We all believe we can multitask. We can’t. See this simple test and article explaining why. Link.
That’s the first “landscape” point I want to make. The second point to make is that it’s much easier collecting related actions around themes. Let’s take a few examples. Integrating an acquisition successfully requires a range of hard and soft skills. But trying to tackle it as a long list won’t work. You need to identify the areas of integration e.g. strategic planning, sales, marketing, product road maps, HR & culture etc. You build lists that were influenced by the due diligence as well as protocols you know work in the acquirer. Each theme will have different timetables and each action within each theme will have different deadlines e.g. 30,60,90,120 day plans. Finally, it’s not possible to do everything. We need to prioritize based on our strategic objectives.
This is the essence of great execution to drive progress. Identify the projects that move the dial and break it down into relevant and aligned actions. Focus on those projects one at a time. You can work on 10 projects in a day but focus on one at a time. Now the detail. Why do some projects succeed and others fail? I’ve tried so many ways to get projects over the line and failed (OK not that often) that I’ve created a recipe for success. Here is a list of success factors that help change the odds in your favor.
Project Management Checklist
Project Definition & Set Up
- We need to step back before diving in. The CEO needs to call the projects that are key. The projects that will move the dial. You can’t do them all. Examples? Executing an acquisition strategy, launching a new service line, creating an internal university to build an internal training system, transforming your recruiting process, building a new board structure, transforming the marketing storytelling, and the list goes on. The prioritization needs to come from the top. Each project requires a set up stage. The leadership team meets to discuss one problem chosen by the CEO.
- Set Up agenda:
- What is the link to strategy and how does it align to the strategic plan?
- What are the issues to solve?
- Who is going to lead, who is in the team and what needs to happen?
- What resources do we need and what is the ROI?
- What is the timetable to success?
- What are the abort criteria?
Project Success Tips
- How does this project link to the strategic plan? If it can’t pass this test, it can’t be an essential project. Where management spends its time is an investment decision. Make your time count. And don’t get confused with small projects not having a big impact. In turning around a software business in a previous life, we changed many small important things in sales, marketing and metrics building, which had a huge impact on clarity and decision making. Of course to be able to prioritize operational projects you must have done a strategic plan!
- Issues to solve – the scoping session. This is key to finding a path to success. Last year we operationalized a specific pain point for a client – how to train the customer on the technology. In this case, it was a materials testing machine with robotic software. White board all the issues. Get them written down. Don’t think about how to solve them. Just scope them out. It’s amazing how stress relieving this process can be. This will show you the size of the problem and leads seamlessly into the other discussions.
- Who is going to lead and what granular actions need to be executed? Bandwidth is always a struggle but unless there is ownership within the management team, the project will die. That owner has total jurisdiction on that project. He or she is allowed to ask the CEO to be a member of the solutions team if it is appropriate. The leader of the project is the boss. The organization chart has no relevance inside the walls of a project team. The only agenda that matters is determined by the Project Manager(PM) of that project. And it’s all about getting the right stuff done. Because you’ve scoped out the issues, you should have a good idea of who to allocate to each action and how to manage them. The PM needs to assemble his team and disclose the first version of this granular roadmap. What has he missed? What needs to happen first? Where are the dependencies? Who owns each action? For example, this is the main hurdle when companies go on the acquisition trail. They don’t think through the problem of managing all the people involved in the process. Often these people have “day” jobs and that has to be recognized, as they are allocated to these special projects. Once the team is established, processes can be agreed to measure progress and feedback to the leadership team.
- What resources do we need & what is the expected ROI? It’s not just about people. Budgets, systems and measurement need to be built into the thinking. What gets measured gets done. Do you require external help to get the job done, extra equipment, software, facilities etc? How will you measure the Return on Investment? How will you know you’ve succeeded. How many people actually measure the success of their acquisitions, their new Capex, and their product roll out?
- What is the timetable? What milestones are we setting? What are our 30-day, 60-day, 90-day objectives? Are some activities sequential? Can some activities be run in parallel? Are we being realistic given our total workload? Does the team own the deadlines?
- Abort criteria. In launching a new magazine division many years ago in Thomson, the publishing giant, the management team were adamant that abort criteria were set up in advance. If sales targets were missed in three consecutive quarters or cash expenditures exceeded certain maximums, the project was to be aborted. They weren’t needed but it was close. Once projects kick off, the emotional attachment builds and giving up gets confused. Bad analogies with sport are used and it’s tears before bedtime! I’ve specifically seen software groups spend millions of dollars on new product lines that were years past their abort dates.
- Sell to employees the fact the project is key to the success of the company. Give participants a greater purpose than themselves. Give them a cause worth fighting for. A competitive cause!
- Share the results of achievement. Give instant feedback. What gets measured gets done.
- Quote independent research if possible to validate the need for the project,
- Praise often in public. Criticize only when necessary, and then only in private. Culture is a corollary of actions, it’s not a verb.
- Project managers need to chair regular review meetings where time is focused on bottlenecks, issues stopping progress.
- Clarity around task ownership is key.
- Most projects are interdependent on other projects, so ensure that a decision maker is chairing a meeting of all project managers to ensure common issues are resolved. e.g. in an acquisition integration project there will overlap between finance objectives and sales objectives around sales pipeline management.
- Always keep the mood light but focused.
- Allow feedback from any member of the team not just the Project Manager.
- Find the software platform that works for you to share updates in real time. Dropbox, and Basecamp are good examples of collaboration software.
- Think about how you will measure the velocity of your project – here’s a little concept that might be relevant to your project. Link.
- Post-mortems. Always perform a project post-mortem. Research is clear on this. It’s not the volume of projects completed that makes a team successful. It will always be about what the team has learned from their experience that builds mastery.
Clearly, it’s not possible to cover the complete project management landscape in a short blog post but I hope this checklist helps to set you up for success.