Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Assess for Success

If success means tangible business value then projects must deliver something that actually fits what the business needs. Yet over time these two can and do get out of synch. 

By stepping away from the mechanics of a project we can assess and decide if it’s really worth continuing.

It’s been a while between blog posts but I’ve had some projects on the go that have kept me more than occupied. Some have been client projects and others personal. One thing’s for sure, whether you’re…
  • Managing a project, eg: house extension, ERP system implementation, or search, selection and procurement exercise; or
  • Part of a project team; or
  • Consulting about projects, ie: an individual project itself or the structures and processes that support and govern them, and how they’re strategically aligned.
…much of what we do in our work and lives is project based. That’s got me pondering two questions:
  1. How often are projects assessed? and
  2. How can we be sure they're heading for success?
Both questions throw up a thousand others because an assessment can take many forms and success means very different things to different people. With that in mind let’s narrow it down and look at from the perspective of tangible business value. Business value doesn’t come from a project management methodology. It comes from the project delivering something that actually fits what the business needs. Overtime these two can and do get out of synch. A project is in progress, it has some challenges so we throw more money or people or whatever at it because there’s a timeline to meet and stakeholders to satisfy and well we need to ‘get it across the line’. Stepping away from the mechanics of project management helps an organization, its management and that projects' steering group assess and decide if it’s really worth continuing.

It vitally important to remember that an organization and its business needs change rapidly therefore its projects need to too. It’s equally valid to shut a project down, as it is to continue forward.

Unfortunately this objectivity is often overshadowed by methodology and process. When Projects, Steering Groups and Business have different conversations about business drivers and direction, rollout plans and operational use, the dialogue is more valuable and they can quickly re-balance what the project’s doing vs what’s needed. Who cares how many checklists you’ve got if the outcome will be redundant way before it’s delivered.

In order to be objective and assess what’s going on we need to detach. Get away from the depths of the project and ask the following types of questions:
  • What is this project all about? Not the business case, the project in its current state.
  • Does it align with strategic drivers?
  • What value has it or will it deliver?
  • How is that value going to be used, if at all?

From there assess how the project is being run and managed because that too will influence success or failure. This can be done very effectively and within a relatively short period by focusing on 4 key points:
  • What’s working well? This is the stuff to keep doing. General rule of thumb - if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
  • What’s not? This is the stuff that has to change and once you know this you can put action plans together for improvements or, if it doesn’t serve any greater purpose, phase out or stop immediately.
  • What needs to start?
  • What needs to stop?

However the ultimate question in any assessment is - Is it fit for purpose? You’ll see quite quickly if it is or not. It may align with the business case but that in itself may no longer be valid or it may have deviated so much that it’s no longer recognizable. Then it’s all about the findings and what happens next; presenting concise recommendations supported by sound argumentation for informed decision-making.

Many projects and initiatives inter-play with others somewhere along the line therefore when assessing for success there’s little to be gained at individual project level. While improvements may be effected during that specific projects' lifecycle sustainable improvement and real business alignment will only come through a broader assessment.

How do you assess for success?

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