Running projects to improve your business involves a number of activities. They all fall under the banner of “project management,” but we begin with project selection.
The pace of business demands meeting many needs. But the fact of the matter is you cannot meet all of them at the same time. This is where having a robust process around project selection and project management can ensure you are working on the best projects that will produce the best return on investment. Proper project selection also helps to get the most out of your team and resources. It forces you to think about work on the things, projects, that matter most or that will make the biggest difference. Some factors to consider in evaluating your projects:
- Customer Satisfaction – how will this project help you attract or keep customers?
- Profitability – how will this project help you reduce costs, scale operations, free up your resources to work on more important work?
- Innovation – how will this project help you in the marketplace of innovation? To breakthrough with a new way of doing things?
- Productivity – how will this project help reduce mistakes, rework, and other productivity-impacting activities.
- Resource Contention – will the project have ample access to the resources needed and will this project be a priority for them and their boss?
With your project selected, next comes managing and executing project activities to an outcome. This usually involves:
- Getting leadership buy-in.
- Establishing a Governance Model
- Setting a project work and review cadence
- Access to and commitment from resources to get the work done.
- Readouts to all stakeholders.
Project management success often depends on having a good process for managing the project and a good project manager. The project manager is the “glue” that will keep the key tracks of work coordinated and moving forward. A very helpful approach is running a daily or every-other-day cadence and focusing on an “Agile” approach to getting the work done. A daily standup can focus on:
- Progress made to date
- Obstacles or challenges to moving foward
- Soliciting help from the broader project team to overcome any immediate challenges.
Probably one of the most important factors for successful project completion is spending the time up front in the project to specifically articulate, in measurable terms, the outcome of the project. For example, a project addressing bottlenecks in a cash collection project should have a metric like days sales outstanding or medical cycle time of open invoices. Have a good metric makes easy to judge if the team is delivering a successful outcome.
Managing one project is pretty straight forward. Managing a dozen projects is a bit more challenging. That’s where portfolio management comes in handy. It’s really an exercise in prioritization. It’s organizing all your projects by importance, scope, cost, and timing. The scope, cost and timing should be familiar to most business people. You’ve most likely been in meetings where the discussion goes something like, “We can reduce the scope and delivery on time and on budget. Or we can deliver scope, but it will be delayed and most likely on budget. But, you cannot get all three.” Portfolio management takes that discussion and now raises it across the entire “bundle” of activities currently in flight.
In our practice, we often find that project governance is an often under thought practice. Just like in real-life, it’s critical to have a vote at the table. It’s important to have a forum where all stakeholders can have a say, where there can be open debate about a topic, then closure and agreement on the path forward.
Governance can be as simple as a small committee of process participants – those involved in the process that’s the focus of the project. Or, it can range to a more formal, near-board-like arrangement of leadership, stakeholders and individual contributors that are all part of much larger, enterprise or multi-function efforts.
The key takeaway here is to have fair representation and open discourse. The last thing you want is hundred of hours and thousands of dollars spent on an implementation, only to face tough resistance from someone you didn’t include in the process.
Risk is one of the most important factors to keep in mind during a project’s duration. The risks can come in the form of:
- Project Adoption
- Competing Projects
- Outside Competition
Some best practices to follow here:
- Identify and define the risk
- Assess the risk in terms of impact
- Assess the risk in terms of likelihood and timing
- Brainstorm what actions to take to mitigate that risk
- Assign and owner to carry out the mitigation actions
- Pick a date in the near future to revisit and reassess the risk
By taking these steps, project teams can actively manage the risk equation and increase the probability of delivering a successful outcome.
Change Management & Business Process Adoption
We leave the most important aspect for last because it is the most important dimension to successful project outcomes. As change management expert John P. Kotter says, “A guiding coalition made up only of managers—even superb managers who are wonderful people—will cause major change efforts to fail.” In short, it’s about people.
Get people involved with your change effort. Make them part of the solution. The easiest and most effective way to do that is by inviting them into the conversation early. Not when you have a solution, not when you’ve done all the homework, not when you’ve done all the competitive analysis. Do it when you first surface the need for change. At the point where you ask, “Why is this change necessary?” If this is a big enough problem for you to be assembling a team, employees in and around the process will undoubtedly have a perspective on how well it works.
The irony about change management is this: it is one of the most widely sought capabilities in organizations large and small. Yet, it is one of the most difficult initiatives to successfully pull off in an organization. Remember, you are dealing with people, familiar behaviors, legacy systems, comfort zones stacked up against competitive and business imperatives to do things, quicker, better, and at scale. From our experience, the larger the change effort (in terms of people, time, and money) the more likely it is to fail. A better approach often cited by experts is to break the big problem down into littler problems. Claim a series of victories on the smaller ones, and build a track record of successes that make winning the bigger battles that much easier.