Capabilities Assessment to Improve Project Success Rates
Process is at the core of any business. It makes work predictable, repeatable, and transferable. Without it we cannot scale our businesses. However, process can be a bane to making progress. Processes that work for a $10 million company have difficulties supporting a $30 million company. Trying to scale them to a $300 million company will not only fail but not address the issues that larger companies have that were never dreamt of in a smaller organization. Processes need to be discarded, revamped, and built—all of that without creating an overburdening bureaucracy.
Anytime you need to go someplace, you first have to know where you are. Processes are never static and your company's current state is probably far from where you think it is. Hence, the first step is mapping out you company's current state followed by defining the future state. This is more than a logical map of the process; it must also include physical maps. Whether your process is solely to provide a service (say, website development) or physical (say, manufacturing) there are logistical issues that complicate the process flow. Without fully understanding those nuances, future state processes will not reach the desired efficiencies.
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As they say in the army, never volunteer. Nowhere could that be truer than when it comes to project sponsorship. Given a choice between a root canal and project sponsorship, most managers and executives start looking up dentists on the internet. It is a sad fact—one that project managers must deal with on a daily basis. It is often the project manager’s first solid opportunity to lead up.
Recently I received the book Strategies for Project Sponsorship by Vicki James, Ron Rosenhead, and Peter Taylor, all good friends of mine and trustworthy twitter contributors. It took a while for the book to trickle “up” to the top of my stack; however, when it did I was more than impressed.
The two most common project attributes that raise the red flag are cost and timeline problems. Both are easily measured and inextricable intertwined. As the timeline extends, there is a commensurate increase in cost; similarly, as cost goes up (usually from increased scope) the timeline increases. However, time is different. Benjamin Franklin said it best, "You may delay, but time will not." Work can stop work (controlling the burn rate) and extraneous features can be removed (decreasing the required work), but time marches on. We cannot control time. Although intuitively obvious, the concept seems to escape a large number of managers and executives.
Are there any ethics in business today? Time and again, headlines proclaim where companies and leaders have gone astray. You cannot help but wonder what our fellow humans will do next. Men and women in search of money, power, fame, or all three, decide they are exempt from the rules and social norms the rest of us struggle to follow. It boggles the mind. Unethical, however, is just a waypoint in the spectrum from truth to criminal. Face it, we are all liars. It may be telling our children about Santa Claus, portraying our speed to the policeman, covering up a politician's extramarital affair, or promising fortunes through investments in Ponzi products. Deceit is everywhere.
I have written about, spoke on, and lobbied against blame. Regardless, it just seems like a bottomless pit of contention, conversation, and criticism. People fail to see how to correct a crisis without hastily pointing fingers at failure's first sight. Yet, in the next breath they claim accusations serve no purpose as they attempt to sidestep the fate of blame's gauntlet. We can talk about how we should solve the issues rather than going on the proverbial witch-hunt to find the individual, group, or organization who we think should be burned at the stake and wear the corporate tattoo of failure. Why do we need this and what does it achieve?
Every project has its heroes. I am not talking about the pompous grandstanders selfishly getting their fingers into every process in order to gain fame. I am talking about the people that really get the work done. Toiling tirelessly to complete their tasks and move the project forward. Below is a profile of seven of them. I have chosen them because they represent agility, communication, responsiveness, and cooperation. These are the traits discussed in my last article.
Few would question that executives are responsible for ensuring projects are aligned with the corporate strategy. They also need to ensure these initiatives remain in line with these goals as business conditions change. To achieve this, they have to be engaged with the project when it starts and maintain that context throughout its life cycle. This requires more than ensuring the project maintains its scope, schedule, and budget; projects must deliver value. Too many projects start with the inspirational support of upper management, but as the project (or company) drifts, the executives have long since disengaged from the project and are unable to straighten out the misalignment. This wastes company resources and hinders the company's ability to deliver.
Walking onto red projects, anyone can see and feel the problems. The bedraggled team wears the pain with their long faces and the slumped shoulders. Knuckle draggers. They are carrying the weight of the world, or at least the project, on their shoulders. How can any project succeed with these demoralized, denigrated, and defeated folks? Their spirits are far from lifted with new project manager's enthusiastic optimism. It only irritates a team wallowing in their misery. Nothing is worse than a chipper cheerleader when you are absorbed in troubles. It is an ugly situation.
Vision, honesty, and transparency: three key traits of an organization that can guarantee project success. This was summed up in last week's interview with Tom Cox, the host of Blog Talk Radio's Tom on Leadership program. His audience, primarily from the C-Suite, is keen to understand how troubled projects are a reflection of their organization's overall health. Projects are, after all, the proverbial canaries in our organization's coalmine. Projects stop performing because there is trouble in the organization.
A couple weeks ago, I was in eating my pre-keynote dinner with a group of people that I had never met. Without being prompted by some general drift in the conversation, a person across that table said, to no one in particular, "Did you hear about the new app to do confessional?" Being unfamiliar with the group, how was I to know if I was sitting with a group of high-tech Catholics that would think this was great. Besides trying to determine how to react, I was trying to envision how confessing with an iPod would have the same effect as sitting down with a priest. Of course, who am I, a fringe protestant, to make any editorial comment about Catholicism's inner workings? However, I finally blurted out, "What happened to accountability?"