Effective project management has become cornerstone to business performance. Although we are largely in a recovery, none of my clients have gone back to the days of having more than the required resources “just in case” yet project demands are ever-increasing as profitable growth is key to success. In essence, if you want to thrive in today’s new normal business environment, you will not only execute flawlessly but you’ll also innovate constantly. Neither will deliver results without flawless project execution. Based on my observations, 90%+ of my clients and contacts struggle to resource projects and overcome obstacles quickly enough to ensure success. What should we do?
For example, one of my key clients has at least 7 critical project priorities in process simultaneously. This alone is problematic enough as it’s been proven over and over again that people can only multi-task so far. In my experience, anything beyond 3 priorities will suffer. However, in addition to this burden, they have resourced these projects with people who already have full-time jobs. Unfortunately, this occurrence is not uncommon.
Of course, my first priority with these situations is to work with the client to take a step back and re-focus in on fewer priorities. Once the first few are completed successfully, we’ll move on to the next set of priorities. In 100% of the cases, I’ve seen this tactic achieve significantly greater success. However, whether we follow the smart path and focus on just 3 priorities or try to keep track of all 7 at once, we must implement check points from the start to have a chance at success! A few keys to success include: 1) Understand milestones. 2) Think about evidence of progress. 3) Develop a check point process.
1. Understand the milestones: Although it might seem basic, it is the most often overlooked critical variable to success in my experience. Do NOT start performing tasks; even if it seems like a critical task, stop yourself before jumping in. Instead, develop the project plan. Take a step back and review the project plan. Does it seem complete? Are there too many tasks? Can some be combined? Which are dependent on which other tasks? Do you know the difference between dependence and sequence? If not, circle back and start again. Have you added fluff to your task times? Why? If everyone adds just 1 day cushion to every task, it will have greater than a 20% impact on almost every project and a 50% impact on the majority.
For example, if you know that you cannot improve your on-time delivery metrics if you don’t improve inventory accuracy, it might be tempting to start addressing that issue immediately. Although it is undoubtedly one of the tasks required to improve on-time delivery, there is no way to know its importance vs. the other tasks without taking a step back. What if throughput had to be increased by 50%? This task would be more important because no matter how accurate your inventory, you can’t do anything with half of your orders if you cannot get them out the door. Also, what if throughput is dependent on another task which doesn’t seem that important in isolation? Typically I see clients ignore that task completely yet it is the most critical task of the three mentioned because it must be completed prior to throughput increasing!
2. Think about evidence of progress: Once you have your project plan outlined and milestones identified, the next step is to make sure you are making progress on these milestones. First, take another step back to identify the critical path. The critical path will tell you where to focus. The milestones on the critical path are the ones which deserve 80% of your attention as they’ll give you 80% of the result with 20% of the effort.
Your critical path milestones are your check points. If you are achieving these critical milestone check points, you’ll be successful. It can be as simple as that! Of course, it rarely is that simple because we veer off the critical path and spend time on items our boss asks us about or those items which seem interesting. None of these paths will yield success because they are not check points to the project success. Stick to the critical path. The great news it that in project management, the critical path provides the check points whereas in many other areas, you must decipher the check points. If you are in this situation, just ask yourself the question: What would tell me I’m making progress? What would I have to see, hear, and/or have as evidence?
3. Develop a check point process: Last but not least, you must develop a check point process. What does this mean? In the simplest format, it means you develop a communication and tracking method to follow up on the critical path check points. I’ve seen many different processes “work”. The key is in the follow-up and the leader’s ability to ask the right questions at the right time and his/her willingness to address the “hard” issues.
For example, one of my clients developed a brief weekly project review meeting to go over the critical milestones. Issues with project tasks were not discussed as they should be incorporated into regular project management cycles. Instead, the meeting was focused on which critical path milestones were achieved, which are coming up, and whether there are roadblocks affecting any critical milestones. There are many communication vehicles and formats. Choose whichever works best for you and your culture.
In today’s new normal business environment, delivering project results is vital to success. Thus, although it has always been the lifeblood of project success to make sure there are check points to tell you whether your projects are on track and where to focus attention; it has a direct correlation on bottom line business results today.