Innovation: A process not a buzzword

Michele Hutchison (Kent)

by Michele Hutchison, a Principal Project Manager and Consultancy Innovation Lead at Kent

THE DICTIONARY definition of innovation is “the introduction of something new” which is far too vague to be in any way helpful.

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Researchers have further defined innovation to mean:

“The processes applied when attempting to implement new ideas. Specifically, innovation involves some combination of problem/opportunity identification, the introduction, adoption or modification of new ideas to fulfil a need, the promotion of these ideas, and the practical implementation of these ideas.”

Now we are getting to the crux of the issue. Although innovation can, and does, occur organically, to truly allow for and reap all the benefits, a framework needs to be in place to nurture and support it. A framework that supports idea generation, brainstorming of solutions, buy-in from stakeholders and support from subject matter experts, as well as delivery and implementation support. Fundamentally innovation is a process, and a process which requires time.

Why do we need innovation?

It would be quite easy here to regurgitate the normal soundbites that innovation is a must have if you are to keep up in the modern fast-paced world. In reality, innovation is not only beneficial to businesses, but a process that inspires creativity and allows our people to shine.

The ability to think critically, review situations for positive and negatives, or to ponder fresh ways of working is no longer reserved for senior leaders. Today’s generations are developing this fundamental skillset throughout childhood. My 3-year-old daughter is already exposed to toys which introduce the fundamentals of automated tasks and logical decision points. This skills development continues into later learning. University engineering no longer solely focuses on subjects such as the nonlinear material behaviour of concrete but also on coding requirements and robotics.

Nobody wants to do monotonous jobs. Our engineers want to develop automation to remove repetitive tasks and challenge how complex engineering problems can be analysed and solved. Our engineers want to innovate!

At Kent, we are constantly assessing the ever-changing needs of the markets in which we operate. We’re developing innovative solutions to ensure we are on the bleeding edge of project delivery and one step ahead of solving tomorrow’s problems. Our business wants to innovate!

How do we practically allow for real innovation in a project delivery environment?

Since project delivery is often focused on keeping up with deadlines and meeting customer demands, there can be less focus on looking for ways to innovate. It can be hard for companies to dedicate resources or free up personnel for innovation initiatives outside of the immediate project delivery framework.

The research is clear: the brain needs time to innovate. Unfortunately, time is a project manager’s most precious commodity—and it’s usually in short supply.

How can time be made for both things to exist? At Kent, we are tackling this challenge in multiple ways:

Innovation Hub

A platform which acts as a central repository for all idea submissions and encourages brainstorming. Open to all and deliberately easy to use with limited data entry to ensure no initial blockers or resistance to idea submission.

Learning and development

We hold dedicated sessions to support upskilling of staff in software development / tool automation to support idea implementation. For example, “Learn to Code” sessions with our software development subject matter expert, training our teams on specific coding languages such as Python and best practices such as object-orientated programming.

Innovation Team

We have a team focused on promoting and encouraging innovation. The team is made up of representatives from across our Consulting group, covering all locations and disciplines. The team support organic innovation as well as holding specific idea generation workshops.

Dedicated budget

We have a standalone, dedicated budget to support the development of all innovation projects. This is critical in order to streamline the approval of innovation projects and ensure as many projects progress as possible.

Dedicated time

We recognise that it can be difficult to balance innovation work alongside the demands of client projects, particularly when we are experiencing high levels of work. To actively support delivering these value additions, we introduced Innovation Tuesdays. Without sacrificing project delivery requirements, it allows dedicated time for innovation work (in agreement and with support from project managers).

Senior engagement
Regular meetings with the senior leadership team provides a culture of support and ensures each innovation project supports longer-term strategies.


People come up with game-changing ideas every day, but innovation does not happen by chance. It requires nurturing, a supportive framework and an environment where individuals can dedicate time to it. With each of these ingredients in place, the possibilities are endless.

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