The forgotten project management skills every intrapreneur needs to cultivate massive impact
The adage “ideas are cheap and execution is key” fits for intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs alike. Knowing which project management skills to hone, though, is another story.
Striking out on your own versus building something within a company (the classic entrepreneur vs intrapreneur question) requires a different mentality – and with it, a slightly different project management definition.
If you want to make impact as an intrapreneur – someone who acts like an entrepreneur within their job and reaps many of the same benefits – you’ll want to pay attention to these project management skills.
The definition of intrapreneurship
Intrapreneurs operate like entrepreneurs within a company. They provide:
- Creative ideas to solve problems
- Boundary-pushing and necessary feedback
- Work outside their traditional job description
On top of creativity and other entrepreneurial traits, the intrapreneur also has to become a master communicator. If approached in the wrong way, co-workers may perceive intrapreneurial initiative as “stealing jobs”, sucking up, or politicking – any of these will crush support for the intrapreneur and their projects.
At the most fundamental level, intrapreneurs identify problems within their organization and either build the solution themselves or work with others in the company to solve it. An intrapreneur is not always the person doing all the work, giving a lot of room to ensure no one steps on anyone else’s toes.
Project management skills: Office environment analysis
When it comes to entrepreneurs vs intrapreneurs, both share a common requirement of identifying goals. It’s the start and end of any project, because if you don’t know where you’re going then you’ll end up somewhere you likely don’t want to be.
Getting a sense of your office environment will also help you overcome and mental blocks at work during the project.
Intrapreneurs have the added task of identifying goals in the context of the office environment – you have to work with what’s there. Look for things like:
Check if your company has an explicit corporate value around being creative, innovative, or entrepreneurial. If not, you’ll need to ensure goals are big enough to be impactful but not so big that they don’t align with corporate values.
Understanding the nuances of how people spread information, communicate, and build relationships will help you find the champion and stakeholders who will support your projects.
Timing and other “hooks”
In an entrepreneurial venture, founders can make bold moves, sometimes turning the whole organization around in a single day. As an intrapreneur, you’ll need to present ideas in a way that fit naturally with what’s already going on at the organization.
Over time, you may be able to change the whole company with your innovation. But moving a big ship with an established crew requires knowing when to suggest the radical ideas and when to work quietly in the background.
Project management skills: Business case development
Intrapreneurs have bosses, corporate structure (in some cases), and a current direction the company is heading in. Changing direction will require a business case. As you create a business case for your idea, build out a framework to show how your idea will make the business better. Make sure you can answer questions like:
What is the end goal?
In all cases, this will eventually be more revenue. However, the question becomes what revenue-generating lever you are improving.
That could mean you’re bringing in more leads, increasing conversion rate, increasing upsell and cross-sell potential, and more. Instead of simply saying “this project will increase revenue”, show the pathway from the key goal you have and revenue – this will not only make your business case more compelling, but also easier to measure.
What business needs make this project necessary?
Sure, you have an idea to increase revenue – but if revenue is the sole goal, then you could just as easily suggest selling ice cream on the street as you could a new upselling campaign.
In your business case, make sure you address which core business needs will be served by the project (side note: this is where company vision and values come in; show your project aligns to long-term growth, not just a few extra dollars of revenue).
Why are you the right person to lead this project?
This is tricky, because it can make any intrapreneur feel defensive. The key here is to show you have:
- Specific expertise or passion in the area
- A strong desire to take on new challenges combined with a business case for the idea or initiative
The easiest way to put yourself in a position to take on an intrapreneurial venture, whether leading a team or trying something by yourself, is to start within the bounds of your department or experience areas.
After showing your success in one area, you can take on new projects in passion or career-growth areas.
How will you compensate for your other tasks?
As an intrapreneur, you already have a full-time job. While some intrapreneurial projects may take you away and dedicate 100% of your capacity to the project, most will not. Be sure you are showing how you will continue to get your work done at a high level.
Having this answer will show you have a practical mindset and understand you aren’t just taking on extra projects for fun or to escape your job (if you are trying to move from your job, though, you can be upfront that you’re looking to test new projects for a career move. You’ll still need to perform your job while running those tests).
Project management skills: Time management
As an intrapreneur, you’ll need two forms of time management skills.
Time management for your day job
Because you’ll be taking on extra work to do your intrapreneurial project, make sure you have the time management skills to complete your day jobs tasks.
This could mean sacrifices like working late or working through lunch some days, but it’s also an opportunity to be creative and think of how you could get your day job work done with less time.
Finding creative ways to complete your day job more efficiently is another hallmark of the intrapreneur; instead of using more time, create time in your day to take on cool projects.
Time management for the intrapreneurial project
Once you’ve either found or created time to take on an additional project, you’ll need to manage it.
Cultivate your skills for:
- Creative ways to make the intrapreneurial tasks take less time (same as for your day job)
- Time-boxing your work to foster creativity and not go over time
- Project scoping so you don’t end up doing far more work than you planned for
Project management skills: Task flow and meeting management
A part of time management, you’ll need to ensure all tasks are accounted for, assigned, and completed.
To make task and time management a little easier, you may want to use tools such as:
The biggest benefits of project management tools is you get task visualization and can share them with others. Those others could be your project team, stakeholders, champion, executive sponsor – or a combination.
As part of task management, good intrapreneurs also cultivate meeting management skills.
These skills are especially crucial if you’re leading a team. However, they are still necessary if this is a solo project and you just report to your manager or executive champion.
To kickstart effective meetings, follow this checklist:
- Send an agenda ahead of time (anywhere from 1 hour to 1 day ahead, depending on how in-depth the meeting is and how much you need people to prepare)
- Have a “parking lot” for any necessary conversations brought up during the meeting that are not on the agenda (plan another way to discuss those items)
- A “freezer” for ideas that are necessary, but not time-prioritized (so you keep them “on ice” until you have the time to address them or they come up naturally as tasks are completed)
Project management skills: Communication and upward management
Intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs also share this necessary group of project management skills, but intrapreneurs have different stakeholders to pay attention to.
As an intrapreneur, you’ll need to be able to communicate with:
- The project team (if you have one)
- Your executive champion
- Your boss / manager for your day job
- Project stakeholders
- Anyone impacted by the project’s outcome
That means you’ll need to cultivate a lot of communication skills, particularly around:
“What’s in it for them” communication skills
You’ll have to tweak your business case conversation to show not only the project is good for the business (which is what you share with your executive champion), but also how the project will help other stakeholders like those impacted by the project’s outcome.
“Conversational fluency” in all project items
You may not be technical or may not know operations, but you’ll need to know just enough to get the project through.
This might mean learning enough so you can do a certain task or knowing the right language different groups of people use so you can get the outcome you want.
For example, developers know “PR” as “pull request”, but marketers know it as “public relations”. Knowing the difference – and using the right language – will help you make the project a success.
Upward and downward management skills
The intrapreneur sits in the middle, a leader of their project but still an employee in a corporate hierarchy. Everyone from the newest junior employee to the CEO will need to work on the ability to describe their work in a way that makes sense – and is appropriate – to those around them, regardless of their position in the company.
Project management skills: Customer orientation
As an intrapreneur, you are the customer’s champion for your project. Even if the work you’re doing is on a backend process or internal efficiency, the net result is to create a better customer experience or help customers more easily purchase from you.
You’re looking for revenue, but the lever you pull is nearly always connected to your ability to serve the customer better.
To develop a better customer orientation, look for:
Direct feedback whenever possible. Conducting surveys or customer interviews can help here.
Social listening. Become friends with whomever runs your social media – see who your followers and customers are. Pay attention to what they talk about in your space.
Draw the path to the customer. If you’re working on a customer innovation, the path is fairly direct. If you’re optimizing a backend practice, tie it all the way to the customer – who gains more time or efficiency? Are they using it to directly serve the customer? Or are they using that time to be more strategic, supporting someone else serving the customer?
However many steps there are, do the work to tie major project initiatives to the customer lifecycle of your organization.
Project management skills for intrapreneurs
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking entrepreneurial project management skills can easily translate to an intrapreneurial environment. Execution is crucial, meaning you need the right skills for the right context.
As an intrapreneur, it’s your job to bring the creativity of an entrepreneur to your job. To do that successfully, apply that creativity to the context of your office, your work environment, and your company.