If there’s one consistent factor in all our business environments it’s change.
Nothing ever stays the same as we constantly review our products and services to keep us moving towards our strategic objectives. There is a constant demand to make sure we are offering the right services and value to our customers to meet their expectations.
Many bright ideas can come from these internal factors alone without having to think about all the external events going on that effect change in our business. I’m sure we can all think of one or two of those in recent history!
Bright ideas triggered from these areas can be very useful, others can be disastrous by burning our resources at great speed and not delivering much in return. It’s vital then we have some form of change management in place to capture these ideas, evaluate them and only deploy our precious and limited resources to the good ones.
Sometimes when I mention the term ‘Change Management’ our cognitive bias can lead us into thinking that its only for big business. While it’s true that large organizations will employ people full time to manage change, however the structure of portfolio, programme and project management is just as valid for the single person business. It’s a question of scale and appropriate application.
Portfolio and programme management is focused largely on the more strategic areas of our business and its application varies greatly depending on the organization. Projects however are used in all organizations of all sizes as they are the vehicles by which we deliver change into our environments.
It’s this area that I wanted to focus on in this article to try and give you a flavour of what’s involved when you have a bright idea for your business.
Is it worth it?
Sorry to break this to you but fairies do not deliver projects.
Writing an idea on a piece of paper and placing it under your pillow at night will not return you a fully completed project in the morning.
You will need to consume a level of resource to make this a reality, so the first phase of any change implementation is to consider whether this is a worthwhile and viable idea in the first place. It can be very easy to get sucked into the enthusiasm of having a wonderful idea that we propel ourselves at great speed into making it happen. Spare a little time up front to just think about it first.
As the fairies have refused to help, you will need people. It’s advisable to have at least two people involved in any project and these individuals should be involved from the very start once the idea has been created. No harm in also thinking about how many others will need be involved in the future as well and where will they come from. Can you handle this work internally or will you be looking to 3rd party suppliers for help? No need for detailed analysis at this point, just a general idea to see if its viable.
What will you need to deliver?
Not looking for detail though having your end goal defined at his point focuses your mind on what else you will need to do to get there. All you need at this point is a high-level understanding so you can determine a rough idea of the commitment needed to see if it’s worthwhile doing.
This doesn’t need huge amounts of analysis or massive reports, what you need to have is a rough idea of the time, cost, scope, quality, risks and benefits of the idea you’ve had. If it looks like you don’t have the time or the budget available, you can stop right here and move on to something more achievable. If it looks good, then you can move on to the next phase.
Success is built on firm foundations
Once again, beware the enthusiasm of racing off and grabbing your tools from the shed at this point. What you have now is a good rough idea of what’s needed to deliver the change, you need to dig a little deeper to see if there’s any hidden problems that are not obvious at first glance.
Come on, it’s an article about project management. How far did you think I would get before I had to mention planning?
Sir John Harvey-Jones once said, “Planning is an unnatural process; it is much more fun to do something. And the nicest thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise rather than being preceded by a period of worry and depression.”
It’s one of my favourite planning quotes and is a reworking of the more famous ‘Failing to plan is planning to fail’ quote credited to Benjamin Franklin.
A good plan will show you the direction you need to be moving in, vital when it comes to controlling the work necessary to deliver your change. Without a plan you have no control.
The project plan created now also indicates the time and cost needed to complete the work. It helps you identify the resources required and helps you to clarify the size and complexity of the team needed to complete the project.
Never underestimate the communication power of a plan. It is a great way of making sure that everyone involved around the project understands what’s going on by sharing the vision.
Building on the information you put together from earlier around what you are delivering, plus the time and cost information from your project plan its time to think whether this is a good thing for your business.
There are three main areas to consider;
- Desirable – Do you want this? Will it help you achieve a strategic goal? Are the levels of benefit sufficient to be wanted? You’ve now had the opportunity to define more clarity around what needs delivering and its impact on the business. Make sure its something you want.
- Viable – Resources will be consumed not only in the creation of the change but also in the running costs of any deliverables (how much are those printer cartridges?). Are the benefits returned sufficiently high enough to be worth the effort and costs involved in the capital spend and any ongoing revenue consequences. Also worthy of consideration at this point are any uncertainties or risks surrounding the project work and the deliverable in operation.
- Achievable – Can it be done? Do you have the resources required? Is it technically achievable? I remember working on a project that returned a fantastic level of benefit against the investment, however, the idea was probably 20 years ahead of what technology could deliver at that time, so we had to close the project early.
The rest of the guys in the band
I’ve highlighted the plan and the business case because I believe they are the most important considerations when it comes to deciding whether to commit any more resource on any projects.
There are other areas that also need approaching when executing the project though, these are Risk, Quality, Change and Communication.
Areas that are part of normal day to day business operation so hopefully will be familiar to you. We all have approaches to these areas in our businesses however when it comes to projects, we just need to consider how we are going to do them with this piece of work. Are you going to follow normal policy or deviate from it?
For example, I might be very risk averse in my day-to-day operation, but I might want to try something slightly riskier on the project to see if it works. If it all goes wrong the damage is limited to the project environment and isn’t exposing the rest of the business.
Its important to consider these areas as it all helps to build the foundation of what is to come next.
Are you ready? Get set, GO!
By now you should have a good idea of what’s required for the project to happen and how it will be achieved. The information you have is the foundation of what you are about to do, and good things come from solid foundations.
A decision can be made then about whether to commit to the rest of the project. It’s another opportunity before a significant commitment of resources is made because after this point you will start to deliver which is going to take effort and consume time and money.
I don’t know about you but when my Sunday dinner is ready and I’m about to start eating it I will have a plan, yeah, I know, I’m a project manager at heart!
I start with the meat, I can’t stand eating cold roast meat so that must be eaten first. Next, the vegetables. I do eat my vegetables mainly because I’m told they are good for me so I should eat these, but they are not my favourite. Which leaves the roast potatoes and Yorkshire pudding which are my real favourites on the whole plate. I also know they are probably not the best for me health wise so if I get to this point and I’m full I can leave them without feeling too guilty. They are my could haves.
Must, Should, Could and Won’t, don’t bother with the parsnips, they are never getting eaten!
It’s a technique called MoSCoW and is the basis of my delivery prioritisation.
Throughout this next phase of the project, deal with the work in bitesize stages so define achievable chunks of work that allow for regular reviews to ensure you should be carrying on.
Using your MoSCoW priority list, ensure that the Must criteria are delivered as they form the basic fitness for purpose of your project deliverable. If you can’t deliver a Must, you should revaluate the whole justification of the project and consider closing it early.
If you cannot deliver a Should criteria, you need to be aware of its impact as it will have a significant hit on your justification however, you will still have justification for the project.
Could have criteria are the nice to haves, the bells and whistles or exciters as some people call them. They can be dropped from the delivery without too much impact to the justification.
Won’t haves come in two categories, the absolute exclusions that will never form part of the project and the things you might consider bringing in if you have time and money to spare. Both categories are important in setting stakeholder expectations and avoiding the condition of ‘scope creep’ where things make their way onto the project unnoticed.
You made it. Well done!
Delivery has finished and you have a bright new shiny thing in your business.
Make sure you use it! Did that sound obvious?
I’m afraid to say that some projects I’ve worked on have had successful deliveries but hopeless benefit realisation because no one has used the deliverable. Projects deliver you a thing, its useless unless used. When you use it, the change is implemented which in turn will generate the benefits you wanted.
It is vitally important that at the end of project we make sure the operational side of the business uses your new deliverable.
You should look back at how the project performed, did it deliver on time, on budget, how much of the scope, quality levels, risks and benefit capability.
Learn lessons from the project and carry this forward onto future projects. Did you learn anything that could help other areas of the business?
Lastly, celebrate your success. Every project should have some form of closure whether it’s a personal reward or some form of group celebration. It’s important to mark the occasion so we can move forward with a sense of achievement that motivates us to do more in the future.