As a business consultant and former VP of Operations who has led and participated in hundreds of logistics and supply chain projects, I have yet to find a company without project management challenges. Yet the organizations were dependent on project results occurring – often, results were built into budgets. Thus, there is no room for error! Can you afford weaker sales results? Margins? Cash flow? New product development? Undoubtedly, no! Thus, you must pay attention to what will ensure success.
There are several ways to ensure success and achieve your projects’ projected bottom line business results; however, as with any solid management system, you have to start somewhere. Thus, it makes sense to evaluate priorities. In my experience, the top three priorities include: 1) Set the project up for success. 2) Plan. 3) Execute.
1. Set the project up for success: The first key to success is to define the project and put together the appropriate team. Although this sounds incredibly easy, it is often overlooked in importance. Has anyone been assigned to a project, not understanding the objectives of the project and the amount of time required for the project? Of course! This step will solve those issues.
The critical success factor is to define the project so that it can be clearly communicated to the project team and the organization. It doesn’t have to require a complex project charter that buries the team in paperwork. Instead, keep it simple – define in understandable terms what the project is about, what it will accomplish, and why the company chose to pursue the project. Make sure that the team fully understands the project and how their participation relates to the success of the project. And, finally, do not forget to communicate to the organization, as this is often an overlooked, yet fatal error – the organization will need to support the project with resources, information, etc.
2. Plan: The second key to success is to take the time to plan. I’ve found that although most companies have good intentions, they rarely take the time to plan. There is always something more important or another crisis that arises. Instead of allowing your project to be derailed, it is vital to take a step back and put together a plan.
It doesn’t have to be complex and time consuming. It doesn’t have to utilize the latest project management software and consider complex equations for calculating resource times. Again, keep it simple. A scratch piece of paper is ok, if it is understood and communicated. The most important point is to decide what steps need to be completed, in what order (if order is important), how long the steps will take if x number of resources are dedicated to the task, and which steps are dependent on which other steps. You will now be ahead of the majority of companies – you have a plan!
3. Execute: The third key to success is to execute the plan. In my experience, I’ve found this step to also be often overlooked since it seems simple now that the plan has been developed and the people assigned. Executives tend to lose interest once the project is turned over to the execution team; however, this is the opposite of what’s required for success. Even though it seems obvious, as conflicts arise, without senior leadership, the project will flounder.
Typically there are only a few critical steps required for success in the execution stage: 1) staying focused on the critical path, 2) follow-up and 3) communication. Instead of focusing on every step, focus almost exclusively on the critical path (the sequence of steps that must be completed on schedule for the entire project to be completed). This seemingly simple focus works wonders in keeping your project on track. Second, follow up on those critical steps. For example, instead of waiting for the time when a critical step is scheduled to start, begin focusing on the step in advance. Make sure the resources are available, ask questions of the task owners, review the plan for those steps, etc. Lastly, remember to constantly communicate progress, roadblocks, etc. With these few simple steps, I’ve yet to see a project management execution failure.
Since projects can have a substantial effect on your organization through increased productivity, profitability, cash flow and service, it pays to think about the three critical priorities to delivering project management success. No matter your role in a project, you can begin to implement these keys – and you’ll deliver bottom line results!