Barriers to Innovation in Project Management

Filed under Risk | Posted by PMStudent

Have you ever had a great idea, a way to improve a product, service, or process?

How receptive was your project environment to taking it seriously?

Of course not every idea is equally feasible or even productive. Sometimes there are very good reasons to resist innovation. More often in my opinion, new ideas get squashed before they’ve even been evaluated.

As project managers, I think it’s incumbent upon us to embrace innovation. Seek it out and encourage it. Assess the value of a new approach in a rigorous manner.

And if the idea is clearly progress, it will still entail selling the new idea on behalf of your teams to your customers and sponsor. There are many barriers to innovation in project management, of which the following are just a few.


Once things move in a specific way inside an organization or project, it’s difficult to change them.

The new idea is probably in competition with an existing approach, which someone came up with and has the ‘my baby’ syndrome with. Their great idea of 20 years ago lives on today, and you are threatening to supplant it. How dare you?

Seriously, there is an entire organization or program who are used to ‘the way we do it.’ Project Managers who want to implement the innovative ideas of their teams need to also be able to sell the need to change to the organization.


Many times we are so overwhelmed with the day-to-day struggle to get our jobs done, and this change is just another straw on the camel’s back we’d rather get rid of.

When you are already feeling overwhelmed, your?likelihood?to accept change is diminished. It’s a bit of a paradox if the innovation will increase productivity, because that feeling of overwhelm should be a signal that something needs to change. But we aren’t inherently rational beings, we all have to work at it. So this is a real obstacle to change — protecting the system which has created the feeling of overwhelm.


Any change is disruptive, and people tend to like predictability instead. Plus if this has never been done before, how do we know it will succeed? The short answer is, we don’t.

In project estimates, the additional risk associated with an innovative approach should be taken into consideration. Implementing with a new technology in particular carries a big risk of uncertainty with it. Most innovations DO cost more up front because of the learning process involved with implementing something new. When we fail to add additional time and cost to our estimates to take into account uncertainty, we will end up delivering late and over budget. This can stifle innovation even more, because managers who supported an innovative approach end up with the impression that, “This innovation just caused us to miss our deadlines and go over budget. I guess that was a bad idea.”

Here’s a video I just found on the topic I really enjoyed. It’s a good illustration of the challenges faced my many project team members who have great ideas that are never taken seriously. The crazy thing is, many of the people who come up with great ideas are the best performers too and they will leave if their ideas are consistently shoved back in their faces.

I encourage all of us to be sure we are giving innovation a fair shake. What other barriers to innovation have you experienced, and what other thoughts do you have on this topic? ?Leave a comment to share.