Four Keys to Driving Success in Project Performance
Written by Hal Feuchtwanger | January 10, 2019
Undertaking a major project that will improve how your company operates is an exciting endeavor. However, many of these initiatives fail because business leaders simply don’t understand or fully appreciate the associated challenges or potential pitfalls, particularly for large, transformative projects. Because this is a common occurrence when it comes to implementing supply chain technology, we believe it is worthwhile to provide a perspective detailing the critical components needed for project success.
In reviewing each area, it’s also essential to understand that project success isn’t dependent on any single element; achieving each one is important as part of the total effort. It’s also good to point out that these steps are relevant to any type of major company project, not just a technology initiative. However, we’re looking at these recommendations through the lens of technology given our area of expertise and the fact that so many major projects tend to be technology-driven.
1. Define a Clear Project Scope and Objectives
State the Business Value: There’s been a lot of scorched earth from IT projects because individuals and companies became enamored with technology but didn’t bother to quantify the business value. Sometimes it’s easy to identify where increased efficiency will impact headcount, or where shifting to a new transportation planning process will streamline costs. Other times, defining value may take an outside assessment to work through how things are done today and assess where additional efficiencies may lie. The larger the transformation project, the more important it is to quantify the value because the stakes are that much higher.
Engage Stakeholders: Gaining early buy-in from those who will be most impacted by the new system is a must. Top-down mandates where those whose work lives will truly change are set up to fail, because users feel their voices weren’t important enough to be heard. Once you identify the key stakeholders, let them know not only about the value of the new technology when it comes to the overall business, but also the personal value to them. They need to know how the solution will help them do their job better or more easily.
Remember It’s an Iterative Process: Unfortunately, it’s not possible to knock out a top-notch project plan over coffee. There are routinely many moving parts to a successful project endeavor, which means it needs to be iterative. The time spent upfront will pay dividends. Investing in adequate planning and scoping time will help you eliminate potential traps and identify opportunities. Thoughtful planning helps you consider all the variables while minimizing risks.
Contain Scope Creep: Particularly for larger projects, people often want to continue adding new components along the way. The sentiment is “If we’re already doing X, it makes sense to do Y while we’re at it.” Containment is key, and you need to limit influence from people outside the core project group. Minimizing scope creep is where the time spent defining your scope is important. This allows you to capture opportunities but not let those items impact timeline and budget if they’re ancillary.
Manage Adjustment Impacts: No matter how thoughtful your project plan, you’ll still need to make adjustments somewhere along the line. And you may want to incorporate proposed changes as long as you’re still able to manage the broader timeframe. You don’t want to jeopardize major milestones for modest adjustments with minimal impact relative to overall business value.
2. Establish Realistic Timelines and Milestones
Use a Logical Work Breakdown Structure (WBS): Many times, companies will look at a calendar and try to plan the project around expected busy times and spikes in the business. Unfortunately, this may force you to wedge your project into an unrealistic time frame. It’s important to develop milestones based on realistic timeframes and not artificially constrained dates. Your project may fail if it’s crammed into six months when it really will take nine months to do it right. Forcing the project into a condensed time frame can add risk and make you take shortcuts, ultimately causing missed milestones and unrealistic expectations. Creating a logical work breakdown structure means laying out the perfect scenario as a starting point and then breaking work into realistic chunks based on expected durations.
Define Dependencies and Constraints: Dependencies are steps in the project plan where task 1 has to be completed before task 2 can begin; they occur in a sequential order. Constraints can often involve resources, for example skilled IT personnel who cannot devote as many hours to your project as are truly needed. You have to respect other obligations when developing your plan. Supplementing internal teams is an area where 4SIGHT excels. We have the resources you need to augment your internal project group to get everything done on time and on budget.
Establish the Critical Path: The elements of your critical path must be achieved before further advancement can happen. These are typically milestone-level elements with significant dependencies or constraints with the greatest potential to threaten the project timeline. Your team should do everything within its power to make sure critical path elements are achieved as expected.
Gain Momentum from Early Successes: Remember that many of the people involved in your project already have full-time jobs (yourself included!). The team needs to believe in the project and stay motivated, which means it’s good to celebrate a completed milestone together as soon as possible. This milestone could be a low-risk task and doesn’t have to be a major victory, but it should build early success to demonstrate that the project is moving along, hitting milestones, and meeting expectations. Celebrating this early win is a good way to energize people and keep them focused and accountable.
3. Involve People with the Right Skills and Align the Project Team
Involve Cross-Functional Experts: In all likelihood, you’ll be bringing together a cross-functional group of IT, operations, administration, and other personnel. Everyone needs to come together to align on a set of project objectives critical to the initiative’s success. Each person will bring a different perspective to the table based on their area of expertise, which is highly valuable for a well-rounded project.
Define Project Roles: Particularly for large-scale projects, you not only need people with the right skills, but you also need them to comprehend the role they are playing in this new project team and how they’ll be expected to contribute. They have to understand their accountability and the inner workings of each role involved and the associated responsibilities.
Achieve Stakeholder Congruity: This gets at the very essence of the alignment goal—ensuring everyone has the same understanding of expectations, the business value of the project, and its scope. Having alignment means you’re marching forward as one entity.
Enforce Team Accountability: When projects go sideways, there tends to be a lot of finger-pointing that goes on. The entire team needs to feel accountable as a unit. Yes, individuals are on the hook to accomplish the tasks assigned to them, but they should also feel compelled to help fellow teammates if they need support. It goes back to the old adage that there’s no “I” in “team.”
4. Establish Effective Controls and Governance
Require Executive Engagement: For any project to succeed, senior leadership needs to step up and be fully involved. Not only does this help ensure accountability to defined tasks on a regular basis, but it also underscores the importance of the project to the business.
Build Effective Communications: Having a documented communications strategy can be very effective in laying out who’s saying what and when. A defined communications strategy also mitigates risk and helps stakeholders stay on track. Your plan will also establish the frequency of communications as far as recurring strategy and status meetings to keep everyone updated and apprised of potential issues. There should also be planned and ad hoc sub-team meetings to evaluate progress, outstanding tasks, and who will take on fixes. Weekly project status updates can document open issues, assign owners, and map out planned resolutions and completion dates. This way accountability is made public and people feel obligated to come through on their promises.
Detail Your Risk Management Strategy: Early understanding and identification of potential risks to the project is a must. With a risk management strategy in place you’ll proactively define potential issues and have a response detailed out, speeding the resolution. Quantifying the size of the risk is important. Some risks, such as losing key resources during seasonal peaks, can jeopardize the entire project. The strategy should be commensurate with the impact of the risk.
Plan for Change Management: Just as you need to define your communications and risk management strategies, looking at the impact of change and how to manage it is a big part of your success. Change is inherently disruptive for people, and many will resist it if they don’t understand why it’s happening. In some cases, they may even attempt to sabotage the project or slow its progress. Get these folks on board early and address their concerns using the benefits of the project. If you’re lucky, you’ll turn naysayers into project champions who share the vision with co-workers.
Filling in the Gaps
Now that you’ve reviewed the steps involved in a successful project, you may wonder whether you’ve got the internal resources needed to support your initiative. 4SIGHT specializes in running projects from establishing the business value to system evaluation/selection and all the way through to go-live. Rely on our decades of experience in helping leading organizations complete successful projects to greatly increase your chances of success.