The Concept of MBPM

Management by Project Mapping (MBPM) is a strategic concept for sustainable corporate innovation. Innovation depends on the capabilities of a corporation. The capabilities of a corporation are built upon its corporate culture. The culture of a corporation is hindered by its corporate system. 

Foundation of Sustainable Corporate Innovation

A company can strategically use project mapping and the right project management tactics to: 

  • establish an agile, balanced, and open organizational system, 
  • build a committed and collaborative corporate culture, 
  • create a capable organization with strong desires for challenges and mastery, and 
  • continuously achieve breakthrough innovations.

MBPM as a Strategic Model for Sustainable Corporate Innovation

MBPM maps various projects into three areas: Path-finding, Core and Continuous Improvement. In the figure above, circles represent projects and the size of each circle represents the size of that particular project. 

Path-finding (PF) projects should align with the company’s corporate vision and mission, aiming to obtain the necessary capabilities needed a few years in the future. Core projects should either be the next big product or service offerings to the market, which are needed for the company’s continuing survival or market domination. Continuous Improvement (CI) projects aim to gain the operational efficiency to improve the company’s profitability and market position. 

Clearly, different approaches should be used to manage these different categories of the projects. The inhibited risk-taking found in most current project management approaches makes them poor choices for PF projects as they restraint innovation. Different matrices are needed to measure the success of the PF projects as many of them would not materialize in new products or services but result in additional knowledge and capability. Therefore, MBPM stresses the use of the right PM approaches for the right projects. There will be chapters in this book devoted to managing projects in each of the PF, Core and CI project categories.

 MBPM also emphasizes the all-inclusive approach, where everyone in the organization participates in projects. The objective is to set up a corporate culture of innovation. If many people in the organization are not participating, such culture would not exist. 

Strategic Elements of MBPM  

Most current project management practices emphasize processes and techniques to accomplish the objectives of an endeavor, usually a new product or service. It is rather tactical. Management by Project Mapping (MBPM) utilizes the characteristics of projects and project management at the strategic level to transform an organization and, as a result, increase project success as well. This strategic use of projects does not interfere with the tactical practices of project management; rather, it creates a holistic design for companies to evolve and innovate continuously.

MBPM has four key strategic elements:

  1. Strategically utilize projects to build the foundation for sustainable innovation, from system to culture to capability.
  2. Map projects into Path-finding (PF), Core and Continuous Improvement (CI) categories with the alignment of corporate development through time.
  3. Use the right project management approaches for the right projects.
  4. Be inclusive: projects for every employee to create an innovative corporate culture.

The first strategic element (utilizing projects to build the foundation for sustainable innovation) is about setting up the organization for longterm continuous innovation. When a corporation sets an objective to become an innovative company, it must build the capability and the know-how to achieve results that exceed the expectations of its customers and markets. The capability of an organization first reflects on the talent of its employees, and since technology is advancing, it needs to be a learning organization to gain new skills continuously. The company must thus have the adaptability to quickly react to the changes in the business world.

Structure of Corporate Innovation

 In short, the foundation of innovation is corporate capability, the foundation of corporate capability is corporate culture and the foundation of corporate culture is corporate system. The key consideration in setting up the corporate system is therefore determining what culture the corporation wants to have. It is not about business results and performance management. Taking one step at a time, a company should design its corporate system for the desired corporate culture, and similarly, it should build its culture for sustaining and advancing capabilities. With a capable and motivated organization, innovations will arise naturally.

The second strategic element of MBPM is putting projects into different categories so they can be managed differently and effectively.

Many project management practitioners categorize projects by their characteristics, such as clarity of the objectives, requirements and solutions as well as complexity, size, etc. Such categorization is ineffective, as it is done on a tactical level with the examination of the individual project. This article takes a different approach by categorizing projects at the strategic level as part of the company strategic plan to achieve its vision. Projects are classified as Path-finding (PF), Core and Continuous Improvement (CI) projects. Each category of projects has a different strategic importance. Missing or having inadequate quantity of projects in each category could result in significant shortcomings for the company. 

The key purpose of PF projects is to explore and obtain advanced skills while generating opportunities to aid the company in reaching its vision. Core projects are the next revenue generating products that establish and enhance the company’s competitiveness in the market. Promoting CI projects at all levels of the organization is the key to driving efficiency and establishing an innovative corporate culture. This categorization method actually makes strategic planning easier.

The third strategic element of MBPM is applying different project management approaches to manage the PF, Core and CI projects.

Typically, Extreme Project Management is suitable for PF projects.

Project successes and success rates should not be used to measure the performance of PF project teams. Currently, there is no prevalent extreme model that is widely practiced in industries, even though many models are being developed and proposed. Developing a model for Extreme Project Management is not an objective of this article. In fact, there should not even be a model in managing PF projects as any model could impose a framework limiting creativity. The true extreme approach is not a management model or framework. It is more like a philosophy or style of work. So how should PF projects be managed under this newly defined extreme approach? An entire chapter, Chapter 8, is devoted to exploring the practices that improve the performance of PF project teams to maximize the value of PF projects. 

Core projects, on the other hand, are managed very differently. The success of these projects is extremely important, as they must attain fruition with both quality and velocity. Notice that the word “velocity” is used here instead of “speed” as velocity contains the directional vector, whereas speed is just simply a scalar quantity. That means Core project teams must act not only fast but also in the right direction to achieve innovative results. In general, Agile Project Management approach is appropriate for managing Core projects. However, many of Agile Project Management methods are developed with the traditional management mindset and have many rules and a lot of bureaucracy.

CI projects are the fundamental ingredients for building an innovative corporate culture, which leads to the fourth strategic element of MBPM: projects for everyone. In most corporations, first-line workers make up the largest employee population. Since corporate culture is shaped from the beliefs and behaviors of the majority of its members, there will not be an innovative culture if a company just relies on the R&D departments to innovate and where a large portion of employees do not participate.

Categorizing and Mapping Projects

Companies often find strategic planning difficult due to fuzziness and uncertainties that they face. The project categorizing and mapping aspect of MBPM is actually a new approach in strategic planning.

The MBPM project categorization and mapping concept is derived from the career development model that I use for advising individuals. I do questions for targeted towards understanding the advisee’s long-term vision, midterm objectives and short-term goals in career development. 

Career Development Planning Chart

Now we can see the strong resemblance between a company’s strategic planning and an individual’s career development planning. Shown on the next figure, the MBPM strategic planning chart has the same time and learning axis as the career-planning chart. Instead of activities, projects are mapped to enable a company to move from current core competency to advanced capabilities over time. The circles represent projects and larger circles represent larger projects.

MBPM Strategic Planning Chart

Projects that are aligned with the company’s long-term vision and mission are experimentally oriented. These projects are called Pathfinding (PF) projects as they are exploratory in nature. The purposes of PF projects are 1) exploring to refine and strengthen the vision, 2) building leading capabilities for the future, and 3) creating options as the next Core projects are coming from these PF projects. A company should therefore plan on many PF projects. The world’s leading technology companies, such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, etc., are doing large volumes of PF projects, which allow them to possess leading capabilities, broad market opportunities, and great visions that attract industry attention and talent.

MBPM is a general concept designed for common applications. I do not believe that building a comprehensive framework to cover all the specifics will help people practicing it. In fact, it confines people and complicates things. It may feel vague as many characteristics are described on relative scales such as short, long, small, large, a few, many, high, low, etc. I believe that readers are smart enough to apply them based on their situations. Concepts in future chapters are presented in the same manner. I also avoid using the word “framework” to describe concepts proposed by this book as it implies that users should apply the concept within a certain frame.

Characteristics of Different Project Categories

Most business models are generalizations of reality and there will be special cases that do not fit well. Without exception, MBPM will not be suitable for every case. For instance, it would not work well in the cases that companies outsource innovation or purchase innovation through acquisitions. Use whatever fits and feel free to modify through practice. Applying the concepts in this book can be considered PF projects and it is important to explore freely – this is part of the learning process.


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