Published in “Project Times” website, July, 2011
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Project management has become an urgent priority! In the last few years, I’ve yet to see a client or talk with a business contact who hasn’t been concerned about achieving the results of key projects – on time, on budget and on target with expected results. Undoubtedly, there has never been a more important time than today’s new normal business environment to deliver project results – increase revenues, decrease costs, partner with customers, etc.
Gone are the days of the last decade when we saw examples of 10% sales growth achieved solely by picking up the phone. Unemployment levels remain high and there are limited opportunities for growth. Who knew business executives could be so excited over 1% growth? If that wasn’t enough, customers’ expectations are elevated (suddenly, they want more for less too) and resources are scarce. Thus, the time to deliver successful projects is now!
In my 20 years of experience as both a former VP of Operations of a mid-market manufacturer and as a business consultant and entrepreneur, I’ve led and participated with hundreds of project teams across multiple industries, multiple business functions and globally. Those companies who have been successful utilize many of the same tactics. The top tips include: 1) Form a team. 2) Remove the slack. 3) Focus on the critical path. 4) Celebrate “small wins”. 5) Follow-up!
- Form a team: Although this seems obvious, it is rarely achieved. The definition of a team is a group of people working together with a common goal. If one person on a team can succeed while the others fail, it is not a team. You’ll dramatically increase your chances of success with a true project team.
- Remove the slack: Estimate the time to complete tasks aggressively. This might seem counter intuitive to those that want to make sure they are successful (accomplish tasks on time). However, for example, if you have 30 tasks and every person adds a cushion to their task time, is it possible the project could take 4 or 10 times longer than it should? Definitely! If you have 5 days to complete a task that could be completed in 1 day, does the extra time yield better results? No. I’ve found that people usually start working on the task on day 4.
Instead, it is important to make reasonable estimates of time and stick to them. Why is this important to larger topics such as profit/ competitiveness? As an example, let’s assume that you are on a project team to reduce lead-time to customers from 10 days to 5 days, and that your competition delivers in 6 days. Do you think it will make a difference if this project is completed in 3 months vs. a year?
- Focus on the critical path: It is easy to get buried in the details of a million tasks within a project plan. Instead, find out which tasks are on the critical path (they must be completed before another task can begin and it is a task that is required for the project to be considered a success). Typically, it will be a small fraction of the total tasks. Then, as a project leader, focus and follow up on only those tasks. Suddenly, you have rigorous attention on your priorities.
- Celebrate “small wins”: Don’t wait for the end of the project. Celebrate successes along the way, especially those on the critical path. This will help keep the team focused and working as a team.
- Follow-up: Last but not least, follow-up. Proactively remind project team members of upcoming tasks on the critical path. Make sure roadblocks are removed. Ask about potential issues. Value progress.
As projects are a priority for every organization, it makes sense to evaluate what will ensure success. In the new normal, it is even more critical as organizations are struggling to grow market share. Try a few proven tips, and project results will follow.