It often feels like the advice on how to improve project success is either very, very difficult to implement, or surprisingly easy. This article highlights three of the latter – easy – ways to boost your chances at delivering on your strategic initiatives. Because it doesn’t have to be hard to make little steps in the right direction.
OK, so you don’t have an expert facilitator and the budget to take time out of your company for a full-on strategic review right now. You don’t have to. You can start on the journey to better strategic execution with a few small tweaks. They don’t take long and they don’t come with a hefty price tag.
Let me show you what I mean. Here are three simple ways to switch up how you plan for projects that improve the likelihood of getting what you want at the end.
1. Use Delivery Expertise at Business Case Stage
The first, and easiest, way to improve your chances of successfully delivering your strategic projects is to get the delivery teams involved early.
Like, really early.
Ideally, you should be drawing in your top-level delivery professionals – Head of Project Delivery or PMO Director or equivalent – and involve them in building the strategy in the first place. The strategic development teams should have clear, formal and informal links to the delivery teams. The two groups should catch up regularly. This is a core link to put in place if it isn’t already a feature of your business structure.
As we’ve said: the top-level delivery people can be involved in strategic development. But at the next down, you can get project delivery professionals – project managers – involved in making sure that business cases are watertight.
You get a whole host of benefits from operating tight links between strategy and delivery at this level too:
- Business cases can be properly fleshed out with the right resources
- Timelines are based on effective scheduling techniques instead of guesses
- Lessons learned from other projects can be incorporated into the business case of new initiatives
- Tweaks could be made to the proposal to make it more aligned to work happening elsewhere, company policies or deliverability.
These are all easy wins. And they all improve your chances of being able to complete your strategic initiatives on time, on budget and delivering the benefits you expected. All it takes is involving the project professionals in the business case development stage.
2. Use the ‘Can We Do It?’ Test
Second, be practical.
You’ll hit more successes if you know your limits and if you work to eliminate bias from proposals.
The ‘can we do it?’ test looks at whether it’s possible for you to deliver what you plan to. Even project delivery professionals can get a bit excited when presented with a fab new initiative. So it pays to take a step back and have someone independent review your proposals, especially the big ones.
Use your project assurance function, or another project manager, or a trusted leader from another department. Ask them to look over the business case and timelines before they are submitted for approval and finalised. They should be looking for:
- Causes of possible overspend
- Causes of possible delay
- Risks that you haven’t yet identified
- Anything else that might cause the project to not meet its goals.
In other words, they are using their real-world experience to back up your conclusions. This is a peer review, but on a slightly more strategic scale than the peer reviews project managers carry out regularly on their projects. The objective is to unpick problems before they occur, so that your business case has the best possible chance of being accurate.
This is another easy step: it’s simple to set up a business case review process. Sometimes even the knowledge that someone else will be reviewing your work before it goes to approval will be enough for the business case owner to do a better job in the first place.
3. Only Announce What You Know
Finally, and this is a tip I gleaned from Tony Meggs, Chief Executive of the Infrastructure and Projects Authority in a recent article he wrote for Project magazine, only announce what you know.
If you can’t commit yet to dates, don’t publish any.
Project managers around the country know this to be true: leaders who commit to dates on the golf course or at the annual investors presentation just create issues for those on the ground who now have to hit those milestones. You will not be thanked for it, and more often than not your delivery teams will have to cut corners somehow to meet arbitrary deadlines. This is all about saving face, not strategic delivery, and it’s unhelpful to your larger business goals.
Meggs mentioned more than simply committing to dates: he wrote about not committing to delivery methods either. So don’t announce that your new website will be developed using agile methods if you don’t have any agile capability in your business. There’s no point in constraining your delivery teams from doing their best work by forcing them down a particular path at this point. Let the analysis happen, the best tools and methods rise to the top, and then you can announce delivery methods.
This sounds very much like common sense to me, but I have been in meetings where leaders have announced something I wasn’t aware of but now became responsible for achieving. It’s a hard sell to the project team as well.
These three tips are easy to apply, and yet leaders overlook them time and time again. It’s OK to say you don’t know exactly how you are going to reach your end goals but your best people are looking into it. It’s OK to get someone to sense check your dates because you admit to not knowing everything. This is sensible, pragmatic business practice that gives you the best chance of success – you are embracing the uncertainty instead of trying to label it too early.
How are your project delivery teams involved in building out strategic initiatives? Tweet us @2080StrategyEx. We’d love to hear how you create the links between strategy and delivery teams.