Published in “Project Times” website, August 21, 2015
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As easy as it seems to keep a well-planned project on-track, it isn’t! In working with hundreds of project teams over the course of my career, I’ve found that projects do not fail in formulation; they fail in execution. The best results follow those projects that are well-managed and kept on-track. Results are not just substantial in terms of monetary gain, but are also important to customer satisfaction and loyalty. In today’s Amazon-impacted marketplace, a leg up on the competition can be a vital competitive strategy. What are you doing to ensure success?
There are several powerful strategies to keeping a project on track. Some of the most impactful are as follows:
- It starts at the top: As with success overall, keeping your project on track starts at the top. Leaders can make or break success. Thus, selecting the best project manager is key to success. Of course, it is beneficial also to have the best project sponsors and executive support; however, the 80/20 of success is putting the right leader in place.
- Put time in upfront to understand the project plan: Although it is a common desire to jump into the project and start performing tasks, it is significantly more successful to take the time to develop a strong project plan. Make sure to coordinate with all relevant parties and incorporate input. Ask questions and consider potential issues. Be clear on your plan, and results will follow.
- Focus on the critical path: One of the secrets to success relates to focusing exclusively on the critical path. It is easy to get deterred on all the project plan tasks as they all seem important; however, the most successful projects consider the 80/20 as the critical path. In essence, the focus is on the tasks that are most likely to hold up the project from progressing at the optimal pace and those which are likely to impact whether results occur.
- Follow up with task owners: Following up with task owners can ensure success. I’ve found that a quick check in with task owners to remind them of upcoming tasks, especially critical path tasks, can be invaluable to making sure the owner is prepared to start on time and that they have the resources available to successfully complete the task. Ask if there are any concerns and work to address them prior to the start date.
- Embrace project supporters: Whether a project sponsor or a peer to the project team, project supporters are integral to project success. Identify project supporters and keep them in the loop. Make sure to provide information so that they understand how they help to contribute to the project success. Make it easy for them to support your project.
- Celebrate successes: An important part of any project is to celebrate small wins along the way. Don’t wait for the project to be completed to celebrate success. Success breeds success. Find people doing right. Look for indicators that the project is moving in the right direction. Recognize the progress and celebrate the contributions of the team.
- Simplify: Complex project plans do not deliver success. Contrary to popular opinion, I’ve found that more often than not, success stems from simplification. Simplify to the tasks required to deliver your end result. Avoid complexity. It will become easier for the team to understand and execute.
- Monitor metrics: Do not wait until the end to evaluate project success. Identify milestones. Keep an eye out for critical path milestones. Monitor progress towards these milestones. For the critical milestones, develop interim checkpoints so that you can monitor progress along the way. That way, you’ll have the opportunity to adjust as needed.
- Don’t take your eye off the prize – results: Although it is easy to get caught up in a maze of tasks and to-do’s, don’t take your eyes off of your desired end results. Keep them in mind and focus on those actions that will contribute specifically towards delivering end results.
- Communicate, communicate and communicate: Just as in real estate where location, location and location are the three most important attributes of a new house, communicate, communicate and communicate are the three most important attributes in keeping your project on track. If all team members, supporters, sponsors and other related parties are not aligned, the project is likely to veer off track.
Since executives count on projects to deliver the vast majority of improvements to company performance (such as growing the business, increasing margins, and accelerating cash flow), keeping the project on track is essential. Those who follow these ten strategies will succeed significantly more often than those who don’t. Why take a chance on what’s vital to business success?