Published in Project Times
May 29, 2013
What company doesn’t have at least several projects going at once to try to support essential objectives? In my 20+ years of experience as a global business consultant and operations executive, I’ve yet to see one! As projects are commonplace in organizations, it becomes critical to figure out how to ensure success – delivering the intended results on-time and on-budget. Unfortunately, it is often far from a no-brainer to make this occur.
Interestingly, my clients often are looking for that “magic” solution which they often think relates to implementing the latest fad which seems to be getting positive attention in the news such as lean manufacturing, six sigma, etc. Yet they often fail to achieve sustainable results. Thus, they call me in to look over the situation and determine the optimal path forward to rectify the situation. 80% of the time, I find that the projects will deliver results if they “go back to the basics”: 1) Project leadership. 2) Critical path. 3) Exemplars. 4) Follow-up
- Project leadership – As my HR mentor used to say, “It begins and ends with leadership.” Undoubtedly, you must begin with a solid project leader. Does your leader have enough technical expertise to lead the particular project? Remember “writing the book” isn’t necessary; just enough technical expertise to ask good questions is sufficient. Does your project leader demonstrate leadership skills? In essence, do people want to follow him/her? Do they feel secure following him through a sea of change? Does he have the ability to show each team member how he/she adds value to the project? How about the ability and gumption to hold folks accountable? Good leaders will develop good teams.
For example, I’ve been involved with countless projects over the years – hundreds at a minimum – and I’ve yet to see a poor leader succeed (unless taken over by a strong team) or a strong leader fail. There is something to be said for nurturing leadership talent if you are interested in bottom line business results.
- Critical path – Once your project team is in place, the first order of business is to develop the critical path project plan. Instead of getting bogged down in countless details which will not substantially affect the project results with minimal resources (after all, what company has extra resources to throw at projects in the new normal business environment?), it is essential to just focus on those tasks which will ensure a positive end result – the critical path. In essence, the critical path provides priority and focus
For example, in a client project, we developed a critical path for turning around a failed ERP system implementation. Although there were thousands of tasks required to fully implement the ERP system, we’d fail miserably if we tried to accomplish all of them with our scaled-back project team. Thus, we identified those tasks essential to leveraging the ERP system for critical functions (such as purchasing) and focused the entire project team on resolving those first. These critical functions also were the predecessor for leveraging other essential areas of the system, and so by resolving one area, we were able to obtain a boost in several other areas as well.
- Exemplars – Once your project is set up, you must encourage exemplars. Find respected exemplars and get them on board with the project and desired results. Exemplars will have followers regardless of their position power. People will follow those they trust and respect. It can be as simple as that.
For example, in one client project, we had to try a new demand planning approach yet folks were afraid because producing without an order was seen as taboo. Thus, we found an exemplar (combined with management support), and folks began to follow the exemplar. Soon, the demand planning process yielded startling results.
- Follow up – Last but not least, follow-up is vital to success. One of the most important areas for follow-up is the critical path. Do you know where you are on the critical path? Which critical path tasks are coming up next? Are those task owners ready? Do they have the resources and tools required to succeed? If not, what can be done to provide assistance prior to the task start dates? Are they comfortable that they’ll meet the agreed upon times? If not, what can be done to supplement? In essence, if you keep the team focused on maintaining the critical path integrity, you’ll succeed.
For example, I’ve found this to be essential in every client project. As my business is based upon referrals, achieving the agreed upon results is paramount; thus, follow-up becomes a competitive advantage. I’ve found countless potential roadblocks via follow-up which could have derailed project results.
As project results are essential to business performance, it is worth taking a look at what will ensure success. The good news and bad news is that we should already have the appropriate tools in our arsenal to ensure success – its back to the basics! Are you ready to elevate the importance of the basics in your organization?