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Author: Sunil Srivastava

5 Best Practices for Successful Project Implementation

When Project Managers plan implementations, they often do not adequately anticipate failure despite the risks associated with any project. Rather, they plan for the best case scenarios driven by the budget, deliverables, sponsor expectations and deadlines. And despite their best efforts at project management, failure rates remain high.

Project implementations can fail for a number of reasons — ranging from unrealistic expectations, poor methodology, poor requirements, inadequate resources, poor project management, untrained teams, unrealistic budgets, to poor communication and more. With such a long list of factors that can lead to failure, the chances of project implementation success seems low. Those chances can be improved by adopting these 5 best practices. These will help establish a clear understanding of expectations among all the stakeholders—be they business, sponsor, project team, to vendor partners and end users.

  1. Business and organizational issues need to be identified and analyzed with clarity and without emotion. This process needs to be continued throughout the implementation process. There should be no barriers either between the business & development team or with third-party vendors. All stakeholder interests should be aligned with the common goal of project success.
  2. Don’t set overly aggressive or optimistic schedules. Project Managers often set overly optimistic deployment dates despite the realities and limitations of the actual project. For example, even when the design phase seeps into the development phase, the timeline doesn’t. Project progress must be monitored throughout the implementation. Discussions regarding key project dates should start early in the project’s life cycle to avoid downstream impacts.
  3. If continuous monitoring & control is not done, what appears “green” may turn out to be “red”. Real time monitoring and analysis of the project implementation’s progress can help identify the risk triggers early on and indicate endangered work packages. Indicators should not only display the past phase performance but should also indicate readiness for upcoming project tasks and activities. A project’s indicators and metrics should not only be markers of the past but also indicators of the future.
  4. Critical to maintaining control of the project, a Project Manager needs to set and manage the expectations of the project. Overly optimistic deployment dates, less than required resources, and more than possible deliverables should be a strict no-no. Similarly, there should be no scope for any “gold-plating”. Project Managers should set realistic expectations up-front and keep expectations current in the minds of all the stakeholders so that they don’t lose sight of the final product while going through the project life cycle.
  5. Audits and assessments conducted by an external auditor add value to the project implementation and protect it against failure. Such audits provide objective oversight and the solutions needed to overcome inherent roadblocks. It also helps alleviate your doubts & misgivings. These audits should be conducted by an implementation expert who has managed similar projects successfully and can easily identify indicators that can point to any errors and help develop possible solutions.

Employing these best practices will empower a Project Manager to go beyond regular project management barriers and provides them the processes they need to ensure project success. It helps them identify and resolve the strategic, tactical and intangible issues, and manage the human resources before issues become insurmountable. And best of all, it provides clarity and assurance that the project is on the right track.

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Should Innovators Listen to Their Customers?

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” — Henry Ford

“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” — Steve Jobs

What do the above statements show? Should innovators listen to their customers? Do you think that if Henry Ford and Steve Jobs had listened to their customers, Ford Cars or iPhones would not have existed? There is a wonderful article called “Why Steve Jobs Never Listened to His Customers” by Gregory Ciotti which poses this question and is a must read.

Agree, disagree or maybe, you should definitely read the article. The questions it raises and how it makes you think about entrepreneurship is important. The article and the subsequent comments got me thinking. What exactly is an innovative product or service and what role do end users play in its development. Our history is filled with stories of how individuals, even in the face of cynicism and opposition, went ahead with their efforts to invent and innovate great new concepts and products. They believed in their ideas and visions so much that those others views just did not matter. Galileo, Gandhi, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Lee Iacocca, Gordon Moore and Steve Jobs are just a few of the many innovators that come to mind.

For them, it always was, “If you build it, they will come.”

So, is there a type of innovation, which, should not be customer tested at its inception? What would that kind of innovation scenario be? How does the innovator decide whether he should engage customers or not? Lots of questions spring to mind, unfortunately, not enough answers.


For me, this seems more like Creation vs. Enhancement. Innovation, I believe can apply to either case. Creating something new and enhancing an existing product to meet a totally new need are both innovations. I believe focus grouping and customer testing is most applicable when there are enhancements or improvements to something that already exists. The first iPhone, even though built on existing concepts, was, for all practical purposes, a radical new creation. It totally redefined the mobile phone from what we had known it to be at that time. I don’t believe focus groups at that point would have been helpful. The users’ perception and expectation would have been based on what they already knew. Their whole expectation would have been based on what they knew.

On the other hand, I believe enhancements can be customer tested. You already have a product which people are used to and hence upgrades or modifications are something they can relate to. This allows them to give an opinion about its merits. Redesigns, added features, extra services, etc. are all things that can be very innovative and add great value to a product or service. Cup holders in cars, when initially introduced by GM, were optional. But they became so popular that GM soon made it standard.

Personally, while introducing a new product or service, I always start small and it has always worked for me. I introduce the product/service based on my years of experience, confidence in the product, and a gut belief that in this big, wide world there must be at least a few more people who think like me and could possibly give this product a try. That has been my mantra. I also try to minimize the loss potential, market it well, and be ready to admit defeat if needed.
The commonality of my experiments is that I always try to understand the result. Pass or Fail, I always try to understand why that happened. What clicked or did not. That is where the customer feedback comes in and where my experience comes from.

So, yes. Customer feedback and input are important, but mostly in instances where the prospective customer can relate to the product or service. When a totally new concept or invention is happening, that may not be the case. End users, after all, don’t always know what they want.

Well, those were my thoughts and experiences…..What do you think?

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The Entrepreneur Project Manager

sunilJan22Every project manager during their career, short or long, has worked with or heard of some PM who was the absolute best. The one who everyone wanted on their team and the one who always managed to deliver the desired results.

Now every Project Manager knows that being able to scope, budget and schedule projects and being able to guide them through their lifecycles are in the average day’s work, the bare minimum any PM should be capable of.

So, what are the qualities of a super PM? What does it take to move beyond the ordinary and into the extraordinary?

I believe it is a mindset — more specifically, the entrepreneurial mindset.

The best PMs have learned through their experiences that to exceed rather than just succeed one needs to think beyond the basics of project management. It is not enough just to know about scheduling, budgeting, subject matter, etc., and somehow push the project through its phases towards its final milestone. Extraordinary PMs have realized that to be really successful, one has to be able to look beyond the mundane and rise beyond the ordinary.

They have adopted the entrepreneurial mindset.

The entrepreneurial mindset

A couple of definitions to consider:

  1. Entrepreneur is a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.
  2. Mindset is a mental attitude or inclination.

According to Joseph Schumpeter “the capabilities of innovating, introducing new technologies, increasing efficiency and productivity, or generating new products or services, are characteristic qualities of entrepreneurs,” while Robert B. Reich considers “leadership, management ability, and team-building to be essential qualities of an entrepreneur.”

In a recent article on entrepreneurship Dan Schawbel stated, “A major shift is taking place, replacing the typical definition of an entrepreneur — ‘someone who starts a company’ — with a newer definition, one based on the innate mindset of a person who sees opportunities and pursues them.”

And, the Financial Times said, “The entrepreneurial mindset as refers to a specific state of mind which orientates human conduct towards entrepreneurial activities and outcomes. Individuals with entrepreneurial mindsets are often drawn to opportunities, innovation and new value creation. Characteristics include the ability to take calculated risks and accept the realities of change and uncertainty.”

So, an entrepreneur is a take-charge, self-directed person who rounds up important resources and services to deliver a product or service to consumers that is of value. Now while this can describe any manager, there is one very critical difference between an entrepreneur and a manager. While most managers are very capable and dedicated to their work, only an entrepreneur manager will, consciously and subconsciously, act as if they have personal equity in the initiative’s success or failure. It is not “just a job” for them. Entrepreneurs know that they cannot fail and that their failure will lead to the failure of the entire business or initiative.

Similarly, for each and every project an entrepreneur PM will take extra initiative and consideration to ensure its success. This mindset of “personal ownership” is what sets this type of a PM apart from others. This mindset also drives the PM’s efforts towards setting higher standards for performance and achievement. Entrepreneur PMs realize the importance and centrality of their team’s effort and work to deliver great results. They know that while they themselves cannot perform all the tasks and roles on a project, they are ultimately responsible for its success or failure and the impact on its stakeholders.

No project on its own is perfect or the best. There are always risks. It is not difficult to assign blame for failure, and one can find innumerable reasons for it, such as blaming the SMEs, sponsor, budget, the team, etc.

But for the entrepreneur PM, success is the only way to go forward. They are personally invested in its success. Hence, they are never reactive and don’t accept excuses. They proactively approach each and every project and will demolish every barrier erected in their path. They will do whatever effort is required to find the solutions that will guide the team and project towards success. Their sense of project ownership is always high; innovation is their way of life; their appetite for risk is high; they are always striving for the betterment of the project.

A project is always undertaken to create something new or unique, even if it is a small update. The new product or service cannot be initiated by machines. Not yet. Hence human resources are critical for a project’s success. Entrepreneur PMs know that.

Some common characteristics of entrepreneur PMs:

  • Getting the “big picture”
  • Leader and motivator
  • Team builder
  • Patient (not easily rattled)
  • Great listener and communicator
  • Strategic and organized
  • Proactive
  • Optimistic
  • Technically sound
  • Effective task delegator

Entrepreneur PMs are not necessarily the most technically qualified. In fact, my observation is that often the most technically qualified and experienced people don’t make the best PMs. Technical competence is important to some extent for project management but not critical. Skills such as being proactive, understanding people and their goals, taking ownership, being able to “get the big picture”, etc. are more crucial for a project’s success.

Entrepreneur PMs are driven professionals who strive to excel, and the thought of being able to interact with great minds daily, guiding them and extracting ideas, excites them. An entrepreneur PM’s mindset is analogous to that of a CEO in that they are always striving to deliver high value to all their stakeholders.

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