If we were to sit down and create a chart of successful and unsuccessful projects, I can guarantee one thing: the projects where there was an investment in planning, even just a tiny fraction, far outperformed those where no planning was done at all.
Depending on the organization you are working with, the planning stage may be really extensive and involve multiple iterations of the overall plan. Government projects are notorious for planning stages that can last years, even decades in some cases, such as the recently announced 20-year, $6.5 billion project to turn Rochester, Minnesota, home of the Mayo Clinic, into a global medical-tourism destination.
It is likely that you aren’t going to have the luxury of having as prolonged a period for planning as a government body might, but the importance of structured planning shouldn’t be minimized.
Some Structure Is Critical
No matter what type of organization you’re in, the planning is really all about creating a structure for the project to operate in. In creating this structure, you are really only looking at accomplishing three simple tasks:
• Creating outcome based goals and objectives for the project.
• Building a framework so that the tasks and resources you use support these outcomes.
• Developing a plan for action steps that will support the vision of the project and the framework.
Let’s look at how to accomplish each of these in more detail.
Keep Your Focus On Outcomes
The goals and objectives you create for your project in the planning stage should be outcome-based. This is one of the most important points I can make to any project manager or leader. Above all else, focus your project on the outcomes you want to achieve.
In the government, projects often find themselves over budget, not on time, and completely out of scope because the procedures in these organizations have created an environment where there are too many non-key stakeholders that are given significant power to insert demands or requirements into a project.
Unfortunately, this creates many projects that just become checklists of features that don’t reflect or even hint at the outcomes that were desired when the project was initially dreamed up.
In the enterprise system, this same circumstance might play out because the person managing the project has been put in the position of having a stakeholder that wants to see certain features incorporated into a product or service because there are market demands or a competitor is doing something else.
In this case, the reactive nature can turn the project into something where the PM is attempting to check off requirements that a key stakeholder made…and, inevitably, the project isn’t as successful as it should be because there wasn’t enough consideration given to the outcomes or problem the project hopes to solve.
As a leader in your organization, you can keep outcomes at the forefront of your discussions with one simple action: Always ask every stakeholder what the outcome they hope to accomplish is. If a stakeholder asks for a feature, ask what this feature is going to add or how it is going to help the project achieve its desired outcome.
It might seem difficult, but in the long term it will put you in a stronger position to deliver a successful project.
To take it further: Check out Jennifer Bridges’ video on How to Manage Stakeholder Expectations.
Build a Framework
I don’t want to scare you because building a framework doesn’t have to be scary. In fact, building your framework can be as simple as setting an outcome-based goal so that you can ask your team simple questions to guide your decision making like:
• Does this activity support the project’s goals?
• Is it necessary?
• Is this the best action we can take or is there an easier or better way of doing this?
The key to a framework is you just need to have some sort of mechanism in place that enables you to make wise decisions about how you use your resources. And, this framework is meant to help spur you and your team to action.
Develop a Plan of Action
Here’s the place where it is very easy for a project and the project plan to get bogged down and lose steam, when it comes time to take action.
But like with the framework, an action plan doesn’t have to be very complex, and you don’t have to know every action you are going to take from the start of the project to the end. In fact, it is often good to have some flexibility included in your project thinking because you are going to learn new things about your project as it unfolds.
For your action plan, the simplest way to get started is by looking at the goals for your project and see if you can break it down into a series of outcomes and actions that will lead logically to the end result you desire.
Here’s the big takeaway: don’t be afraid of not knowing all the actions you need to take. You are really looking for a logical starting point and a series of 2 or 3 actionable steps that you can take to get the project moving in the right direction. Often, getting started is the most difficult part of any project, so finding just a few simple tasks that can kickoff the project can often give your projects the momentum they need to become real to you and your team.
Once you begin moving the project in the proper direction and your team gains momentum, you can go back and begin to use your framework and intelligent questions to guide your project towards next steps and success.
So while a government agency is looking to preserve and wisely invest tax payer money and an enterprise project is looking to maximize return on investment, both share the need to deliver in an effective manner. For you, by using a simplified framework, focusing on outcomes, and creating a plan to support the vision of the project, you can easily make decisions about how to move forward with a project.
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