Published in “Project Times” website, June, 2011
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In my 20 years of experience both as a former VP of Operations and a business consultant and entrepreneur, I’ve run across many different companies in different industries with different people, different processes and different systems, and yet they all typically have the same challenge – successful project management. There are too many priorities yet too little time!
Since project management typically cuts across functional departments, the projects typically are critical to the company’s sales revenues (such as a product line introduction or marketing initiative), operational costs (cost reduction projects, freight programs), cash flow (inventory reduction programs), or the profitability and/or business viability (merger, acquisition, new business opportunity, etc.). What could be a more important topic! Thus, how should we prioritize? A few top priorities include: 1) Define objectives & team. 2) Take the time to plan. 3) Execute
Define objectives & team: 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.
Take the time to plan: I’ve found that although most companies have good intentions to plan, it is rarely executed, due to other priorities and crises. Instead, it is key 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 other steps. You will now be ahead of the majority of companies – you have a plan!
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. Typically there are a few critical steps for success in the execution stage – the critical path, follow-up and 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, 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.
Projects can range widely in their scope and impact on the organization, so it is achievable to learn on a small project and expand with success. No matter your role in a project, you can begin to implement these priorities – and you’ll deliver bottom line results!