reflections & resources
This blog is the second part of a three part series. If you haven't read about Establishing a Project Culture, start here. So, you are succeeding at delivering some projects, sometimes you aren't sure how you pull them off, but everyone works really hard and somehow it all works out in the end. Right? There's lots of lessons learned, you have even succeeded at integrating feedback from these into your next few projects. Now the roadblock is pace. We want to achieve more projects, we have so many things waiting and we can't deliver them all fast enough. Sound familiar? Read on to level up your Projects.
Symptom #1: The Project Pipeline is Too Full!
We just have too many projects! It's ok. Being a victim of your own success is a manageable problem. A pipeline with too many projects in it, just means you are getting good at noticing projects and labeling them as such.
Solution: Prioritize Projects that Align with Strategic Objectives and Maximize Value
There are a lot of ways to prioritize projects. If your organization has a business or strategic plan, examine its objectives carefully and choose projects that deliver high value outcomes that are strongly aligned with your business goals.
For some organizations, particularly service based businesses, long-range strategy may be harder to visualize. In this case, put together a small team that reviews and evaluates project proposals to assign priorities. Projects can be scored on value delivered, the scale of investment needed, the resource intensity and the risks associated with the project. The team should develop a total project score threshold establishing which projects move forward and which projects remain in the parking lot. If capacity re-appears, the remaining projects can be re-evaluated and high scores can be added to the project pipeline.
To realize this part of a good Project Management system you'll need:
Symptom #2: We've Lost Track of All our Projects!
As the number of projects being simultaneously executed grows, it can feel chaotic. With each project being managed by different teams, finding a way to clearly communicate project status can be difficult. The boots on the ground are probably working on more than one project and it can get confusing keeping track of all your work packages and milestones. This also makes it tough to ensure value is still going out the door.
Solution: Standardized Tools & Reports
It's probably time to invest in a project management toolset. This could be one or more software products and document templates that the team uses to stay on top of projects. It is best if the tools have some ability to visualize many projects at once, but this may or may not be relevant, depending on if you have one, or many project sponsors within your organization.
At a minimum your Project Management system needs:
At this stage, I also highly recommend organizations implement a project management software tool. What software we choose should be selected on a case by case basis for each organization's needs and scale, but there are many to choose from and several good, free, options exist.
Symptom #3: We Could Do More Projects if Only We Had More Resources.
Ah, if money only grew on trees. It is true that you might be at full capacity with respect to resources that can be devoted to projects. The more likely reality though, is that you aren't helping those resources focus on their needed tasks because you haven't planned resource utilization as well as you can.
Solution: Resource Planning
Most small organizations share resources across projects. Rarely do we actually plan a schedule for when these resources are being used by each project. We often leave it up to the resource itself to determine which things should be priorities at any given time. When deciding to take on new projects, we establish timelines and commitments without examining resource availability to make sure projects can be delivered. Stop this. Invest in a tool for resource planning and share it broadly across your organization. There are a number of online software products that focus on resource planning, some of which can be had for very nominal costs. You can even just use a spreadsheet, although this may take some skill to set up wisely. A little planning will go a long way towards maximizing the efficiency of your resources and reducing project churn.
Symptom #4: Project Failures & Exploding Costs
Undoubtedly if your organization is struggling with the above symptoms, it is only a matter of time before you'll fail at one project or another. Failures teach us valuable lessons if we have the right attitude. But the truth is, to really capitalize on your failures, you need experts who can identify and fill the gaps. It's time to use your lifeline friends!
Solution: Get Credentialed.
Remember, how, to start with we cultivated expertise? This has worked well, and no doubt along the way a few shiny stars have risen to the top. Encourage these folks to seek a project management certification. Alternately, create a Senior Project Manager position, or a Director of Projects role to oversee your project execution. This person should possess a Project Management Professional or similar designation. At this point, there is no substitute for expertise. You might not need this senior position forever, but they will provide valuable insight at this stage and contribute to continuing the maturing of your organization with respect to projects.
Lastly, persevere. This stage of growth and project chaos is only temporary. If you can keep your head about you, and implement the solutions above, you'll pass through this stage and level up your project delivery. Don't take it out on your teams, and don't give up. Build a system that works for you and iterate on it by making tiny tweaks each time you collect lessons learned. This attitude and effort lays a solid foundation for the final Phase, Playbooks.