With all the discussions about working from home and surveillance systems to track WFH employees, I wanted to write a blog about how to improve project results. In my opinion, it’s not through surveillance systems.
I’ve written a lot about this subject but most of those blogs assume you understand the results you are trying to achieve. If a company is investing money in surveillance systems, I wonder if they are looking to improve results or just building data points on how much time someone is spending at their computer.
In today’s world, some of the work that employees are doing involves deep thinking – and one might be better able to do that work on a long walk in the woods. I’m not suggesting that all of one’s work can be done while walking in the woods or playing golf. But if you are paying your people to create products or services, solve problems, help the organization make transformative changes, or simply improve the bottom line, you need to understand that a fair amount of deep thinking, brainstorming, and experimentation will be needed.
I know that I often have revelations about how to solve a problem when I am away from my computer – doing something else.
Here are my five suggestions on how to improve project results.
1. Embrace benefits realization management
Projects are typically undertaken by an organization to enact changes that will provide a benefit to the organization. Executives need to understand the expected benefits and how they will be achieved and measured. In many cases, the benefits will not be realized until AFTER the project is finished and the project team is disbanded or transitioned to another project.
Who is tasked with measuring and monitoring these benefits over time? What kind of reporting is done to uncover projects that might have failed to achieve the anticipated benefits (or vice versa)? What is done with those lessons learned?
Benefits realization management is an ongoing process of improvement designed to reduce the amount of money spent on change that did not help the organization to the extent planned, or at all. It is a valuable way to improve project results – as well as company performance.
2. Take advantage of the project charter process
While benefits realization management is typically done after the project is substantially underway or completed, that’s different from understanding project results.
For example, suppose your organization is planning a project to relocate the headquarters of a large company. One of the benefits of the relocation could be to take advantage of a tax benefit from operating in another state. OR it could be to increase profits by attracting a different set of workers or reducing supply chain issues. The possible benefits and the ways of managing how you will realize those benefits are numerous.
That is very different from identifying the project results you want and how you will measure them. For example, you might decide that the relocation must be done with no company downtime, or perhaps your timeline or budget is the critical driver.
Said differently, what is the goal of the project AND what is most important – scope, schedule costs? The project management triangle, as it is often called, is a way to understand what is most important to management. But I think exploring the questions on a good project management charter is a valuable way to improve project results.
I am always questioning my thinking on charters and tweaking my project charter template but if you want a free download of what I’m using now, I’ll include a link at the bottom of the blog.
3. Define what DONE means for every activity and who will approve the deliverable
When you break a project into activities, I recommend that you clearly define what DONE looks like. For that activity that says create program for auction fundraiser, what does that mean? Are you looking for a draft or the finished product, professionally printed? Who will approve the deliverable? Know whether your activity is designed to achieve the final product or a draft that will go through multiple revisions. Only then can you properly estimate a cost.
If your deliverable is a document, what software do you plan to use? Knowing in advance that the goal is an excel spreadsheet rather than a Word document with a table can reduce project waste.
Dr. Brené Brown named this concept Paint Done – an instruction that she uses with her team. It means paint me a picture of what you think I mean by this request. It is very helpful for those seeking to improve project results and can also be used on operational work.
If you are planning a small party to celebrate the upcoming birth of a baby of someone on the staff, ask yourself if you know who is doing what, what that means, and how long the activities are supposed to take. Probe for clarity on whether this is designed to be a 45-minute shower with cake and gifts in the room where people eat lunch. OR is this supposed to be an evening dinner for couples at a nearby restaurant? You probably need guidance from management on that question.
4. Plan meetings for maximum results
One of the biggest complaints in many organizations is the amount of time wasted in meetings. Many companies have tried to cut back on the number of meetings or declared meeting free times. I get that. There is a lot of time wasted in boring meetings which accomplish little. And yet there are times when a meeting can be the most efficient means to a result.
I have written several blogs on how to make meetings more effective. One in particular discussed the high cost of unproductive meetings and offered suggestions for planning different kinds of meetings. Effective meetings are critical when you want to improve project performance.
When I leave a meeting, I ask myself if the value it brought to the organization exceeded the cost of having the meeting. Don’t underestimate all the costs of gathering everyone together to meet. There are salaries, benefits, space, and technology needs. Online meetings are likely cheaper in many ways – especially if WFH employees can avoid commuting time.
And yet, I still think some meetings are better done in person. And as my book, Herding Smart Cats, discusses, research suggests that creativity is enhanced when people meet in person.
5. Build a culture of continuous improvement and learning
Nobody gets everything right all the time. Are your teams meeting regularly to identify the lessons learned and discover ways to improve? Are you tracking those lessons learned and reviewing them when you start new and similar events or projects?
If a risk on a project materializes and causes a loss of any sort, are you reflecting to identify what processes were perhaps missed? Nobody starts in the project world knowing all the answers. Projects are an act of discovery, but so is knowing how to improve project results.
Continuous improvement and learning objectives may come more easily to some employees, more than others. After all, not everyone is an over-achiever and not everyone has the same capabilities. We will always have the workaholics who aspire to be in the C-Suite and those who don’t. But that doesn’t mean we can’t build teams of high achievers.
Sometimes your people need more coaching, mentoring, or attention. And this may come in phases. We all have our up swings and down times. I believe Jane Fraser, the CEO of Citigroup has it right when she says we need to bring underperforming employees into the office for coaching and mentoring. What a difference a great mentor can make in the performance of your teams. And it’s not just the young staff. We can all use help at different junctures of our lives.