengths and weaknesses around innovation, most companies rely upon serendipity.

Innovation: Management, Policy & Practice

Backed by an effective innovation process, managers can advocate for and help create what researchers in the Innovation: Management, Policy & Practice study call robust organizations. These companies “have found a recipe for sustainable innovation programs rather than mere spurts of innovation,” and the study defines specific stages that are most common to sustained, successful innovation.

1.    Idea Generation and Mobilization

New ideas are created during idea generation. Mobilization occurs when the idea is moved to a different physical or logical location, such as an outside firm or another department.

Inspiration for a new idea can originate from an improvement of an existing idea, or something from scratch. The Atlantic explains how Apple waited three years after MP3 players were introduced to create the iPod, which was attractive, intuitive and offered capacity for up to 1,000 songs. Conversely, the invention of Scotch tape was a brand new idea. Priceonomics tells the story of Richard Drew, a college dropout who joined 3M, saw a need for a type of tape that wouldn’t ruin paint on cars and overcame hurdles to complete his invention.

As a result of Drew’s work ethic, 3M provides employees with time (15 percent of their workday) to explore ideas outside of their work assignments. Other organizations have followed this model, and robust organizations in general provide employees with the time and resources to innovate. According to Innovation: Management, Policy & Practice, managers must emphasize innovation to the right extent — “overemphasizing need will cause some employees to leave for more stable jobs,” while “not emphasizing it enough will decrease urgency and idea generation across the board.”

2.    Advocacy and Screening

Not all ideas are worth implementing. Advocacy and screening help evaluate an idea and measure its potential benefits and problems. From there, a decision can be made about an idea’s future.

One of the biggest advantages for the joint processes of advocacy and screening is refinement. If the idea has potential, discussions and arguments help enhance it. The study in Innovation: Management, Policy & Practice mentions how this stage prepares an idea for upper management, which can call for a different approach. Because idea generators don’t always have the skills to advocate for their ideas, managers working with the idea generator can facilitate, encourage and support the person.

Companies looking to build a robust culture can establish a few best practices for this step. First, employees should have plenty of avenues to receive advocacy and feedback. Second, organizations must understand the difficulties involved with evaluating truly innovative ideas. Third, organizations need to build transparent evaluation and screening protocols.

3.    Experimentation

The experimentation stage tests an idea, such as with a prototype or pilot test. Researchers in Innovation: Management, Policy & Practice carefully note that “Experimentation does not test an idea’s objective merits, but the suitability for a particular organization at a particular time.” Some ideas “might be ahead of their time or beyond the present capacity of the company … [they] may be set aside into an idea bank or idea library for development at a later time.”

Experimentation can remain continuous or exist in spurts, as advocates and screeners reevaluate an idea. Sometimes, experimentation leads to new ideas due to information that is gathered on the results and the overall feasibility of the original idea. Time is crucial in this process; individuals must be given adequate time to run the experiments. As refinements and evaluations occur, they must be given enough time to reflect on the experiments.

Many businesses experiment with new products and services, such as grocery stores. One innovation came in 2007, when Amazon tested its grocery delivery service in certain Seattle suburbs. After this successful experiment, Amazon Fresh expanded to Los Angeles, San Diego and New York City; New Jersey and the United Kingdom are the latest locations Amazon has targeted.

4.    Commercialization

Commercialization aims to create market value for an idea by focusing on its potential impact. This step makes the idea appealing to the audience, such as by packaging an idea with other ideas, clarifying how and when the idea can be used, and using data or prototypes from experiments to demonstrate benefits.

An important part of commercialization is establishing the specifications of any given idea. “The promises and potentials of the earlier stages of innovation must be discarded so that the actual benefits of the new innovation can be perceived and communicated,” researchers wrote in Innovation: Management, Policy & Practice. Once an idea is refined, it can appropriately target and meet the needs of the audience.

Commercialization is the stage of the innovation process when the focus shifts from development to persuasion. After the idea is clarified and a business plan is created, it will be ready for diffusion and implementation.

5.    Diffusion and Implementation

“Diffusion and implementation are two sides of the same coin,” researchers wrote in Innovation: Management, Policy & Practice. Diffusion is the companywide acceptance of an innovative idea, and implementation sets up everything needed to develop and utilize or produce the innovation.

Diffusion happens at all levels of an organization. This process is often aided by knowledge brokers, who are effective at presenting an innovation by using their awareness of “the specific content and application into which an idea, product or service can be inserted.” As a result, knowledge brokers are able to assist with rapid implementation.

The use or application of the innovation should be demonstrated by the end of this stage, along with acceptance of the innovation. For the innovation to succeed, it will need the proper resources, a marketing plan for customers and an open culture with strong advocacy. Also important to diffusion and implementation is the opportunity for future ideas; this final stage allows the organization to determine the next set of needs for customers. Receiving feedback, in addition to indicators for success metrics and other benchmarks, enables the organization to stimulate the innovation process once again.

Innovation and Business

Innovation poses challenges. If one step of the process is weak or if a company lacks a systematic process for accepting and nurturing innovative ideas, the organization will rely on serendipity. But with the right approach, mindset and resources, a company can reap the strategic benefits of growth.

Managers play a vital role in an organization that meets the challenges of innovation. In Innovation: Management, Policy & Practice, the study outlines key areas where managers can assist with the process of innovation.

  • Managers need to pay constant attention to operational details of innovation projects. Managers should keep an eye on how their projects are doing, and, to ease the burden of this task, they can establish a learning-focused environment that encourages employees to explore and generate new ideas.
  • Managers need to be clear about how ideas are selected and evaluated. Clear-cut protocols are a feature of robust organizations, and these protocols help managers keep their focus on the processes of robust innovation.
  • Managers must quickly respond to external constituents and provide their opinions for experimentation. The right questions can help guide this process to make it effective and relevant.
  • Managers need to pay attention to customer desires and perceptions. Creative use of technology, such as data mining and pervasive computing infrastructure, is important.

Managers can help establish a culture of innovation. An open and supportive environment can lead to organizational success, as well as recognition and professional growth for employees who offer contributions. Aside from building an innovative culture, managers can help an organization and its employees in other areas. At Rivier University, the online MBA program allows students to expand their knowledge of core business concepts — such as project management, organizational dynamics, accounting and more — to develop a better understanding of the industry and how to be successful.

Project Management Tools to Consider For Your Small Business

Most small business owners and entrepreneurs recognize that running a business involves a lot of project management in skills, abilities, and responsibilities. Luckily with many of today’s technology and online tools, small business owners can take advantage of some of the project management tools and software available today to help run their businesses. Here are some tips and project management tools for running that small business.

Technology. We’ve already talked before about technology and how it’s a huge asset to small businesses and project management today. The truth is technology has even sparked the start up of many small businesses. In fact, some small businesses are run 100% online without purchasing and storing any supplies, equipment, or setting aside any office space. Technology has made this possible by being able to communicate with clients on the other side of the world at any time of day, sharing files and other data electronically, and set up inventory systems that are 100% online.

Some businesses, particularly those service entities, can run their businesses with a single tablet or Smartphone. Smartphones and tablets have the capabilities to email, share and send files and other data, conference call, make payments and take payments, transfer funds, and even manage calendars. What more do small businesses or project managers need?

Project Management Software. Most organizations are run and operate today with some form of project management software. Most of these are available online and can function be managed within the cloud, and are relatively low cost, or even free to use. Gone are the days when companies and organizations had to purchase expensive software and the licenses to install copies on everyone’s machine in an office. With laptops, tablets, and Smartphones, everything can be controlled, managed, and powered with an app, a file sharing program, or even with apps.

Some of the most popular project management tools and software include Basecamp, Teamwork PM, Zoho Projects, and Do. These are all extremely user-friendly, web-based so you don’t have to worry about installing or purchasing anything, and most are even incredibly cost effective! Most project management tools and software also have an app available for tablets and Smartphones so they can be accessed easily on-the-go.

Social Media. Social media is another tool that many businesses are still getting on board with. Social media is today’s way of getting your business name and brand in the faces and hands of your customers and potential customers. Social media does the networking and marketing for you all in one. It can be used to connect with existing customers, inquiring customers, and even other businesses and competitors within your industry. Customers can even “share” or connect with other customers with questions or feedback on your product or services.

All in all, running a business by using project management tools really consists of technology and good project management software…not to mention excellent project managerial skills and tactics. With the flexibility and convenience behind technology, social media, and project management software and platforms today, anything –even running a business—is possible.

Managing Off Site Communication

Managing online teams and collaborations is more important than ever today. It’s no secret that more and more companies and organizations are turning towards working from home or working off site and remotely. In fact, it’s not uncommon for entire teams to be based in different offices, different countries, and even in different time zones. So what does this mean for project management? It means that teams have to work even closely and practice effective and efficient means of communication to ensure a project’s overall success.

One of the most difficult challenges to overcome when managing off site and remote teams is communication. Not only is this a big deal when it comes to managing projects in general, but it is even more difficult to close the gaps between off site team members. It doesn’t take long or take much for instructions or specifications to get lost in the shuffle and through misinterpretations that are bound to happen along the way.

Another challenge project managers face when managing and working among remote teams is technology. In order to effectively manage communication, teams, and the files distributed and shared among teams, project managers and teams need to incorporate trustworthy, robust, and efficient project management software. Using an online platform or interface such as this can help share files, messages, and other pertinent project communications, specifications, or other data needed. This way, all project materials are stored in one location for all to access, rather than on someone’s hard drive, in a different format, and in another country. Not only is this inefficient, it’s also risky.

So what can project managers do to avoid issues and deal with these challenges? Well, there are many ways to mitigate these risks and overcome these challenges, however, the best place to start is to find out what would work best for you and your team. If you are unsure of where to start, have a meeting or call with your team to get ideas. Get input and feedback from the people you work with on a daily basis.

Once you have established what would work, or wouldn’t work for your team, now build from there. If you haven’t already, set up a reliable project management software that everyone would like to use, establish set standards, policies, and practices on how to use it, effective means of communication, and the proper way to manage documents. You can also have team members set their own goals. This will help team members feel like they really are a part of a great team, that their values and input is respected and appreciated, and that they have a purpose within the project, the team, and even the company.

Finally, the more our world succumbs to the ways of technology and social media, we have no choice but to go along with it. Many times this means we must alter our current policies and practices. However, working with remote teams is becoming the norm. Project managers need to adjust their work habits and structures accordingly in order to face what is in fact a new challenge. These directly impact communication and how project managers communicate with their teams, whether on or off site.

Project Management: What’s New for 2013?

As 2012 draws to a close, many project managers are busy finishing up projects, closing out invoices for vendors, and even gathering end of the year data and putting together numbers. While this time of year can often times be the busiest for project managers, they should also take the time to reflect on 2012. What worked and what didn’t for your team? What would you do differently in 2013? So what’s in store for project management for 2013?

Project management for 2013 is going to be all about technology and project management software. One example of project management software that is really expecting to emerge in 2013 is SharePoint. For those who may not be as familiar with SharePoint as with some other software, SharePoint is a Microsoft owned online interactive platform that enhances the ability to upload, share, edit, and view files and even collaborate on that platform with a variety of users.

SharePoint is expected to come out with a variety of new features. Specific to project management, some of SharePoint’s exciting new features include new project management templates, new breakdown work structure templates, the ability to synchronize with Microsoft Project, and the ability to communicate across other cloud-based interfaces and platforms including SkyDrive and even social media features. These news social features are said to be able to share files and publish content easier and from any Microsoft Office application or program.

In the realm of technology, those organizations that haven’t yet established on-the-go workflows and structures, 2013 is going to be the year that happens. There are many organizations that do not offer on-the-go and flexible abilities for project managers. They still operate on desktops and do not have mobile access to any internal systems or files. 2013 is said to be the year that this changes. More and more organizations are getting on board with cloud based project management software and integrating more mobile technology.

Furthermore, in effort to help project managers streamline their cloud-based workflows and work breakdown structures, SharePoint 2013 is also said to offer more flexibility and on-the-go features that help this. Project managers can still upload and share files and even update their activity feeds and collaborate with other online users from any mobile device or tablet.

Finally, we will begin to see many organizations making the large push towards cloud-based platforms and project management software and towards mobile technology. So while this is a busy time of year to close out 2012, it’s also a great time to begin thinking about how project managers will transition into 2013. How will project managers integrate technology and/or SharePoint or other project management software if they haven’t already? What does 2013 mean for you and your team?

Project Management, Technology, and Networks of Today

Project management, the Internet, and your brain: three things that don’t seem to have anything in common…or do they? One thing is for certain, these three things are all intricately related…created and held together by a mass web of strings, lines of communication, and networks.

Studies through the centuries and decades have studied human beings’ brain patterns and how they react to certain stimuli, patterns, behaviors, and other variables. Our brains are made up of webs upon webs of information, connections, and networks. The Internet is created and was designed to function much the same way. The Internet is a giant network web of data, information, and communications, which is where the name “world wide web” originated from.

So how does project management fit into this web? Simple. Think of some key areas of project management that project managers can’t function without.

1.) It’s Always About Communication. First and foremost is communication. It’s always about communication. Project managers know that projects, products, and teams cannot function without proper communication methods and practices. In addition, working with various interfaces, off site teams, email, and networking relates to the wide web of communication patterns and styles that we use and how our brains are made up.

2.) Data and Information Management and Organization. Secondly, project management also cannot function without proper data and information management. Project management requires detailed organization and interpretation of data. This can include project specs, risk identification and management, and even schedules and budgets and the data that corresponds with them. Today with the Internet and technology literally accessible and pretty much at our fingertips 24/7, data, documents, and other crucial project items are organized and stored in “web” manners.

3.) Project Management Software and the Cloud. Project management and the cloud tie the above points together. Not only does project management heavily rely on the Internet to communicate and organize data, but project management software also relies on the web of communications, links, the Internet, and communication to function and operate effectively as a team. In addition, project managers will organize tasks, data, and communications in web like manners and behaviors on the cloud. Cloud software is designed in this way as well.

So was the Internet designed to replicate the patterns in our brains or did we design the Internet because this is how our brains function? Perhaps this was designed this way on purpose in anticipation of the technology era of today…or perhaps this is a mere coincidence that humans designed a worldwide communication pattern that resembles our brains. All in all, project management directly correlates to how our brains and the Internet functions.