Published in “Project Times” website, December, 2009
Click here for original article.
In today’s news headlines, we hear that companies are beginning to rebound from the recession in terms of improved profit; however, when we dig further, it’s clear that the majority of the improvement is due to cost cutting without a commensurate improvement in revenue. When you look a bit closer, companies are still struggling severely to resurrect sales, and much of the low hanging fruit cost projects have been exhausted. Thus, in order to get in front of this trend of the never-ending survival focus, it is imperative to accelerate results in order to thrive. Accelerating project results is one key component in achieving this goal.
Accelerating project results is not complex; however, it is not typically easy to implement. After all, if accelerating project results was easy, everyone would already be focused on it. The reason it is not complex, yet isn’t easy, is that there are no short cuts; instead persistence and focus will pay dividends.
The three keys to success include:
- Remove unnecessary waste.
- Manage the critical path with rigor.
- Clearly define goals and then tie metrics, rewards and recognition to it.
Remove Unnecessary Waste: Although this sounds logical and obvious, it is often overlooked or gets pushed aside when business politics and other organizational concerns arise. Just as with solid operations principles, common sense rules the day. After all, why take extra steps to achieve the same end result?
Thus, a concentrated effort is required to understand the desired results (goals). Is each step required to achieve the goal? Is there a way to combine steps or eliminate unnecessary handoffs? Are you adding steps for political reasons? Is there another way to accomplish the goal? Are you adding a step that adds unnecessary but cool features or benefits? Are you adding complexity for a nice-to-have?
Ask yourself and your team questions. Spend the time upfront to develop just the tasks which are required to achieve the end-result. Then, during implementation, suddenly every step/task is seen as value-added and necessary, and so the project team will have to remain focused.
Manage the Critical Path with Rigor: In my experience in working with hundreds of project teams globally, across a variety of industries, the single best way to accelerate project results is to manage the critical path with rigor. In essence, the definition of a critical path is the sequence of project tasks which add up to the longest overall duration. Thus, managing the critical path is what will have the most significant affect in accelerating the project’s progress and achieving results. I’ve found that proactively managing the critical path is the optimal approach. In other words, ask the owners of the critical path tasks in advance if they see any roadblocks to achieving their task. Remind them of approaching due dates. Offer assistance. In essence, prioritize and focus most of your attention on the critical path tasks.
Clearly Define Goals and Tie Actions to Them: First, if the goals are unclear, time is wasted. Worse, results are not achieved. Second, do not focus on activity and effort; instead, focus attention on the results you want to achieve. People will pay attention to that which is measured and valued. Therefore, measure and value the results and progress towards the results.
This does not need to be complex. Simple metrics focused on critical path progress is sufficient. Then, the key is to continually explain the value of each person’s tasks, how they fit into the overall project and how that project is important to the company’s goals. For example, will the project free up cash flow? Increase profit? Improve organizational support for sales? Why does it matter? Then, tie rewards and recognition into the process, focused solely on results and progress towards results. Appreciate and thank team members. Make sure that bonuses and other compensation cannot be achieved based on activity without results. Ensure that progress towards results is seen as valuable and appreciated.
When these three keys to success are put in place, it is possible to accelerate project results. In today’s economy, those who can outpace their competition with solid results will be those who “win the race”.