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How Can We Avoid Project Disasters?

FEATUREJuly18thAlthough I consult with clients globally on how to improve operational performance, I find the 80/20 of achieving bottom line business results traces back to a series of successful project/ program rollouts.  Thus, it is paramount I help my clients avoid and leap past potential project rollout disasters.  After all, it’s unlikely I’ll be referred to future clients even if I have a brilliant idea if it crashes and burns in rollout.

Of course, there are endless potential rollout pitfalls and disasters as 80% of projects fail to achieve the desired results in the rollout phase.  The key to avoiding rollout disaster is to prioritize and focus attention solely on the most likely and top causes of failure to ensure a smooth rollout. No one can avoid 1000 pitfalls on the same day!  Thus, a few of the top rollout disasters include:  1) Assumed the setup.  2) Forgot questions.  3) Won’t address sacred cows.

  1. Assumed the setup:  In my 20+ years of experience across multiple industries, I’ve found it is easy to assume that the project is clear and understood by all relevant parties yet it is rarely true.  This is akin to starting off on the wrong foot and wasting all sorts of time to re-do what would have been easy if done upfront.

    One way to avoid this disaster is to integrate setup time into your project kick-off and plan.  Make sure to go into significant detail with the project team members.  They should fully understand not only what is required for the project but also why it’s of value and how they will specifically add value to the project.  Explain how the project aligns with the company’s strategy and objectives.  How does it fit in with other priorities?  What potential conflicts might arise?  How will they be addressed?  Who is the sponsor to help tackle roadblocks which are beyond the span of control of the project leader?

    Beyond these basics, it is also essential that related functional departments and project suppliers and customers are in the loop.  Do they understand their role?  Do they know why their role is of value?  How can they bring up ideas and/or issues?  This does NOT have to be done with rigid project charters and documentation in order to achieve success.  What is critical is that the communications occur and are continually reinforced.

  2. Forgot questions:  Undoubtedly, the exceptional project leaders ask effective questions.  A project leader doesn’t have to know everything.  Even the project team doesn’t have to know everything.  Instead, what “works’ is to ask good questions.  I’ve recently realized that asking good questions isn’t as easy as it sounds.  It’s important to understand enough of the technical aspects to be able to ask intelligent questions yet you need to have enough of a presence and communications ability to be respected. Otherwise, you’ll quickly be a project team of one!

    Asking questions is essential to the rollout as they are the key to avoiding pitfalls.  Ask what critical path tasks are likely to cause issues elsewhere in the organization.  Ask how we can address those likely occurrences successfully.  Ask whether the task owner is ready for the upcoming start date.  Ask whether there is any support/ resources required to ensure success.  Ask how the tasks interrelate.  Which resources might be overloaded?  How can you avoid the likely delay?

  3. Won’t address sacred cows:  How often do we know the roadblock that will arise but prefer to hide under a bush and hope it doesn’t occur?  In my experience, 80% of the time.  The 20% of project leaders and teams who are willing to proactively address the sacred cows achieve far greater success than the rest.

    Of course it isn’t comfortable. It will get us in the line of fire and conflict. It might be a career-limiting move to proactively address the issue which will impact success.  No wonder we prefer to hide!  However, I find that even in these cases, if it is addressed upfront (early into the project and/or as soon as it is identified), it has a much greater chance to minimize any of these harmful effects yet it offers the best chance for resolution.  Find your best communicators and experts in how to handle the impacted parties, and leverage their expertise in developing a plan to proactively address.  Have courage and address in a respectful manner.

    Since these issues are rarely addressed, often times, if you did nothing else, you’d be successful just avoiding this pitfall.

Those companies that rollout projects successfully will leapfrog their competition in today’s new normal business environment.  Small wins can be the difference between success and failure; thus, gaining an edge in an area that will deliver business results can be all it takes to put you on top!

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