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Sustainable Innovation through Portfolio, Program, and Project Management

Brian Grafsgaard, PMP, PgMP

Sustainable innovation requires that the organization develop an innovation management ecosystem to manage the entire innovation process, from defining the problem (empathy), ideating solutions to the problem (creativity), developing and implementing the solution (execution), to realizing the resulting benefits through adoption. Phillips (2012, p. 60) elaborates on this life cycle and defines the corresponding activities including:

  • Spotting trends to understand potential future needs and opportunities,
  • Gathering customer insights, needs, and jobs to be done,
  • Generating ideas based on these inputs,
  • Managing, developing, and evaluating ideas,
  • Prototyping and piloting ideas,
  • Selecting the best ideas to commercialize,
  • Converting ideas into new products and services,
  • Launching new products and services.

This ecosystem may have its underpinnings in a new product development phase gate methodology or another methodology. The ideal solution has to cover the entire spectrum and provide an integrated approach from beginning to end, the fuzzy front end through adoption and continuous improvement.

Many innovation experts recommend that an idea management solution be put in place and that ideas be managed like a portfolio. The result is that idea management—problem identification (empathy), idea generation (creativity), and idea screening (high-level business case)—and the idea portfolio become part of the overall innovation management ecosystem, integrated with portfolio management and program/project management to create an "innovation value chain," as defined by Williams (2011).

The organization must also develop its portfolio, program, and project management capabilities in order to sustain innovation. Portfolio, program, and project management integrate with idea management and each other to add value to the innovation process, from organizational strategy to the discrete work packages and deliverables that are ultimately required.

Program management effectively addresses the change, ambiguity, uncertainty, and risk inherent in the innovation process. Project management also addresses the change, uncertainty, and risk, but at a different level. Project management also integrates with program management to produce the outcomes that contribute to the program’s intended benefits. Both of these capabilities integrate with change management to ensure that the program’s outcomes and benefits can be adopted and sustained. And, finally, portfolio management integrates with program management to bridge the gap between organizational strategy and execution to ensure the right ideas are being pursued, and resources are being allocated to them.

Program management, coupled with portfolio management and project management, enables the innovation process and how these capabilities integrate to create value and help eliminate the barriers to innovation:

  • Program management effectively addresses the change, ambiguity, uncertainty, and risk inherent in the innovation process.
  • Project management integrates with program management to produce the outcomes that contribute to the program’s intended benefits.
  • Both capabilities integrate with change management to foster adoption.
  • Portfolio management integrates with program management to bridge the gap between organizational strategy and execution and ensure that the right ideas are being pursued.
  • Portfolio management also ensures that the proper resources are being allocated (although the program manager still has to procure the resources).

Some of the benefits of a sustainable innovation management ecosystem, as defined during an interview with Markgraf (e-mail communication, February 22, 2012), include the benefits of a mature program management capability:

  • Provide a consistent, repeatable process to take a concept from idea to adoption, resulting in more effective and efficient innovation initiatives.
  • Help create and enable a sustainable technical competitive advantage that increases growth and productivity.
  • Ensure the technology plan supports the organization’s strategies and provides competitive advantage.
  • Identify opportunities to optimize the company’s investments at the enterprise level using efficient, effective processes.
  • Provide an opportunity to create a "single culture" in sharing knowledge and perspectives across the enterprise.
  • Promote the sharing of strategy information between the organizational domains and foster the sharing of ideas.
  • Encourage a close relationship between innovators and program/ product development to improve the visibility of new innovations that further enable strategy, capabilities, and program success.
  • Promote technical excellence and innovation in the products, services, and capabilities developed for external customers.
  • Encourage and recognize people that contribute to the success of programs through innovative solutions.
  • Partner with suppliers on the use or development of technologies that together provide an outcome that normally could not be achieved.
  • Promote trade studies as part of the program’s research and development (R&D) cycle to identify and select the best use of technology solutions.
  • Set high expectations as program managers that encourage people to meet challenging goals and require innovative solutions to achieve superior performance.
  • Act as a bridge between business development, R&D, sales and marketing, company needs, and supplier capabilities.


Markgraf, S., Senior Manager, Program Management Office, Boeing Commercial Aviation, The Boeing Company (e- mail interview, 22 February 2012).

Phillips, J. (2012). Relentless innovation: What works, what doesn’t and what that means for your business. New York, NY: McGraw- Hill.

Williams, P. R. (2011). Is phase gate the right tool for the job? Next practices in innovation management. De Pere, WI: American Institute for Innovation Excellence (AIIE).

Read more IT Performance Improvement

This article is an excerpt from:

The definitive reference on program management, Program Management: A Life Cycle Approach provides this much needed guidance. Edited by Dr. Ginger Levin, the second person to become a PMI® certified program manager (PgMP®), this handbook presents a cohesive compilation of program management knowledge from more than 20 certified PgMPs. It considers the entire program life cycle and its phases—from initiation to sustainability.

Each chapter is written by an experienced PgMP from a wide range of industries and countries. Combining the rigor of an academic reference with easy-to-read language, the book covers the themes in the PMI Standard for Program Management and ties them to program managers' work. The chapters reference PMI’s standards, complement the concepts in the standards, and expand on the concepts and issues that the standard mentions in passing. The book also addresses issues that the standard does not touch on at all.

About the Author

Brian Grafsgaard, PMP, PgMP is the Director of Professional Services and a Senior Consultant with QBS, a Minnetonka, MN based professional services firm specializing in the definition and delivery of solutions from strategy to acceptance and implementation. Brian has been a practicing Project Management Professional (PMP®) since 1998. Brian is also a proven Program Manager and in 2007, became the first in the world to attain the Program Management Professional (PgMP®) credential. As a program and project manager Brian has lead the delivery of enterprise-class solutions in multiple industries.