Can project management support innovation?

Adeline Teoh ed.
June 6, 2016

By far one of the biggest struggles in project management is the tension between outputs and outcomes. It turns out innovation may come from the border between them.

While I was studying for my media degree, I picked up some work tutoring high school students who were struggling with English (literature). Some were average students who just wanted to pick up their grades. Others were borderline failing their final year and really needed help to ensure they could graduate and avoid repeating Year 12 just for one, albeit compulsory, subject.

One student had a particular weakness understanding how to write about poetry in an essay, so I put together a formula for him, which went something like: Quote X is an example of Technique Y, which results in Effect Z. It helped him identify lines of the poem, how the words were used and the outcome of the line, that is, how we as readers were supposed to feel. Alliteration might be used to emphasise certain words or concepts, for example, or a metaphor could be a technique to create empathy.

I’m happy to say his grades improved considerably, just by drawing a line from quotes he knew were important but weren’t able to articulate why. The same technique should be used by clients when appointing a project manager to connect outputs to outcomes. Unfortunately it is rarely done explicitly, which accounts for a surprising number of failed projects.

A couple of weeks ago I attended an event hosted by Endstate called ‘Bondi Airport Gets the Go-Ahead’, a hypothetical case study where an island would be built off the coast of Bondi Beach for Sydney’s second airport. The panellists played different roles, from the Premier through to the subcontractor. The main takeaway was this: when we ask organisations to tender for a specific output, we are missing an enormous opportunity to innovate.

Endstate CEO Greg Fackender said the event was an exercise to demonstrate that the tender process needs an overhaul. He believes it needs to focus on outcomes, not outputs, so clients get what they need rather than what they think they want. It also gives tendering organisations an opportunity to innovate. “Innovation is by definition something new, so if I’m asking for it in a tender it can’t be innovative,” said Fackender. “Telling them what outcome I’m after presents much more of an incentive for them to offer something innovative in their tender.”

Do you think you could tender to an outcome rather than an output?

Author avatar
Adeline Teoh ed.
Adeline Teoh is the editor of She has more than a decade of publishing experience in the fields of business and education, and has specialised in writing about project management since 2007.
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