Leveraging Innovation Centers of Excellence


Executives are increasingly waking up to the reality that years of cost cutting and short-term operational focus have left their product and service development pipelines empty. The perceived dormant risk of obsolescence brought about by repeated incremental improvements, and by “sticking to the knitting,” is dormant no more. Based upon this awakening, senior leaders have increasingly indicated that a renewed focus on growth-based initiatives, primarily via innovation approaches, must be pursued in order to extend strategic planning horizons and return some balance to risk-averse portfolios. The ever-swinging pendulum needs to return back toward the middle.

During these times, innovation management practitioners have certainly taken notice of the renewed focus and attention on growth being espoused by the executive ranks. Outright enthusiasm, however, is somewhat tempered by skepticism and the fact that many practitioners have a realistic understanding of the inherent difficulty in reigniting a dormant program or building one completely from scratch. Added to this cynicism is the unfortunate fact that far too many executive-level decision makers continue to simply “talk the talk” rather than “walk the walk” when it comes to adequately funding, resourcing and personally engaging in an innovation management initiative.


For those leaders who do legitimately see innovation management discipline as the preferred vehicle for driving growth-based initiatives, additional internal obstacles exist for even getting such an approach off of the ground. Some of these obstacles include:

  • Short-term (quarterly) focus dictated by investors and analysts
  • Lack of a strategic plan
  • Leadership that punishes risk taking, failure or anything “out of variance”
  • Lack of resources or time for innovation
  • No processes, models or approaches available for moving ideas into execution
  • Lack of education/training on creative problem solving, idea management and innovation management concepts
  • Lack of leadership support or attention

One of the most intricate obstacles that many executives are encountering as they start to pursue growth via innovation management, is the difficulty related to embedding a continuous innovation culture, mindset and discipline within and across the organization. Without a dedicated and continuous effort to build, maintain and support innovation approaches, the effort is likely doomed to fail before it even begins. Building upon that belief, some organizations are exploring a myriad of structural options that include traditional Research & Development departments, internal strategic focus teams, innovation-based project portfolio management approaches and executive-level leadership roles responsible for the growth-based initiatives of the organization.

Another organizational management construct, however, that may be applicable for providing structured leadership of innovation concepts is the “Center of Excellence” model. A Center of Excellence is defined as a place where the highest standards of achievement are aimed for in a particular sphere of activity. In essence, the Center of Excellence, or “CoE,” approach provides structure, centralized knowledge and dedicated resources to a narrow area of expertise or specialty, in this case, innovation management.

The CoE concept is not a new one. Historically, it has been leveraged by information technology leaders seeking to facilitate the creation of hubs for knowledge sharing and for building and enhancing capabilities within a specific technical specialty area. Key to this approach are the tactics and assumptions surrounding improved flexibility, increased productivity, cost efficiency and resource utilization.

As a centralized body of knowledge, the CoE structure provides subject matter expertise on a specific field, function or technology and utilizes a structured set of processes, procedures and activities that support high levels of efficient and effective performance. In support of this approach, the CoE is typically staffed with subject matter experts in the chosen field who promote collaboration and the application of knowledge, techniques, tools and processes.

CoE Model

Organizations that are committed to leveraging the benefits of a formal innovation management approach that propels growth and executes upon strategy must take into consideration a number of key “must-haves” that support enhanced success:

  1. The innovation initiative must have at least one (1) executive leader who is willing to sponsor, engage, champion and actively participate
  2. Innovation must be treated as true business discipline, with its own organizational structure, financial portfolio, P&L responsibility, and with equal standing and consideration among more traditional business operating units such as Finance, Human Resources or Marketing
  3. A sufficient amount of resources must be dedicated to the innovation initiative to ensure its success. These resources include financial resources, human resources, time resources and spatial resources
  4. The innovation initiative must also have a collection of appropriately tailored methodologies, processes, tools, techniques and systems in place to ensure the effective and efficient delivery of growth-focused directives

Many leaders struggle not only with the concept of innovation itself, but more tactically, how innovation management can be deployed and embedded within their organizations. The lack of a consistent, well-defined framework for creating an innovation “discipline” is but one of many obstacles that organizations face.

Innovation management, the business discipline, is a field of specialized knowledge, leveraging complex processes that are spread among limited trained resources. It is also likely to be the organization’s sole business unit dedicated to strategic future growth. Think about that for a moment…what other business functions do organizations typically have that are dedicated to ensuring the future of the organization? Quite frankly, you’d be hard pressed to identify any business operation that is expending much more than a passing thought at what is planned beyond the next fiscal quarter, much less what may be coming on the distant horizon.

CoE Org Chart

Typically, where longer term strategy, business vision and future growth sources are primarily conceived, debated and planned is at the executive leadership level. However, with the frenetic pace and splintered focus maintained by today’s executive ranks, keeping an eye on “what could be” frequently falls victim to making sure that “what is” stays on track.

There are cases where formal research and development functions exist within larger or technically focused organizations. These teams traditionally provide the dedicated future-focused view needed to ensure the organization maintains some kind of attention to the “next big thing.” In reality, however, most organizations do not have an R&D center to fall back on. This is where the Center of Excellence concept can have the greatest positive impact.

In contrast to the absence of available organizational focus on growth or the lack of need and/or resources required for a dedicated R&D function, an Innovation Center of Excellence would center its attention on providing innovation, organizational creativity and idea management subject matter expertise for the organization. It would also supply facilitation services and development oversight for new ideas, products, services and customer experiences in direct pursuit and alignment with the organization’s long term growth strategy.

Additionally, the Innovation Center of Excellence serves as the champion for innovation internally and would also explore a wide variety of external sources of ideas so as to continually incorporate new concepts, practices, processes and opportunities into the organization. While the Center of Excellence may not be directly responsible for designing, building or implementing innovative products and/or services, they would be responsible for encouraging, fostering, supporting, guiding and embedding an innovative culture and environment.

When your organization is ready to make the commitment to innovation management as a key driver for long-term strategic success, consider the Center of Excellence concept as an alternative to the more traditional R&D or silo-based approaches. You may find the best resource already exists within your own organization!

** This article was excerpted from our 2011 Research White Paper, “Innovation Centers of Excellence – Next Practices in Innovation Management” Please follow the link if you would like to read the paper in its entirety.

A Holiday Reflection

Walt Disney wrote in the December 1941 issue of Reader’s Digest:

One reason the Christmas season appeals to me is that it makes us suspend business-as-usual routine and lets our minds soar for a while. It is a time when the imagination is more sprightly than at other periods of the year; Christmas seems to release even the most solemn of us from the ‘Scrooge realism’ that occasionally besets all of us. It is natural, of course, that I should think of Christmas in terms of imagination, for imagination is my business.

Walt’s quote reminds us that we must all find some quiet moments from time to time. These quiet moments, or periods of reflection, allow our subconscious with the time needed to catch up with our over-allocated, over scheduled conscious mind. Let’s face it, the subconscious probably has some fantastic ideas or solutions to your problems that it is dying to share with you, but it simply hasn’t been able to break through and catch your attention during the busy holiday season!

So how do we purposefully take advantage of this power of reflection?

  • Create Time for It!
    • Make Time!
      • Get up one hour early
      • Go to bed one hour later
      • Go to the park or other quiet space for lunch
      • Listen to music instead of the news
      • Take a long shower or bath
      • Take a long drive
      • Take the dog (or yourself) for a walk
    • Ask Better Questions!
      • What if…?
      • How about..?
      • How can we…?
      • Why can’t we…?
      • Why not…?
    • Think Bigger and Broader!
      • See the forest, not a single tree
      • Look for patterns in larger contexts
      • Look at how nature solves “problems”
      • Do something you typically don’t do
      • Daydream
      • Doodle
      • Make Believe
    • Give Your Sub-Conscious Homework!
      • Write out the problems and questions on a piece of paper every night
      • Carry a note pad to capture ideas or thoughts
      • Carry a voice recorder
      • There’s an ‘App’ for that

In today’s hectic rat-race, it can be very difficult to find time for reflective thought and getting in contact with our sub-conscious and the ideas that may be waiting. New ideas typically don’t present themselves when we are too busy to think. In order to truly tap into your great, but yet unknown, ideas, make time to get away, think deeply and truly reflect on your problems, potential solutions and other great reflections!

All of us at Think For A Change, LLC wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Festive Yule or whatever holiday you may celebrate at this time of year! We thank our clients and friends for your continued trust in us and look forward to another prosperous year of setting the standard for strategic execution! We also eagerly anticipate the new friendships, client engagements and networking opportunities that exist just over the horizon! See you in 2016!

A Guide to Innovation Management Key Performance Indicators


Earlier this week I posted an article called, ‘A Guide to Project Management Office Goal Setting.’ That guide is especially useful for the current goal planning activity that is occurring inside organizations worldwide as we prepare to enter the new year.  While that guide is great for those in the project management world, my friends and clients in the innovation management space felt a bit left out. 

Fear not…I haven’t forgotten about you!  This ‘Innovation Metrics Guide‘  has been available for download under the Innovation Management Artifacts section of our website for some time, but I thought I’d give it a bit more visibility now as the need to plan, set goals and create measures/metrics is equally important to those of us who work in the “back-end” of the innovation process.
Innovation Metrics 1Innovation Metrics 2Innovation Metrics 3

 Have a great 2016 goal planning season and a great weekend!

A Guide to Project Management Office Goal Setting

2016 Goals

December brings thoughts of the holiday season, shopping, family and friends, rich food, potent drink and everyone’s favorite year-end activity…goal planning! Yes, that most joyous time of year where individual goals and measures for the New Year are created in the infamous ‘SMART’ (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Based) goal format. Hopefully by now, executive management teams have held their strategic retreats and have set the organizational vision and strategy for the coming year. That way, goals can then be rolled up, collectively aligned against the established organizational vision and strategy, calibrated across departments and business lines, re-aligned with strategy and finally, approved and logged within your employee relationship/performance management tool of choice.


Tongue-in-cheek humor aside, year-end goal planning is important, especially for project managers and Project Management Offices. Having a goal means you have a target to work towards. Organizations grow, change and improve by setting goal targets. Sometimes these goals are intentionally simple to achieve, while other times they are more “BHAG”ish (Big, Hairy and Audacious Goals – hat tip to Mr. Collins) in nature. Regardless, all organizations need them if they hope to be successful.

For individual Project Managers and other project professionals in the Project Management Office, goal setting is usually pretty straightforward. You align a number of project-specific goals with some self-development or team-based goals and away you go. In some organizations, these “individual” goals may be provided for you. Seems a bit counter-intuitive, but it happens more than you might think. Setting goals and measures for the entire PMO, however, can be a daunting task. At the PMO level, considerations need to be made across a number of factors such as strategic alignment, project execution metrics, resource management, stakeholder satisfaction, to name but a few.

PM Plan vs Reality

The first part of goal development at the PMO level is to establish the various themes under which goals and measures need to be created.

Next, create at least one goal for each theme.  All joking aside, the SMART concept is a good frame of reference for building a goal that you can actually achieve and track.  Don’t get carried away, but let it at least guide you as you draft the specific goal(s) for each theme area.

Finally, identify key performance metrics that you already utilize or have the data to measure for each of the goals and themes listed.  There are two adages, however, that I’ve always strived to remember during goal setting and KPI exercises:

“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

“Just because you have the data, doesn’t mean you have to use it.”


This is a comprehensive list of what COULD make up goals and measures for a PMO or similar structure.  Select a few to get you started.  Solicit the feedback of your executive leadership team.  Ask the stakeholders of your PMO what they would like to see measured.  This will help you round out the remaining goals important for guiding and validating your success into the new year!


Webinar Reminder – Key Take-Aways and Lessons Learned from the 2015 PMI Global Congress North America

Just a quick reminder that I’ll be a guest panelist on a live webinar tomorrow regarding the key take-aways and lessons learned from our ‘Strategic Business Management Skills’ focus area sessions that were presented at the PMI Global Congress North America held last month.  The webinar, which is available only at ProjectManagement.com, is scheduled for tomorrow, Wednesday, November 18th at 12pm Noon (EST).

Structured similar to the pre-Congress webinar this same panel presented in September, Joanna Newman will moderate the discussion among myself and two other panelists to explore the key themes, take-aways, lessons learned and discussions stemming from presentations we delivered at this year’s Congress:

  • Ori Schibi will discuss his presentation on Project Sponsorship and Senior Management’s Role in the Successful Outcome of Projects
  • I will walk-through my presentation on Visual Project Management and reinforce the main visual thinking and data visualization concepts as they relate to project management
  • Muhammad A. B. Ilyas and Mohamed Khalifa Hassa will share their key take-aways and discussion points from their session, Negotiate to Win Across Cultures

It should be a great learning opportunity and I am looking forward to the Q&A session at the end of the webinar.  I hope you’ll take the opportunity to participate!


REGISTER HERE to participate in the webinar.  Please note that the panel discussion and registration is hosted by ProjectManagement.com and you may need a PMI, ProjectManagement.com and/or Facebook account to complete the registration.

Mind The Strategic Execution Gap


In many organizations, there is a familiar gap between what should get done and what does get done. This gap is commonly referred to as the “execution gap” and it represents an organizational leadership issue that is difficult to overcome. Organizations that acknowledge a need for systemic innovation face a similar situation known as an “innovation gap.” The desire (or demand) for more breakthrough thinking and innovative new products espoused by senior leadership is disconnected from the safe, incremental innovations actually built and delivered by the front line.

The strategic execution gap typically results from a lack of clarity and action between the strategic direction of the organization and its frenetic attempt to balance keeping the lights on and the customer happy. In most organizations, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) will typically work in conjunction with his or her leadership team to define and communicate the need for innovation and new product development. With the strategic vision established, he or she will direct operational teams to establish an organizational structure, or modify an existing structure, to produce the desired innovative outcomes of this new growth-focused approach or model.

“Companies typically realize only about 60% of their strategy’s potential value because of breakdowns in planning and execution

– Harvard Business Review

Unfortunately, once this mandate cascades down the management chain, it becomes diluted to minimize “change panic,” or is force fit into existing operational behavior rather than the establishment of new organization structures or operational processes. These adjustments, via “organizational change anti-body reflex,” result in incremental, rather than breakthrough, ideas and solutions and do not match the original mandate as directed by the executive leadership.

Busy executives and senior leaders, focused on their own priorities, also don’t take the time to verify that their strategic direction is being followed until far too late in the process. At the time the lack of adherence is discovered, the opinion that “some action” is better than “no action” typically prevails and the bold strategic vision is officially abandoned for something safe and completely ineffectual.

In order for execution to be successful, regardless of the business discipline in which it is applied, it must have a number of fundamental elements in place:

  1. Clear and consistent vision of the strategy
  2. Clear and consistent leadership commitment and attention from executive leadership ranks through middle / operational management
  3. Defined goals, tactics, milestones, deadlines and metrics to support execution of strategy
  4. Effective and efficient tracking mechanism to report against goals, tactics, milestones and deadlines
  5. Clear and consistent responsibility, authority and accountability
  6. Performance measurements tied to execution strategy

From an innovation standpoint, the aforementioned execution fundamentals align very closely to the Four Keys of Innovation Management Success[1]:

  1. Direct Executive / Senior Leadership engagement
  2. Allocation of appropriate amount of resources:
    1. Financial
    2. Human
    3. Space
    4. Time
  3. Consideration of innovation management as a business discipline rather than a singular event
  4. Disciplined processes, approaches, methodologies and techniques

If strategic innovation, and the execution of that strategy, is so important, why then does innovation fail to take hold in organizations? Actually, upon further examination, this failure results from two “gaps” that exist in every organization. Although the width of the gap may vary from firm to firm, these gaps prevent the free flow of ideas, an execution mindset or consistency of strategic focus throughout the organization.

The first of these gaps lies between the front-line employee and the middle/operational management layer. This gap is primarily an “Idea Gap,” as noted in the figure[2] below.



Research conducted by the American Institute for Innovation Excellence[3] in 2011 indicates that ideas conceived and developed at the front-line employee layer, where the vast majority of the customer-facing interaction occurs, are most frequently “lost” when moving up the chain of command through the middle/operational management layer due to a number of common causes:

  • Lack of idea submission process
  • Lack of problem solving and/or idea campaign focus
  • Failure to act on ideas
  • Outright obfuscation
  • Overcommitted / fractionalized resources
  • Lack of perceived “permission” to innovate or execute

The most common reason for idea execution failure at this layer, however, is the self-culling of ideas by idea generators themselves. Surveys, interviews and other individual-focused research repeatedly show that idea generators have a fear about sharing their ideas with others. These fears can include:

  • Fear of ridicule for a “crazy” idea
  • Fear of being punished for going outside of the normal process
  • Fear of failure and/or success based on the eventual disposition of the idea
  • Fear of rejection because if it really was a good idea, someone else would have thought of it already
  • Fear of theft or lack of credit for the idea once it leaves their “possession”

All of these fears, irrational or illogical as they may be, are real experiences and emotions expressed by real people. It is a large “gap” in the harvesting and processing of potentially great ideas that may lead to solving a strategic need.

“82% of Fortune 500 CEOs feel their organization did an effective job of strategic planning. However, only 14% of those same CEOs indicated that their organization did an effective job of implementing the strategy”

Forbes Magazine

The second of the two “gaps,” seen in all organizations struggling with the execution of an innovation strategy, exists at the intersection of the Executive or Senior Leadership layer and the Middle / Operational layer. This gap, known as the “Execution Gap,” typically exists as result of weak leadership, ineffective performance / reward mechanisms or poor communication. Specifically, additional research on this topic discovered the most commonly cited causes for the existence of the gap were:

  • Failure to link strategy and operations
  • Failure to link performance goals to strategy / innovation
  • Lack of common language and understanding of innovation for the organization
  • Lack of accountability
  • Lack of metrics or system of measurement
  • Lack of executive leadership engagement
  • Failure to create time/space away from operations

Causes of this behavior may be the result of a lack of foundational training in execution and/or strategic planning. Another cause may be the way middle managers are rewarded via their performance and bonus structures. Lawrence G. Hrebiniak[4], Professor of Management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and author of “Making Strategy Work,” summed it up rather succinctly, “Managers are trained to plan, not execute.[5]

In other words, “A failure to innovate is a failure to execute…and a failure to execute is a failure of leadership.”

Paul R. Williams

Fortunately, the obstacles and blocks caused at the middle management layer can be quickly and effectively resolved using a number of strategies:

  1. Provide innovation leadership training and a hands-on practice lab where they can both identify and eliminate unsupportive behaviors as well as build supportive skill sets
  2. “Incentivize” or otherwise structure their pay, bonus and other performance based goals to align with the desired outcome
  3. Establish an idea and/or innovation management process that allows ideas and information from both directions to by-pass the middle management layer entirely
  4. Hold middle / operational management accountable, including punishment for non-conformance, to executive directive

Although much “blame” centers on the middle / operational management layer as one of the major causes of the innovation strategy execution gap, it should equally be noted that they are not the sole cause. In fact, the single common thread throughout all of the research in this area identified the number one contributor of the failure to connect innovation strategy with execution: day-to-day operations.

Even when front-line employees and/or middle managers understand the organization’s strategy, and fully intend to integrate and execute upon the new strategy, they often admit that their failure to actually follow through resulted from “day-to-day operations” disrupting their plans. In essence, firefighting ruled the workday rather than planned tasks or strategic focus.

It seems that day-to-day operations always seem to get in the way or supersede, not just strategic innovation execution, but practically any initiative-driven, project-based activities beyond standard operating procedures. Due to cost pressures, resources are overscheduled and fractionalized across daily work, project work and administrative tasks. The perceived reality is that there simply isn’t enough time in the day to drive strategic execution to the top of the stack.

This obstacle too can be overcome with the appropriate leadership awareness and via leveraging the following tactics to re-balance work effort:

  • Reduce day-to-day operational responsibilities
  • Increase resources
  • Design performance incentives / disincentives
  • Remove work flow and/or process-based obstacles
  • Establish frequent and focused communication on work balance
  • Design a roadmap, plan or other structure and make it visible
  • Be honest about changes and share both the benefits and the risks of the strategy
  • Establish a specialized team to work outside of the day-to-day operations

So what does it take to bridge the gap between innovation strategy and innovation execution? The simple fact remains, innovation cannot happen without some kind of execution.  Ideas are not real and do not exist until they are “executed.”  That’s why every definition of innovation contains an action of some sort.  Most organizations do not suffer from a shortage of ideas.  Employees, management, vendors, partners and customers all have ideas on how to make products and/or services better, faster and cheaper.  But again, ideas are the easy part, they mostly just happen.  Step two takes action or execution.

  • Figuring out what problems you want to solve…takes execution
  • Collecting ideas from employees, management, vendors, partners and customers…takes execution
  • Filtering ideas and deciding which ideas you want to commercialize…takes execution
  • Committing resources, both financial and human, toward commercialization…takes execution
  • Developing a solid project plan to move the idea to reality…takes execution
  • Marketing the product/service and making the idea known to the world…takes execution
  • Making a profit on an idea…takes execution

Remember…to be a good innovator, you need to excel at execution!



[1] “Four Keys of Innovation Management Success” – © Copyright, American Institute for Innovation Excellence, 2010

[2] http://www.thinkforachange.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/OrgTierGapDiagram-Obstacles.jpg

[3] Exploring The Innovation Execution Gap – Fall 2011 Research Report – American Institute for Innovation Excellence, http://www.thinkforachange.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/White-Paper-Bridging-The-Innovation-Execution-Gap.pdf

[4] Lawrence G. Hrebiniak bio at Wharton School Website: http://mgmt.wharton.upenn.edu/people/faculty.cfm?id=1329

[5] Making Strategy Work: Leading Effective Execution and Change, Lawrence G. Hrebiniak, Wharton School Publishing, January 2005

Visual Project Management – Project “Science Fairs”


The notion of applying the “science fair” concept within project management practice is admittedly on the cutting edge for most in the profession. Their use, however, is not entirely unfamiliar. Project management offices (PMOs) and portfolio management leadership in large organizations have used project science fairs, also referred to as project expos or project forums, to showcase projects that have produced new products and/or services, along with projects that have made significant financial, process or operational impact on the organization.

In the traditional sense, science fairs are events, sometimes competitive in nature, where school-aged participants design and present visual-based information in the form of display boards, models, exhibits or reports regarding a particular scientific topic or research initiative. These fairs showcase student knowledge, stimulate creative problem solving and innovative thinking, and allow for friendly competition among schools or teams.


While creating an individual informational kiosk in a corporate common area is typical for sharing the results and benefits of a large, individual project effort, project science fairs are now being leveraged when the goal is to showcase a number of key projects, programs or portfolios that have been successfully executed over a recent period of time.  These fairs serve as effective, informative, informal and fun internal marketing events where employees, at any level of the organization, can learn more about key project-based initiatives occurring within the organization.

Additionally, project teams, stakeholders and sponsors can use the science fair concept as a way to showcase their contributions to project planning and execution activities throughout the year. Other benefits that the science fair concept brings to an organization include:

  • A significant increase in awareness across the organization regarding project-based efforts and how they align with corporate strategies
  • Increased visibility, recognition and expressions of appreciation for project team members
  • Provide a sense of closure and celebration for the project team
  • Demonstrate effectiveness of project-based management approaches
  • Internal recruiting mechanism for people interested in working on future project teams


How Do You Determine Who Participates?

  • Application-Based Participation

    • Project teams apply for inclusion in the organization’s annual showcase event and are either selected by event organizers or are voted in by fellow employees
  • Selective or Portfolio-Based Participation

    • Projects are selected by the organization’s executive or portfolio level management team to represent key project initiatives within each of the strategic or product portfolios
  • Full Showcase Participation

    • All organizational project teams are invited to participate in the event
  • Individual Participation

    • Single projects with significant organizational impact or benefit are showcased ad hoc to celebrate project completion, recognize noteworthy project benefit delivery (financial, societal, other) or to highlight other success factors important to the organization



Logistical Considerations for your Project Science Fair:

  1. Space Considerations
    1. Individual or Small Events
      1. A table or kiosk located in a common area like reception, the break room, employee lounge, etc.
    2. Larger Events
      1. Board room, large conference room, auditorium, etc.
  2. Technical Considerations
    1. Power availability
    2. Projections or display monitors
    3. Networking/WiFi/Internet access
  3. Exhibit Considerations
    1. Keep it simple and fun
    2. Cardboard project display boards
    3. Video or electronic presentations
    4. “Show and Tell” models or exhibits
    5. White papers or reports
    6. Candy or give-away items

Again, this concept may be a bit “out there” for some of the traditionalists, but the concept is being increasingly promoted by PMOs to raise awareness of important organization projects completed, currently underway or ready to launch in the last year. Why not give it a try?  Quite frankly, these are a blast and it provides some great recognition opportunities for your project teams!

Use of science fairs, expos or exhibition in project management, along with over twenty-five other visual project management communication concepts, are explored in much greater detail within Visual Project Management, a recently released publication by Paul R. Williams, and now available in paperback to interested readers!

Recap – Visual Project Management at 2015 PMI Global Congress North America

Wow!  That’s the first impression I had strolling into the opening keynote session that kicked off the 2015 PMI Global Congress North America last week.  I don’t know what the official attendee count was, but it was easily a couple of thousand people.  The energy of that room was amazing.  I even tweeted out that the common analogy of PMI Congress being the “Super Bowl” of project management events might actually be an understatement!


Over the course of the three-day event, I met, networked, discussed, shared, commiserated and debated with dozens of people on the latest in project management.  We learned about new practices, tools, techniques and lessons learned from some of the best in the business.  And while it’s hard to teach some of us old dogs new tricks, I left with a bunch of new ideas and, more importantly, the initiative to put many into immediate practice with my clients!



I didn’t realize until about a week before the Congress that interest in my presentation on Visual Project Management was large enough to dictate a move of my session into one of the larger rooms at the conference center.  In fact, the 200 seats available for pre-registration SOLD OUT three days before the Congress actually started!


I really had a blast walking the attendees through the salient points of visual project management during the one hour session:

  • Introduction to Visual Thinking
  • Common Tools & Techniques in Visual Thinking and Data Visualization
  • Visual Tools for General Project Management Application
  • Visual Tools for Project Reporting
  • Visual Tools for Project Collaboration



The session volunteer told me afterwards that the number of people who had their badge scanned to enter the room totaled 247.  To be fair, some people came and went during the hour, but there were a number of folks standing in the back.  A pretty humbling experience to say the least!


The session attendees had some fantastic questions and showed an incredible amount of interest in the topic.  Unfortunately, I only brought fifty copies of the hand-out materials and they went fast after the Q&A session.  I was also glad to be able to give away five copies of the hardcover version of Visual Project Management to those brave enough to ask the first few questions, and even had the opportunity to hand out a few copies of the new paperback version to a few eager attendees who continued the discussion a full two hours after the session!


It was exciting to see the book at the on-site book store in the exhibit hall (aka The Solution Center).  How cool is that?  Speaking of the Solution Center, I had so much swag from the vendors that I almost had to pay the extra baggage fee going back home!  Lots of great stuff and, even more valuable, lots of great conversations with people who are actively producing products and services that make our lives as project management professionals better!



Finally, I had the opportunity to lead two different topical breakfast discussions known as PMI X-Change Breakfasts.  On Monday, I facilitated the table through a great discussion on strategic business management that covered such topics such as portfolio management, strategic execution, benefit validation/realization and PMO participation in organizational strategic planning.  The Tuesday table group topic was Communication Management and you can probably guess the most popular topic…Visual Project Management!  But we also discussed strategies and tips/tricks on a number of communication planning and execution methods.

All in all, PMI Global Congress North America was an amazing event that I would strongly recommend every project management professional attend sometime during their career.  The Congress Team was absolutely the most professional and helpful I have ever had the privilege to meet.  I’ve established an overwhelming (but wonderful) number of new contacts, a few new business relationships, some new coaching and consulting work from old clients and friends, and a wealth of new project management knowledge.  What more could you ask?

So what’s next?  There will be a series post-Congress webinars in the middle of November that will communicate key messages from a number of Congress sessions.  I am honored to announce that I will again be participating in one of the webinars to walk through the main take-aways from my presentation and to share some of the discussion topics that came up during the session.  More information to come on the exact date and time of the webinars…

Visual Project Management Now Available in Paperback!


We have had numerous requests over the last six months to provide Visual Project Management in paperback format and we are pleased to announce that effective October 1st, 2015, Visual Project Management is now available in paperback across all of our publication release markets:



Direct from Lulu, our printing house (15% Discount)








Barnes & Noble



For those who still prefer the hardcover format, we are celebrating our paperback release with an expanded discount (30%) on the hardcover copy via Lulu.

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Project War Room Design Fundamentals

War Room

One of the more popular and unique services we provide here at Think For A Change, LLC are design services for organizational-level project war rooms.  As you may recall from a previous post, war rooms are centralized and purpose-built project meeting spaces that provide a dedicated location for project teams and stakeholders to co-locate and visually communicate the activities associated with the execution of critical projects.  The idea of a war room is to physically gather an entire project team into a ‘single location’ to facilitate communication, problem solving, risk mitigation and status reporting.  The single location can be physical, virtual or some combination of the two based on the specifics of the organization’s business structure and/or resource model.


Over the past fifteen years, Think For A Change, LLC has designed dozens of project war rooms, PMO command centers, critical situation rooms, innovation idea centers and other similar collaboration spaces for public, private and governmental organizations of all sizes and industry types.  During that time, we’ve picked up quite a few “lessons learned” about what makes up a good war room layout, what tools and features are most effective, and leveraging the concept to reach peak project team performance.

There is a blend of art and science that goes into designing and building a war room.  Team dynamics, organizational culture, physical limitations and financial considerations all dictate a certain uniqueness for each and every war room layout, tools, rules and etiquette.

To provide a starting place for discussions your organization may want to have regarding war rooms, we offer the following design, maintenance and best practice considerations:

  1. Physical War Room Facilities
    1. Large main table with comfortable chairs
    2. Small semi-private work spaces
    3. Small collaboration or huddle spaces
    4. Appropriate high-tech tools
      1. PCs/monitors, laptops, tablet devices, flat panel display(s), projection units/screen(s), digital camera(s), networking/wireless connectivity, etc.
    5. Appropriate low-tech tools
      1. Whiteboards, markers, easel pads, pencils/pens (including color), notebooks, sticky notes, stickers, sticky flags, office supplies, etc.
    6. Lots of wall space
      1. Cork bulletin boards, magnet boards, foam boards, mounted white boards, erasable wall paint, tape, tacks, pins, removable adhesive, hanging strips, etc.
    7. Environmental
      1. Kitchen items, coffee machine, a place for food, a small refrigerator for drinks, a snack basket, comfortable chairs, creativity “toys” and games, etc.
  2. Design and Operation Best Practices
    1. Co-locate all project team members into the war room, even if some are virtual or remote
    2. As a team, come up with a set of “Rules for the War Room” and stick to them
    3. If possible, create a separate schedule/calendar for project team members so they are not distracted by other projects or daily operations
    4. Reserve work spaces for visiting or transient key project stakeholders that are not co-located with the rest of the project team
    5. Develop a method to reduce distractions by allowing the team to hang a “Do Not Disturb” sign when focused work or critical meetings are taking place
    6. Create a real estate map of the project war room to define what visual information will be displayed where:
      1. Announcements and Key Communications
      2. Rules of the War Room
      3. Status Reports
      4. Project Schedule
      5. Project Budget
      6. Issue/Risk Board
      7. Design Diagrams, Process Maps, Wireframes, Storyboards, Photos, Drawings, etc.
      8. Parking Lot Area (for out-of-scope or later phase consideration)
      9. Blank Spaces for New Concepts/Discussions
    7. Provide plenty of snacks, healthy alternatives and beverages where possible
    8. Allow the project team to design and decorate the work space to match their personality and to encourage a sense of comfort and ownership
  3. War Room Etiquette
    1. Keep visual displays up to date and meaningful
    2. Maintain a war room that is a “living,” constantly changing space and encourages open discussion, healthy debate and cross-functional problem solving
    3. Do not remove or cover-up someone else’s work in the display area(s) without first consulting with them
    4. Do not attempt to have private or confidential conversations in the war room


Remember that the main purpose of any war room is to facilitate real-time visual communication and collaboration activities.  It must simultaneously centralize focus, increase awareness, aid in decision-making and facilitate project execution actions.  Consider the design of your project war room successful when a person unfamiliar with the project can enter the room and grasp the current status and next steps of the effort within five minutes.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, the design of effective and efficient project war rooms is a very unique niche, and one that we are proud to provide to our clients.  If you would be interested in having a discussion about your plans for a project war room, please CONTACT US and we’ll be happy to schedule a discussion about your specific goals and ideas.  Additionally, this visual collaboration concept, along with over twenty-five other visual project management communication tools, is explored in greater detail within “Visual Project Management,” our newest publication and now available via paperback!  

Get a great discount via our book distribution provider Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu., or visit your favorite online book retailer to purchase a hardcover or eBook version!