Building Blocks of a Successful Project Part 2 – Business Objectives

Initiation

There are  certain fundamentals that need to be in place to increase the probability of project success. The second of these is to have well-defined Business Objectives. These should be established as part of the original Business Case for the project. It is surprising how many times I have seen these absent from an initiative.

Business Objectives are the “CEO’s view” of the project. They should make or save money, take advantage of opportunity, respond to new law and regulations, or increase competitive advantage. They should be specific and measurable to avoid what I call “Mom and apple pie” objectives like “We will be more efficient”. Really? Exactly how efficient? Will we be able to cut costs or deploy those efficiency savings to revenue opportunities?

I will go into more detail on this topic when I address the Project Charter. Suffice to say for now that the main reason for having solid Business Objectives as a building block for project success is that it guides all decision making on a project. Whether you realize it or not, all of the project team members are decision makers, typically making many micro-decisions every day. The Business Objectives act as the beacon of light for these decisions. Any decision that will reduce or modify the impact of the Business Objectives must be escalated to the Project Sponsor.

Building Blocks of a Successful Project Part 1 – Business Sponsorship

Initiation

There are certain fundamentals that need to be in place to increase the probability of project success. The first of these is to have an active and committed Business Sponsor. The Business Sponsor is the person (or persons) who initiated the project and authored the Business Case. The primary roles of the Business Sponsor are to provide funding, help clear obstacles to success, provide resources and make key decisions.

It is surprising how many projects (IT projects especially) proceed without this key building block. The thinking is that the merit of the project itself will drive it to successful conclusion. This is a huge mistake. Projects like this will typically encounter a lack of cooperation from the business units as their priorities do not match the priorities of those driving the project. It is OK for IT to get the ball rolling, but before the project is officially approved, the Business Sponsor must be identified and take ownership.

The Business Sponsor will play a key role in your Organizational Change Management Plan. Their responsibilities will include:

  • Being the “Face” of the project communicating directly with employees and management
  • Participating actively and visibly throughout the project
  • Building a coalition of sponsorship and manage resistance – identify other Executives who will Champion the change

Decision Making Process Part 6 – Summary

In the preceding series of posts, I presented a process I use for making key decisions. Now I will present a brief summary of those posts.

  • We struggle with some decisions because…
    • There are too many choices
    • The apparent choices are all bad
    • The apparent choices seem all equally good
    • Loss Aversion – we fear risking something we have for something we want
    • Fear of being wrong
    • Fear of being criticized
  • Poor decision making process results in…
    • Regret
    • Unintended consequences
  • Good decision making process will…
    • Eliminate decision paralysis
    • Reduce stress
    • Keep you moving forward
    • Eliminate regret
    • Look at decisions as a “portfolio” instead of isolated events
  • The process in 8 steps…
    • Begin with the end in mind – know your desired outcomes and how you will measure success
    • Analyze your alternatives – there may be more than you think!
    • Identify and mitigate risks
    • Distance yourself from short-term emotion
    • Create contingency plans
    • Make the decision
    • Evaluate the outcomes
    • Evaluate the process

Try using the process on your next key decision. Tweak it as needed for your specific circumstances. Leave some comments on this post as to what worked and what didn’t.

 

Decision Making Process Part 5i – Evaluate the Process

For the eighth and  final step in the decision making process you will evaluate the process itself. You do this in the spirit of continuous process improvement. This will improve your future decision making process and outcomes.

Here are some questions to ask yourself regarding your process:

  • For good outcomes:
    • What process steps were the most useful?
    • What could you have done to make the good outcomes even better?
  • For negative outcomes:
    • Did the process fail or was it circumstances beyond your control?
    • Did you skip steps?
    • Were there some steps you did not give sufficient time and energy?
    • Did you anticipate and plan for this negative outcome? If not, what would you have done different?

The next post will be the final post in the Decision Making series and I will summarize and give you some additional thoughts on the topic.

Decision Making Process Part 5h – Evaluate the Outcomes

At an appropriate point in time after you have made the decision, you should evaluate the outcomes as part of a program of continuous improvement in the decision making process. Here are the steps to take:

  • Revisit the “measures of success” you defined in the first step in the process. In that step, you determined what success would look like and how you would measure success. This is the time to take those measurements.
  • Evaluate the “degree of success” for each measure. Not all of your success criteria will be a binary “yes or no”. Often you will have achieved some measure of success but perhaps not all you targeted. This is a key input to the next step.
  • Determine if additional activity, time or resources will increase your degree of success. This is a key decision point. You don’t want to “throw good money after bad” hoping to succeed. You will need to decide if the calculated risk of continuing to invest more in the decision is worth it to you. Employ the same decision making methodology for this as used in the original decision.

In the next post I will present the final step in the 8 step process, where you evaluate the process itself to help you improve your future decisions.