Author: Lisa Anderson

Success or Failure? Collaboration is Key to Success






How important is collaboration to project success? Several years ago, it was important but not critical; however, within the last 5-10 years, it has become a cornerstone to success.

In today’s Amazon-impacted world, customers have higher expectations of rapid turnaround, 24/7 accessibility, and increased levels of service. These expectations drive complexity. Additionally, we are in a global economy. Executives are hard-pressed to find a product sourced solely from the country of origin. Most likely, at a minimum, your suppliers’ supplier will be from another country. On the customer side, typically, those who export grow sales more rapidly than those who don’t. The bottom line is that we are more interconnected than ever before; thus, collaboration is critical to success.

Although external collaborators are what we typically think of in a global, Amazon-impacted world, it is often just as important if not more important to consider your internal collaborators. Does your sales team talk with production? Does R&D talk with marketing? Does your Ohio location talk with your California location? Often times, different sites within the same country can be more collaboration challenged than when coordinating with sites in other countries. How often have we heard the challenges in collaborating across the U.S. yet we seem to be able to coordinate across borders? Quite frequently! It is as if we are speaking a different language even though it might be the culture of the south vs. the hustle of New York or the laid-back nature of California.


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No matter whether we are collaborating across functions, sites or countries, these keys to success will give you an advantage:

  1. Provide background – Instead of jumping into a conversation and assuming your internal or external partner knows about the initiative, take the time to provide background information. Make sure they are comfortable with the topic and understand what you want to accomplish, why it is important, etc. If you are on the receiving end, make sure to ask questions. Starting on the same page makes all the difference in the world.
  2. Take a breath – This tip relates just as much to collaboration as it does to everyday communication. Do not run on for several minutes on a tangent without pausing to see if your audience is following along. Don’t assume the lack of questions is good news. Ask for confirmation that you are answering their questions and whether what you are saying makes sense.
  3. Build a framework together – What reason are you collaborating? Most likely you are working on an initiative together or need help or advice from the other person. Either way, build the framework together. Thus, if you are putting together a project plan, make sure to put it together with a give-and-take perspective. Suggest a place to start. Ask the other person where you should go next. Trade off consistently if you need a way to force yourself to remember to ensure fairness. If you have become more expert at collaboration, mix it up. Start with the first few tasks, if you are strong in those areas, and defer to the other person for the areas they are strong in. Build upon each other’s strengths.
  4. Compare resources – Another way to collaborate is to compare resources. For example, if you are rolling out a product, you could have internal and external resources involved in the project. Compare the resources of different team members vs. your objectives. Most likely, each person will be more successful supplying inputs and resources to the areas of the project within their capabilities and resources. It seems quite obvious; however it can often be an overlooked key to success. In the new product rollout, the engineering group is likely to have access to resources to optimize the production process whereas the logistics group will have more resources available to optimizing packaging. Match up resources with project plans.
  5. Share successes – Sharing in successes and creating opportunities for quick wins encourages collaboration. It is always a good idea to look for opportunities where you can turn 1 + 1 into 22 instead of 2. Collaboration will achieve 22!

Collaborating has emerged as vital to success for any project or major initiative. We must communicate internally among departments, facilities, and levels of the organization. That alone can put most companies over the edge. However, in today’s Amazon-impacted, global environment, we must collaborate externally as well. Customers, suppliers, supply chain partners and other business partners such as trusted advisors must come together and collaborate with a clear, shared objective to achieve dramatic business results.

Keys to Delegation Success

In today’s Amazon-impacted world, customers have higher expectations of rapid turnaround, 24/7 accessibility, and increased levels of service. These events have contributed to an information overloaded society.

Not only do we receive countless emails, texts, social media messages, marketing messages and the like, but we also are expected to be able to make sense of it all and execute projects successfully – on-time, on budget and on results. A tall order to be sure!

Survival seems challenging enough, let alone thriving in these sorts of conditions. In taking a step back from the details, it becomes clear that we must employ tools to increase our chances of success. And, of course, we’d like to make the process easier and clearer along the way. One option to achieve these goals is to delegate. Those who properly delegate will have more time to focus on critical priorities while keeping details moving in the right direction. A few tips that will help ensure success include:

1. Choose wisely – One of the keys to delegating successfully is to select the “right” tasks to delegate. Delegating away your strengths rarely achieves success, and it does nothing for morale. Typically, delegating your areas of weakness can be a good approach; however, it is vital to take a few precautionary steps. Gain expert advice in surrounding yourself with strong project team members and supporters. Leverage those strengths of your team members that happen to coincide with your weaknesses. Don’t waste time delegating “C” items. Ignore them. Every action requires effort. Focus your efforts on what’s most important. Delegate the next set of priorities as you’ll want to make sure those get accomplished. Think about “C” items when all else is done.

2. Empower – Don’t throw around the word empowerment lightly. It is the rare project manager who knows how to empower his/her team. It means you must start by being a great leader. Provide guidelines. Collaborate on goals. Address the hard issues. Encourage team members to try new ideas. Support them in their failures. Take responsibility for the problems and share successes. Give your project team the ability to make decisions within their guidelines with full knowledge that they’ll be supported no matter the result. Soon, your team members will feel empowered. Once they are empowered, delegation becomes more of a collaborative affair.


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3. Diversity – There are many different tasks required to ensure a successful outcome for a project team. In order to leverage your team members’ individual strengths while minimizing their weaknesses, you’ll need a diverse set of skills and people. Thus, you’ll have a much better chance of success in delegating the diverse types of tasks required if you have a broad set of skills in your team with a wide array of backgrounds. This will also stimulate ideas and debate which can encourage empowerment so long as the leader supports experimentation.

4. Core Metrics – Undoubtedly, no matter how effective you are in delegating, it will fall apart without core metrics in place. Work with your team to determine which critical milestones should be monitored. Develop leading metrics that will raise a red flag if the project is veering off-track. Put effort into making sure that the metrics selected will provide warnings in advance if needed. Don’t have too many metrics which become burdensome to track; instead, select the “right” few that will be indicators of success. Agree upon them with your team upfront.

5. Provide training & mentoring – In addition to delegating assignments, it is imperative that you take the time to accompany that task with the proper training and experiences to go with it. Mentoring can be valuable as well. Mentoring provides an example of someone who has “been there, done that” who is also an expert who is available for advice. By providing mentoring and/or helping your project team members find mentors in their area of expertise, you have, in effect, purchased insurance for your delegation. As anyone who has even been in an accident knows, insurance becomes invaluable when you need it.

Delegating project tasks has become a must in today’s new normal business environment. No leader has enough time to “do it all himself”, and no leader has the broad and diverse set of expertise required to be the ideal resource to handle every task. Instead, delegation provides not only a way to make sure the project gets done on time but it also adds to the quality of the result by leveraging team members’ strengths for the collective good.

Keys to Success for Growth

My clients across all manufacturing and distribution-related industries ranging from small, family-owned businesses to multi-billion dollar corporations have one item in common – growth. 

More than 80% are experiencing relatively substantial growth while the remaining 20% are muddling along with slight growth figures.  When companies grow, projects can become even more critical.  Cash is needed to fund growth.  Customer service must remain intact, even though it can be more challenging to succeed during periods of significant growth.  Profitability needs to continue to grow to support the growth and to leverage assets.  Keeping up with the people requirements can be a challenge.  Thus, we need to be stronger in periods of growth to ensure success.  I’ve found that the key to success is to get back to the core:  1) Start with people.  2) Develop a simple project timeline. 3) Follow-up is vital.

1.     Start with people – The project leader is number one to whether your project will deliver the expected results. Your team is a close number two.  Unfortunately, I often see project leaders and teams come up in the last position. In these cases, people are an after-thought. Often, the issue is that everyone has full-time jobs to do already.  And, in times of growth, most top quality potential project leaders are already maxed out.

As a former VP of Operations, I fully understand this dilemma. Instead of assigning those who are available to what could be a project that could have far-reaching impacts that add up much faster than you’d ever think ($500,000 – $1,000,000 isn’t uncommon) and directly impact key customers, take a step back and think about the best person to lead the project. There are countless ways to handle the talent shortage, so don’t let these challenges dictate your decision.  For example, you could reallocate work, bring in outside help, or provide tools to support the team.  Don’t let this be an excuse for not staffing your critical project properly.

The project leader doesn’t have to be a full-time resource – it all depends on the project. And, do not get caught up in thinking that your project leader has to be a guru in creating complex project timelines, as it has little to do with success. Instead, ensure that your project leader has the leadership skills and experience to effectively lead the project team, collaborate with all related parties, and is organized and focused on the project outcomes/results. In my experience with multiple $1 million+ successful projects, this is will make or break success.

2.     Develop a simple project timeline There is no need for complex project timelines that require a complicated software program to develop and a Ph.D. to understand. Instead, develop an understandable timeline with major milestones and accountabilities. Keeping it simple works!

In working on countless projects over the years, I’ve found the critical aspects of the timeline to be the following: 1) clarifying the key dependent tasks; 2) the critical path milestones; 3) clear, agreed-upon ownership and accountabilities. It is amazing how many times I’ve seen the timeline fall apart either by focusing on non-critical path tasks to the detriment of the critical path tasks or due to a lack of clarity about the accountabilities. An easy yet effective rule of thumb is that a team cannot own a task. Instead, assign the task to one task owner.  This owner can coordinate with as many participants as needed to get the task done; however, there should be one, ultimate owner who is accountable.

3.     Follow-up is vital – Undoubtedly, my number one secret weapon to achieving success on-time, on-budget, and on-results on wide-ranging projects consistently is follow-up. This seemingly simple yet often overlooked action achieves amazing results. Does your project leader follow-up?

What are the keys to success with follow-up? And when should you follow-up? Follow-up with your project team on critical path milestones.  Start by making sure they are clear and accountabilities are established.  Then, follow-up on critical path tasks and milestones just prior to the start of the task. Do what makes sense.  If resources are required, follow-up so that you have enough time to work through potential issues so that they can start on-time.  Do not waste time on non-critical path tasks, as they will become a major distraction to the detriment of the critical path. Keep the team focused on the critical path. Remind critical path task owners when their deadlines are approaching. Ask if they have questions, concerns, roadblocks, etc. Don’t wait until the project falls behind. Instead, proactively follow-up to ensure the critical path stays on schedule.

Aggressively tackle any roadblocks in the way of achieving the critical path. Encourage, appreciate and thank the project task owners. Remind them how their task fits into the big picture and how the project’s outcomes are of value to the organization. Follow-up on critical finances. Don’t get lost in a debate over a few dollars. However, be extremely vigilant on the critical expenditures and those related to the critical path.

Every executive wants to continue to grow.  Thus, they need projects to deliver results on-time and on-budget.  Instead of getting bogged down in the latest, complex project planning software and process, continually follow these three key steps, and you’ll achieve significant project results – and grow your business.

Close Out the Year with Project Success

As the year winds down, it is your best opportunity to leverage projects to close the year out with success.  Many companies trail off after Thanksgiving and get back to focusing on projects in mid-January.  

Thus, it is a significant opportunity to accelerate success by remaining focused.  I’ve found that projects have a dramatic effect on results as project teams are responsible for increasing revenues, preparing for growth, accelerating cash flow, increasing efficiencies and improving margins.  Fortunately or unfortunately, without project teams, results stall.  Thus, it makes sense to kick it into high gear to finish the year out on a strong note.  It also provides the opportunity to leapfrog the competition – not a bad way to end the year!

Thus, focusing on best practices and identifying ways to ramp up project focus is invaluable.  A few of the top strategies include:

  1. Executive commitment:  It starts at the top; thus, if executives are not committed to project success during the holidays, it will not occur.  Project teams need to know that what they are doing is valued.  No matter how good the individuals, it will not be effective without executive passion.
  2. Create year-end excitement:  One of the best ways to generate year-end results is to create an exciting year-end goal.  Explain why the goal has importance to the company’s success – and to the individual’s success.  Ideally, the goal will have a time sensitive nature to it as that will generate a sense of urgency.  Make sure it also creates excitement.
  3. Assign a champion:  Since the project team members will be distracted with the typical holiday madness, the only way to ensure continued focus is to assign a champion.  Choose someone who is excited about the project, the potential results and who appreciates the individuals on the team.  Make sure this champion is dedicated to the project’s success and is able to devote substantial time to keeping the excitement alive and helping project team members with scheduling conflicts and in knocking down barriers.  I’ve found that if someone takes action to what needs to be done, the team will be motivated to continue.  
  4. Focus on the critical path:  Although this is always a good idea, it is especially important to remain vigilant on the critical path during times of limited resources.  In essence, focus on just those priorities that will have the largest impact and contribution to delivering the project milestones on time, on budget and successfully.   Think success; not perfection.
  5. Build in flexibility:  Of course, no matter how great a plan is developed, Murphy’s law will occur.  The holidays will spur on additional occurrences of unexpected opportunities, distractions, and roadblocks.  Thus, it is imperative to build flexibility into your plans.  For example, if you know you need 5 people for a critical milestone step, do not be satisfied with 5 trained resources.  Bring on an additional resource and get that person up-to-speed as a backup.  The worst case scenario is that you’ll have spent time and money in preparing for an event that didn’t occur; however, I’ve found that 80% of the time, something will arise and you’ll be thrilled you have an extra mind to resolve an issue quicker or fill in at the last minute.  There are ways to build flexibility into the process without spending exorbitant amounts of money.  Cross-train.  Ask your team what is likely to occur and ask them for ideas to build agility into the process.  Make it fun.
  6. Plan for vacations:  The most disruptive part of the holidays is that project team members will have vacations.  It is important that people can rejuvenate and so being supportive of vacations is the mantra that my most successful clients follow.  However, planning for them is essential to keep projects moving forward.  Adjust project plans for what can be achieved including the vacation schedules.  If vacation schedules impact a critical path task, look for alternatives.  Bring additional resources up-to-speed.  Bring on an expert for a particular task.  There is always a solution!
  7. Plan in holiday activities: It is important to recognize that the holiday season exists.  Remaining focused at the exclusion of all else will not yield long-term results.  Make sure your project team can participate with holiday events and festivities.  Plan in an extra event specifically for your project team.  A simple gift exchange can create team comradery. Be creative and make it appropriate to the team members. 
  8. Consider a project bonus: It doesn’t have to be significant.  Oftentimes, a gesture such as 2 tickets to an event can go a long way.  Generating excitement and momentum is integral to success.  Think of it this way – what could be a better time to recognize your project team member’s contributions than during the holiday season.
  9. Communicate, communicate & communicate: Just as in real estate where location, location and location are the three most important attributes of a new house, communicate, communicate and communicate are the three most important attributes in achieving any desired objective.  If all team members, supporters, sponsors and other related parties understand and value the project, it will succeed. 

Since executives count on projects to deliver the vast majority of improvements to their company performance, closing out the year on a strong note can make a dramatic difference to the next year’s results.  Consider following these simple, quick strategies to keep your projects focused – and delivering bottom line results – during this holiday season.  And, more importantly, engaging your project team to not only deliver results but also provide a lift to project team member morale during the holiday season.

How to Increase Teamwork to Ensure Project Success

As I work with manufacturing and distribution clients from all industries such as aerospace, building products, and medical products and across a wide range of sizes from a few million to multi-billion dollar companies, I find that project management is one common thread across every client. Since growing the business and improving performance is of paramount importance to compete, new programs, process improvements, and other organizational changes continue to increase in numbers to support this expectation. Thus, project management is increasingly a strategic imperative to success.

We can be more assured we’ll achieve success with our projects if we have strong teamwork. Two minds are better than one tends to come true 99.9% of the time. What one person misses another one catches. What is one team member’s strength is another’s weakness. One person’s relationships supplement the other team members’ relationships. Thus, a team can accomplish at least 10 times what any individual can achieve. It is well worth it to figure out how to increase teamwork success. Several keys to success include:

  1. It starts at the top: As with success overall, it is most easily stimulated from the top. If the project leader and project sponsor foster teamwork, it will occur. As project leader, notice when team member’s work together to brainstorm ideas or when they help each other with tasks. If you notice and communicate the value of these, teamwork will increase.
  2. Communicate the value of teamwork: Again, solid leadership will “win” the day. Set your project up for success by communicating the importance of teamwork. Make sure you provide examples and clearly communicate the importance and how teamwork will tie to the end result and the value to the organization.
  3. Establish common metrics: One of the keys to increasing teamwork is to establish common metrics. If one member can succeed while another fails, teamwork will not occur. The team must understand that they are in “it” together. Make sure your metrics drive the behaviors you want to occur.
  4. Ask teamwork questions: While following up on the critical path and project progress, make sure to ask specific questions related to the importance of teamwork. People do not pay attention to what you pontificate about; they pay attention to what you seem genuinely interested in on a day-to-day basis. Thus, include questions that demonstrate that you value teamwork.
  5. Bring out individual strengths: One value-added way to encourage teamwork is to bring out each person’s strengths. If the team can leverage the collective strengths of its team members, there is no doubt success will follow. Search for the strengths of each member. Highlight them. Encourage people to focus on strengths and deter the parts associated with their weaknesses to teammates with strengths in that area.
  6. Communication skills: Develop your project team. Teamwork can be a learned skill. Help each person understand the best ways to communicate and collaborate to aid teamwork. Provide examples.
  7. Mentoring: As much as we’d like to think that a training class solves all ills, it is just the start. Mentoring is required for success. Dictating teamwork is like dictating to complete calculus homework without any idea of how to complete the problems. Mentoring means “living an example.” Make sure you exemplify the right behaviors. Find other exemplars to refer to as well. Give people an opportunity to test new ideas. Do not beat them up for mistakes; instead provide corrective feedback and make sure they know that you believe in them.
  8. Critical path focus: Typically the critical path is focused on cross-functional tasks as they are the ones that directly contribute to the project’s timing and success. Emphasize the importance of teamwork as it relates to cross-functional tasks. Undoubtedly, teamwork is bedrock to succeeding in a cross-functional environment. Make sure your team understands this tenet.
  9. Performance feedback: Since project metrics have been set up to track team progress, make sure that performance feedback also aligns. Again, as obvious as it sounds, the team member must receive performance feedback from their manager that aligns with the value of teamwork. They cannot succeed in getting a huge raise if they acted as a lone ranger on a project. If so, teamwork will fail. Follow up with the managers of your team members, and make sure they understand the metrics, their employee’s strengths and weaknesses as it relates to the project, etc. Make the time to ensure this feedback makes its way into their performance review.
  10. Communicate, communicate and communicate: Just as in real estate where location, location and location are the three most important attributes of a new house, communicate, communicate and communicate are the three most important attributes in achieving any desired objective. If all team members, supporters, sponsors and other related parties understand and value teamwork, it will succeed.

Related Article: Project Leadership Remains #1 Key to Success

Since executives count on projects to deliver the vast majority of improvements to their company performance, fostering teamwork can greatly increase the chances of delivering a project on-time, on-budget and on-results. Those who follow these ten strategies will succeed significantly more often than those who don’t. Why take a chance on what’s vital to business success?