Jochem's thesis part 3: The pre-project phase

26 February 2018

About the author

Jochem VerburgJochem Verburg is co-founder of Mobina and has an interest in improving business processes using information systems. He just completed his Master Business Information Technology and during his graduation project for Mobina he studied several important aspects of the innovation process of industrial SMEs. He shares some important lessons in this series of blogs.
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This is the third and final article in a series of three blogs about Jochem Verburg’s graduation project, about topics important for small- and medium-sized manufacturing companies. The first blog post described open (process) innovation. The second blog discussed the usefulness of a strategy process in idea generation. This final blog describes the importance of the void between idea generation and the actual project: the pre-project phase.

Ownership of idea follow-up

An important part of a company focusing on (continuous) improvement is idea generation. These ideas can come from all corners of the company on differing subjects. However, many ideas are never implemented. Not always because they’re not good enough, but because no process is in place to make sure ideas are followed up.

Following up these ideas is a crucial step for the innovativeness of an organization. They’re not only lost opportunities to improve the company. It is bad for morale if employees don’t know what happens with their ideas, and especially if they’re never implemented without feedback. Next time, they might not even share their ideas with the organization, and thus you might waste even more ideas than you know of.

It is thus important that someone is responsible for following up ideas. Ownership of this pre-project phase can be assigned to for example a process or quality engineer. You can also have a dedicated function for assessing and selecting ideas, like a project portfolio manager. The owner can make sure that all ideas are followed up, and the source gets good feedback. Depending on the idea and the impact, different decision-making structures might be applied. In some cases, the final decision should be made by the CEO while in other cases the shop floor might decide themselves.

Another option is to distribute ownership over the different departments in the company, for example the production manager completely responsible for the production line. Their experience might lead to better judgment of the ideas. However, this can make ideas fall between two stalls because no one feels responsible. It can also lead to politics, since ideas from the production department might be appreciated less by the engineering department than their own ideas.

Assess and plan

This pre-project phase can be an important determinant for the success of the company’s project portfolio. You can use it to assess the ideas, set priorities, and determine the interdependencies. Based on this assessment, the source of the idea can get feedback. Idea generation and follow-up is important for the innovativeness of a company, and thus it is important that rejection of ideas is accompanied by a clear explanation.

After assessment, low-hanging fruit can be implemented immediately. Ideas might be transferred to the line organization, who are then responsible to take care of implementation. Other ideas are planned into subsequent projects. Careful planning helps create an overview of the project portfolio and control the results, considering interdependencies, contribution to strategy, potential knowledge gaps, and availability of resources.

The pre-project phase leads to classification and follow-up of ideasThe pre-project phase leads to classification and follow-up of ideas

This portfolio approach can help align the efforts and monitor interdependencies. If you improve one part of the organization, while other parts are not yet ready, this can create major bottlenecks. You can also balance the projects better, to make sure both short-term and long-term projects are executed. Long-term projects can contribute to the strategy, or even lead to a new direction for the company. The short-term projects should fit the future vision, and not lead to long-term burdens. Finally, it is also important to balance process improvement and investments in the digital infrastructure.

The pre-project phase in Mobina

Mobina supports the pre-project phase in several ways. First, it allows you to easily keep track of all ideas. Using tags, you can make sure everyone finds the right ideas. The employees in your organization can also provide feedback on them and be involved in assessing them. This mobilizes the whole organization even more to achieve (continuous) improvement. Our Knowledge-as-a-Service is not only useful to support idea generation. It also helps you to select those ideas that are proven best practices and assess both the impact and possible benefits of the implementation. We provide you with the tools to analyze this feedback and prioritize the ideas, so the usage of Mobina results in powerful, solid, and futureproof innovation agenda.

If set up carefully, the pre-project phase can provide a lot of advantages. Make sure you assign an owner, so ideas are followed up, and this owner can also take care of creating a balanced project portfolio. This leads to better use of your resources and motivates employees to support (continuous) improvement in the organization.

Want to know more about the pre-project phase? Feel free to contact us!

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