Project or No Project? Tips for Success in difficult times

The disruption of the past few years has meant many organisations have had to address the immediately critical issues. There could be enormous strategic questions around people, technology, cost base, market change and new ways of working.

With no guarantees for a smoother future imminantly, you need to sharpen your change portfolio to make sure you are focusing on the top projects, worth doing now, to get ahead.

Project health check tool

In this blog, we offer some tips for COOs and project and transformation leaders to give them the tools to improve and engage with their leadership teams to ensure critical projects are (1) understood across stakeholders and (2) set up for success.

It is more than 25 years since Eddie Obeng (ref 1) offered some salient advice in this area: ‘change is only to be undertaken under extreme need’. We think it’s clear that most organisations have ticked that box in recent times, but the key is knowing what type of projects you have, if they are worth doing and how do you best approach the changes required?

You can get very complex about transformation projects and programmes and talk about different methodologies and approaches and put things into technical jargon and acronyms but projects (as Obeng identified all those years ago) generally boil down to 4 types. It really is as simple as that!

Indeed, it’s so simple it’s worth thinking this through for your portfolio:

Type Project Essence of Change Success Drivers
1 Lost in the Fog Doing something not attempted before One Step at a Time approach
2 Making a Movie You are sure of the how but not what needs to be done Less focus on the planning and more on ‘the script’
3 Going on a Quest You know what needs to be done but are unsure of how to achieve it Work collaboratively, generate ideas and align as a team
4 Painting By Numbers A repeated change where you have prior experience Find better ways and innovate to improve

It’s likely that in your set of projects you have some that fall into several of these types. A good start to get alignment with stakeholders is to run a rapid health check and split your transformation projects out. From this, you can review your portfolio’s balance and think about how you mitigate risks. If your portfolio’s balance is appropriate, consider what changes to your skills and capabilities are required for successfully delivering the changes needed. It is a fair assumption that with rapidly changing external factors, such as uncertainty surrounding the economy, the business’s capacity to take on change and the capabilities needed may have changed recently. Again, this is a critical area for COOs and leadership teams to review and re-set their strategy for change.

3 hot tips to shape success:

  1. You are going to have some ‘lost in the fog’ projects if you are implementing changes to work in ways you haven’t done before. These are scary, exciting, worrying for the team and a roller coaster. Break the changes down and closely govern. Get your best project leaders to lead. Focus on solutions to risks and issues with a strong PMO (Project Management Office) to support. Keep visibility high with key sponsors, ensure your team members are fully focused on the project and be prepared to take pro-active measures to support them.
  1. Ensure your collaboration is better than it was when you were all ‘in the office’. All successful projects demand good communications and working together to share ideas, report progress and address issues. How can you do this using technology to its maximum without team members being in a stream of meetings daily? Remember that even if they are on new platforms, they are still in meetings! – Teams, Zoom, Webex… etc.. Agree on an approach, engage the team, work closely with third parties to get the best from them and ensure the plan is adhered to so you escape the hell of ‘project by back to back meetings’ and no ‘doing time’.
  1. ‘Painting by numbers’ are your banker projects and are an opportunity for focused management, leveraging external support and driving performance to maximise the benefits return. Look at flexible resourcing options and performance-driven goals. Set up and keep proper oversight and think benefits, benefits, benefits – what, when and faster.

Different types of projects require different measures to set them up for success. Projects can be simple, but so often, success gets lost – the trick here is to start with high-value conversations to ensure this does not happen for your portfolio.

COOs and project leaders have an opportunity now to review their transformation projects, decide if projects continue and critically, how to lead different kinds of projects best. It is this strategy for transformation than can set it up for success ahead of wave 2 and beyond.

For more information on reviewing your portfolio and ensuring project success, please contact us here.

Ref 1: The Project Leader’s Secret Handbook – Eddie Obeng, 1994, Financial Times

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