Quite often, as a matter of fact. It’s a major default option when success is not consciously chosen. Take a good look at projects of your experience.
We choose success when we specify a clear outcome, make it a firm intention, talk about what it means – then support it with practical planning and execution.
Choosing failure is an easy slide in the other direction. We may not realize we are guaranteeing some measure of failure when we decide or agree to accomplish something . . . and then don’t immediately press the “Start” button.
When we really mean it, we act in two stages right after we decide:
First, establishing the project outcome and basic agreements with key
Then, executing with solid organization and relationship building,
You start with the finish, invoking the second of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Successful People:
“Begin with the end in mind.”
Regarding execution, management guru Peter Drucker said:
“Unless a decision has degenerated into work, it is not a decision; it
is at best a good intention.”
So we first get specific – very specific – about the outcome we want, then we get to work on it. That first real work after establishing the goal is thorough planning. Good intentions don’t get us anywhere, but aimless activity is just a waste of energy and resources.
Keeping the end in mind must continue throughout the process, not just at the beginning. That outcome description is the basis of benchmarking and early problem detection.
Every work package in the project action plan has its own concrete goal, plus benchmarks to evaluate progress. Risk management infuses the entire process.
All of it must support efficient, reliable implementation.
A handy project alert signal is the 10 percent rule. Once a work package variance in scope, schedule or budget exceeds 10 percent, that part of the Project Plan is beginning to fail.
To track performance that effectively, the work package plans must have adequate internal controls. You must be able to check actual results any time against the plan – and know how you’re doing. It can be difficult to stop a slide into serious deficit if internal controls are missing or inadequate.
If you’d never seen a project done properly, it’s hard to believe that it can be worthwhile to devote precious time to preparation and planning.
In the most typical poor performance, the waste is apparent but not tracked. We’re too busy, and what’s the point anyway? The truth, though, is that the time-quality-investment lost by erratic management is a multiple of what it would have taken to plan correctly in the first place.
But you do have to know how to do it.
The methods are not mysterious. Preparation is essential. The very first step is to review lessons learned from the last project like this one. But what if – as very frequently is the case – no lessons were learned?
That last project? We finished it and just hustled on to the next one. Don’t remember and don’t want to remember what went on back then.
So the first “innovation” may be to start lessons learned sessions during and at the closure of projects. Simple document formats targeted to each project phase can ease the process and amplify the value of the tracking information. It doesn’t take much to provide significant input to subsequent project planning.
Whether such historical material is available or not, there are prelaunch activities that are vital for a successful start.
The first is to ensure that you thoroughly understand just why this project is being mounted, what it is expected to produce. So you discuss every possible detail with the project sponsor.
This does two things: First, it develops and confirms a full sharing of information and expectations between you and your boss. Second, it establishes the personal relationship that will be an important asset as the project unfolds. You must maintain and strengthen this bond throughout the life of the project.
Your next priority is to make sure you are set up to recruit the best available people to be the leading members of your project team. These will be the people who will share your commitment to project success, and will extend it to other team members as they are added.
This recruitment matter can mean life or death for your project, and you want to have as much control over it as possible. You convince your sponsor (presumably a ranking executive in the sponsoring organization) to openly support you and your project.
That means all the functional department managers know that this project is important to the organization. Accordingly, those department heads are to provide you with the best talent at their disposal for work on your project.
As necessary, your sponsor will apply executive muscle in this regard.
Another major foundational matter is the launch of the project itself. Your core team is introduced to the project, and to each other, at a meeting that is planned very carefully.
Thorough preparation means the meeting will be informative and constructive. The purpose of the project is made very clear, and organizational executives are there to explain and underline its importance. The project manager exhibits professional and optimistic leadership. Initial assignments are clear and practical.
The message is clear: We’re on our way to a fine success.
Failure doesn’t come up. It’s not an option.
Question: When meetings are effective, what makes them so?
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