Seven truths behind successful projects

SUITS THE C-SUITE By Robert D. Cojuangco

Business World (09/07/2015 – p.S1/2)

(Second of two parts)

In last week’s column, we talked about how company leaders use ‘projects’ as collective, structured efforts to move from an existing ‘as-is’ state to a more ideal ‘to-be’ condition. It is a means for a group of professionals to achieve key goals or resolve existing issues within the organization.

Successfully planning and implementing a project is, however, another matter. Based on empirical analysis of our portfolio of projects, we have identified certain key characteristics of successful projects. We have talked about the importance of defining and setting clear goals, setting the scope, deliverables and resources needed upfront, and project monitoring while maintaining flexibility in the face of unforeseen challenges. We will continue with the other three characteristics of successful projects.

KNOWLEDGE IS POWER, SHARE IT…. WITH THE RIGHT PEOPLE… AT THE RIGHT TIME

A good communication plan takes into consideration the information needed by all the stakeholders involved in the project to get their jobs done and when it is needed. Creating this plan starts with identifying all the people, groups or organizations that will be affected by the project. The project leader should then assess what information is relevant to which stakeholder at what time. The level of depth and breadth of this analysis is completely reliant on the type and complexity of the project being undertaken. Generally, clear and reliable communications will be critical to the people who will be heavily impacted by the project.

The communication plan should also detail the frequency of contact, the content and manner of each communique, and any planning or action steps that need to be tackled as a result of the communication. We take care to emphasize, however, that a communications plan cannot capture or control informal communications, which can potentially have a larger effect than formal communications. Given this, it is essential for the communications leader to anticipate and preempt informal communications by creating a strategic communications release schedule that covers all important bases.

ACHIEVE ONE EXECUTIVE VOICE

Securing executive level buy-in is a key activity that has a very strong correlation to project success. Strong buy-in from management can compensate for rough implementation plans, but the best plan will still fail if the top executives do not speak with a unified voice. It is therefore advisable to champion the benefits of the project to all major executives and win them over before the project kicks off. Having these executive level people speak with one voice makes it easier to convince the rest of the people affected by the project that the change is worth it. In the worst case, they may likely just defer to leadership, accept the project as inevitable, and submit to the change with good grace. The upside however is that people who believe in what they are doing are imbued with a sense of purpose, a feeling that what they are doing is meaningful and important. While it is easy to get caught up in the rhetoric of “purpose,” the strength of people who feel that what they do matters is undeniable.

IT’S ABOUT THE PEOPLE

Successful project delivery boils down to the quality and competency fit of the people doing the work. All the other six truths are linked to this singular truth. The first step in putting the right people on the project is identifying the core competencies and skills needed to perform the tasks identified in the action plan. Frequently, in assigning a project manager and relevant personnel to a particular project, there is a tendency to choose people who happen to be available, with the “accidental project manager” a common occurrence. That said, being “accidentally” involved in a project should not have any bearing on the capability of achieving the project’s goals. Rather the question should be: Do they have the requisite competency and skills that are fit for the purpose?

Taking a step back and identifying the skills needed to perform the planned tasks should be the first step to identifying the right people to involve in project delivery. The next step may be to consider an adaption of the Build, Buy or Borrow (Capron and Mitchell, 2012) framework, where the path to growth is evaluated on the basis of whether what is needed to grow can be built using the company’s existing resources (BUILD), or can it obtain the resources by fostering a relationship with a resource partner (BORROW), or will this skill set be continually needed such that the company can gain greater benefits by acquiring, hiring or bringing the resource in-house (BUY).

It is only after the project initiator has understood the requirements, assessed existing capabilities and explored external possibilities that he or she can start putting names to the people who will be responsible for the project. It is good to keep in mind that people who have shown competence and skill in performing their roles in “business as usual” environments may not be able to replicate the same level of mastery in a project setting. Care needs to be taken to match the “horse to the course” as much as possible.

A WAY TO MAKE THINGS BETTER

Putting these seven truths into context indicate that having a structured approach to project planning and implementation can increase the chances of success. By starting each phase of the project with a better question, the team can get a better answer. From these answers, the team will be poised to know more about the solutions they need to deploy. It is in this simple iterative process where we will find the solutions that make our projects succeed.

Robert D. Cojuangco is a Senior Director for Advisory Services of SGV & Co.