Tag Archive: critical path timeline

The Elements of Project Success: A Case Study

July 21st, 2016
project success

The common factors leading to a project’s success include leadership, support, and management. Clear your team’s path with sufficient attention to these areas for the results you want.

After leading hundreds of projects and participating with hundreds more, I’ve looked for what created project success.

In this case study of project success, we asked questions: What was in common among the projects? Did the project teams do something in particular? Were they a certain type of project? Did the project sponsor do something unique? Did it matter if they crossed departments, organizations or parts of the world? Certainly, there had to be common traits that seemed to lead to project success – what were they?

The most common factors determining success – achieving project results on time, on budget and on target – include the following:

  • Project leader: Every truly successful project had a project leader who was effective. Not all were spectacular, but each one was effective in leading the project team. The project leader was respected by the team. In order to be respected, the project leader included the project team in the process, worked issues as they arose, was willing to push back as required, and was an effective leader overall.
  • Executive sponsor support: Not every project had a sponsor; actually most didn’t have a specific executive sponsor; however, they all had someone in some sort of position of authority who supported the project at critical junctures. This could be at the start – in essence, the project supporter got the ball rolling for the project. Or, it could have been related to a roadblock – the project supporter helped the team work through the roadblock. Or, it could be that the project supporter was a cheerleader for the project team or with the executive team to keep the momentum flowing.
  • Celebrate successes: A seemingly fluffy topic that was in common with the project successes was the celebration of success for wins along the way. Certainly, quick wins get the project off to a solid start and creates momentum. Most successful projects focused on creating quick wins – small is fine so long as it can create momentum. For example, my firm just introduced a proprietary process for driving supply chain performance called TST – achieving the right combination of torque, speed, and traction to drive performance. The torque component is vital. If you have speed and traction without torque, you have a slow start. As good as the team might be, if they get out of the blocks slow, it is a long, slow road to get to the finish line.
  • Critical path timeline: Although not all successful projects had a project timeline, every successful project had some sort of critical path timeline. In essence, the team understood what tasks were most critical, what sequence to complete these tasks and what handoffs were required along the way. When thinking about my TST process, this is the traction component. Steering towards the finish line is essential. Have you ever seen someone seemingly achieving victories and move quickly, just to find out they took the wrong turn? This certainly arises with project failures.

Most project teams that experienced failure got sidetracked in lengthy project tasks – some even followed up profusely on these tasks; however, the tasks were not necessarily those on the critical path timeline. In essence, they took several wrong turns, even though they were working hard and efficiently tracking task progress. From the technical point-of-view, I’ve found this to be the 80/20 of success! Put your follow-up and communication efforts here.

  • Speed: Certainly the third component of my TST process is a key to success with projects – and, I find it is one of the most common elements of success specifically in today’s new Amazon-impacted world. Unfortunately, if you get side-tracked with too much analysis, too much debate, and discussion on team objectives, too many conflicts over resources and the like, you slow down progress. Yet in today’s world, customers expect immediate service, 24/7 accessibility and quick access to the required information. If you are missing speed, you will be passed up by your competition driving in the fast lane!
  • Communication: This almost goes without saying as communication, communication, communication is as critical as “location, location, location” in real estate. Not only does the project team need to know why they are focusing on the project, who owns which task, with whom they should interact and collaborate in order to be successful, and to whom they should hand-off as the next critical path task, but they need to communicate with all related parties frequently. These should include the project sponsor, managers who need to support their efforts with resources and in communications, etc.

I’ve found these types of trends to be a strong indicator for success. Thus, make a deliberate effort to create your next project with these success traits, and I have no doubt you’ll be delighted with your project outcomes. Give it a shot and report back with your struggles and successes. Building on strengths and success is the best way to breed success.

Did you like this article? Continue reading on how to become a Systems Pragmatist:

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Keys to Successful Growth

April 29th, 2016
successful growth

Though gratifying, periods of business growth can be the most challenging to manage. The keys to successfully manage growth are people, simple project timelines and follow-up.

My clients across all manufacturing and distribution-related industries ranging from small, family-owned businesses to multi-billion dollar corporations have one item in common – growth. 

More than 80% are experiencing relatively substantial growth while the remaining 20% are muddling along with slight growth figures. When companies grow, projects can become even more critical. Cash is needed to fund growth. Customer service must remain intact, even though it can be more challenging to succeed during periods of significant growth. Profitability needs to continue to grow to support the growth and to leverage assets. Keeping up with the people requirements can be a challenge. Thus, we need to be stronger in periods of growth to ensure success. I’ve found that the key to success is to get back to the core: 1) Start with people. 2) Develop a simple project timeline. 3) Follow-up is vital.

  1. Start with people –The project leader is number one to whether your project will deliver the expected results. Your team is a close number two. Unfortunately, I often see project leaders and teams come up in the last position. In these cases, people are an after-thought. Often, the issue is that everyone has full-time jobs to do already. And, in times of growth, most top quality potential project leaders are already maxed out.

As a former VP of Operations, I fully understand this dilemma. Instead of assigning those who are available to what could be a project that could have far-reaching impacts that add up much faster than you’d ever think ($500,000 – $1,000,000 isn’t uncommon) and directly impact key customers, take a step back and think about the best person to lead the project. There are countless ways to handle the talent shortage, so don’t let these challenges dictate your decision. For example, you could reallocate work, bring in outside help, or provide tools to support the team. Don’t let this be an excuse for not staffing your critical project properly.

The project leader doesn’t have to be a full-time resource – it all depends on the project. And, do not get caught up in thinking that your project leader has to be a guru in creating complex project timelines, as it has little to do with success. Instead, ensure that your project leader has the leadership skills and experience to effectively lead the project team, collaborate with all related parties, and is organized and focused on the project outcomes/results. In my experience with multiple $1 million+ successful projects, this is will make or break success.

  1. Develop a simple project timeline– There is no need for complex project timelines that require a complicated software program to develop and a Ph.D. to understand. Instead, develop an understandable timeline with major milestones and accountabilities. Keeping it simple works!

In working on countless projects over the years, I’ve found the critical aspects of the timeline to be the following: 1) clarifying the key dependent tasks; 2) the critical path milestones; 3) clear, agreed-upon ownership and accountabilities. It is amazing how many times I’ve seen the timeline fall apart either by focusing on non-critical path tasks to the detriment of the critical path tasks or due to a lack of clarity about the accountabilities. An easy yet effective rule of thumb is that a team cannot own a task. Instead, assign the task to one task owner. This owner can coordinate with as many participants as needed to get the task done; however, there should be one, ultimate owner who is accountable.

  1. Follow-up is vital –Undoubtedly, my number one secret weapon to achieving success on-time, on-budget, and on-results on wide-ranging projects consistently is follow-up. This seemingly simple yet often overlooked action achieves amazing results. Does your project leader follow-up?

What are the keys to success with follow-up? And when should you follow-up? Follow-up with your project team on critical path milestones. Start by making sure they are clear and accountabilities are established.  Then, follow-up on critical path tasks and milestones just prior to the start of the task. Do what makes sense.  If resources are required, follow-up so that you have enough time to work through potential issues so that they can start on-time.  Do not waste time on non-critical path tasks, as they will become a major distraction to the detriment of the critical path. Keep the team focused on the critical path. Remind critical path task owners when their deadlines are approaching. Ask if they have questions, concerns, roadblocks, etc. Don’t wait until the project falls behind. Instead, proactively follow-up to ensure the critical path stays on schedule.

Aggressively tackle any roadblocks in the way of achieving the critical path. Encourage, appreciate and thank the project task owners. Remind them how their task fits into the big picture and how the project’s outcomes are of value to the organization. Follow-up on critical finances. Don’t get lost in a debate over a few dollars. However, be extremely vigilant on the critical expenditures and those related to the critical path.

Every executive wants to continue to grow.  Thus, they need projects to deliver results on-time and on-budget.  Instead of getting bogged down in the latest, complex project planning software and process, continually follow these three key steps, and you’ll achieve significant project results – and grow your business.

 

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ERP Implementation Stars

October 14th, 2013
Acknowledge your ERP implementation project leaders for their ability to manage multiple moving parts.

Acknowledge your ERP implementation project leaders for their ability to manage multiple moving parts.

I’ve found that successful ERP implementation project leaders are unsung heroes as few supply chain executives could or should understand the thousands of moving parts and critical elements to achieving success.

What are a few of these key elements?

1.      Start with a goal – What are you expecting your system to do? Hopefully you are not expecting jumping jacks through rings of fire – outrageous? No. Because of the number of moving parts, it is a challenge to grasp; thus, it is incumbent on us to boil it down and gain clarity.

2.       Develop a roadmap – No point jumping into training and debates on how to set up key functionality if you haven’t developed a roadmap. How will you get from here to there? How will your processes change? What are the impacts?

3.       Think design – Design is a critical element when it comes to integrating the logistics process and system into a sustainable solution going forward. Ask design experts for help as it requires someone who sees connections and down-the-line impacts that most don’t.

4.       Focus on critical requirements – The critical requirements that have the most impact on your business from a systems perspective (what’s unique to your industry or business from a systems perspective or something that is a competitive differentiator) should gain the majority of your focus.

5.       Celebrate your project management gurus – The rest is a continual planning, assessment, redesign, metric tracking and follow-up on the critical path timeline. Organization, follow-up, leadership skills are a must. Appreciate that these unsung qualities will make or break your success.

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