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Archive for the ‘Project Management’ Category

The 5 Essential Elements For a Successful Project

We have depth of project experience, and years of working in the retail industry, on various technology projects. Over this time, we have gleaned some insight into the ways of engaging that get the best long term results for the client organisation and the project, and we want to share some these with you. Projects have traditionally been measured on time, scope and cost, and if measured by this alone, success rates are low. The measures of time, scope and cost are important but not everything. We add to this measure of success by asking: Did the project achieve the business objectives? Did we take the team along with us? Do they own it and is it embedded in the business? There are many moving parts to a project, and the following model helps remind us of some the elements required that contribute to a successful project. I was introduced to the Knoster Model of managing complex change diagram years ago, and I still see it as relevant. You need a lot of things to align to create successful change in business.   Vision Even the most carefully conceived organisational change plans require more than a great business case to be delivered, they also need vision and communication. Consider when an organisation decides to make a technology change. The wrong way lies in informing staff of the change, scheduling training, and expecting them to use it. This will have the effect of many creating workarounds to avoid systems that they find confusing and may have never wanted to begin with (gratefully, we don't see too much of this anymore, most businesses seem to have caught on). Coming up with a vision represents a significant part of the mindset needed to align a team. To create effective change, you must also use communication to explain the vision and sales techniques to boost buy-in. To do that you need good leadership in the shape of project sponsorship. PMI state of global project management (2018) reported, for the sixth year in a row(!), that having actively engaged executive sponsors is the number one top driver of project success. Part of the project sponsors job is to keep the vision alive. If you're interested in developing a deeper understanding of the role of a sponsor and what's expected of them Colin D Ellis has some excellent practical advice to offer. Projects with effective communication are almost twice as likely to successfully deliver project scope and meet quality standards than projects without effective communication (68% vs 32% and 66% vs 33%, respectively.) Source: PwC 15th Annual Global CEO Survey, 2012. Matching Skills to Roles At the start of World War II, the US president selected General William “Wild Bill” Donovan to erect the country’s first foreign intelligence service, the Office of Strategic Services or OSS. Donovan had a novel idea of how to get the best staff. Instead of finding people to fit a preconceived plan, he hired the best that he could find and shaped the missions around them. With talents as diverse as playwright Robert Sherwood and future celebrity chef Julia Child, Donovan created an agency that helped to score important victories for the Allied cause very soon after being formed. Consider bringing in the best and brightest for your organisation, then tailor the roles to suit their skills. This can help to build a more vibrant and effective organisation from the ground up. Managing the Learning Curve When embarking on a new project, managers must understand that the staff they will have, whether from inside or outside the organisation, will need training. We should never assume that any training format will lead to great results, but we should tailor learning sessions for optimal effectiveness. The learning focus should highlight training for the job instead of the new system. Teaching staff how to operate the entire system generally wastes time. Staff simply want to understand how the new system relates to what they need to do. The trainer should emphasise connecting functions that relate individual staff roles within the new technology. All need to be educated on the process. Without this fundamental concept, the new project will not succeed as envisioned. The learning process is just as important as the material. Effective training incorporates the needs of those being educated. Some tips on how to run an effective training program include: Training in smaller and more understandable “chunks” Keep the tone of the training light and even humorous if possible Use examples that relate to day to day work Use numerous practice sessions to nail down the details Use input and feedback to make training more effective in the future Incentives As Opposed to Rewards Any vision for a plan of change should include incentives. In this case, incentives mean something different than rewards. Staff get rewards for a job well done. Incentives should reflect built-in motivation to embrace and put effort toward making the change plan a success. In other words, explain to the staff what’s in it for them. If the new project can help to reduce workloads and makes processes easier, communicating these facts should serve as part of the vision and the plan. The team must see that the effort expended to make a change will work for their benefit, as well as for the organisation at large. Resources People, time, communication, and tools all serve as important resources in making an organisational change plan work. Organisational leaders must understand that all represent limited resources. Many organisations bring in energetic talents with a can-do attitude, then heap project after project onto them. While they cheerfully accept all challenges, they also spread their time increasingly thin. This prevents them from putting their best work into any project, much less all of them. For some organisations, time represents one of the rarest resources. A study showed that many offices waste up to 20 per cent of their time on procedures and processes. Another area of time expenditure lies in meetings. Leaders should make a point of emphasis to run efficient meetings that start on time and end early, if possible. I am sure we have all experienced being in a meeting that could have been an email; however, stakeholders having to work through emails or ask around for updates is inefficient communication. Avoid this by establishing communication channels as part of the project plan. Action Plan One of the first steps toward creating a plan of action lies in first considering constraints. Setting aside what the organisation cannot currently do creates boundaries around the plan and prevents it from veering into non-productive tangents. You should also consider coming up with at least an outline of a plan prior to any other part of the process. This can guide you into making wise decisions about communication and resource allocation. Make sure that you have what you need in place before executing the plan, or you risk a false start that wastes resources and may even kill the project altogether. Getting a project to work properly involves more than having an idea and ordering its implementation. It involves crafting and selling a vision, communicating it effectively, than using effective planning to execute it. Following these tips will make sure that your project ends up as more than just another binder on a shelf collecting dust.

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How Better Listening Can Improve Project Outcomes

An upsetting recent experience Have you ever felt like the person you’re speaking to is just not listening? Last week, we pulled the plug on a server migration. If you've ever done a move like this, you know how hard a call this is to make. The team had been working on this for the past five months. Multiple teams of people had gone above and beyond to make it happen, and to say we were gutted at this result doesn’t even begin to cut it. What brought about this unexpected and disappointing outcome? In the end, it came down to one question. It was one of the first questions we had for the software vendor. It was asked multiple times through the process, and it turns out, at the last minute, that the wrong answer had been given, multiple times! It was like the software vendor was hearing the words and doing the surface motions of listening but not really getting it! Oscar Trimboli (deep listening expert) really had this covered when he made this comment: 'Projects that run over schedule and budget, (and) customer opportunities that are missed, nine times out of ten can be put down to that we're listening to the words but not the meaning'. Stephen R. Covey, of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People fame, shares his ideas on effective listening framed as a ‘listening continuum.' Like a ladder of improvement, the pinnacle of his continuum is empathetic listening, at which point the listener has achieved the ability to listen within the other’s frame of reference. We see empathetic listening practised among a variety of professionals who want to help their clients, including counsellors, HR managers, CEOs and VPs. It's an important quality of leadership. One of the key qualities of empathic listening is to stay out of judgement. Christine Porath and Douglas R. Conant researched the turnaround at Campbell Soup and credited an increase in what they called ‘civility,' a vital component of this was ‘listening better.' You can read about their findings here. They talk about the time and effort that is required to create a culture of civility that has its foundations in listening, respect for each other and working to make people feel valued. Like lots of other research, their findings showed that it’s the small everyday interactions that count towards building trust. They heard the question and answered it, more than once, but they missed listening to the meaning. The meaning for us as the client (customer) had a significant impact on the rest of the business. To me, deep listening is a bit like an indicator on a car; right there and available for use but not used as often as would be helpful. So how can we all get better at listening deeply? Well, Oscar is an expert, and he describes four types of bad listening habits. I myself am an interrupting listener at times – seeking to solve the problem before the whole thing has been explained. In the case of our server migration gone wrong, someone seeking to solve the problem might well have helped us out. Some tips for better listening Sometimes it helps to have a physical thing to do, as a reminder or trigger. Some tips that I have picked up along the way that sometimes help me are: Take a deep breath (or three) and calm your own mind. Open your mouth a little (in a relaxed way, no goldfish impersonations required). Studies show that when we’re sitting in judgement, we’ve usually got our mouths firmly closed. Uncross your arms. Developing our listening skills benefits all team (and personal) interactions. This means spending an effort acknowledging people’s contributions and improving our own capacity to listen better. Getting to the meaning of what's really being asked can save you a lot of re-work and time wasted. It might even mean that when you ask that one super important question, your software vendor will really understand what you mean.  

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Small Actions that Reduce ‘Organisational Drag’

I hate waiting. I’m bad at queues, being on hold, traffic that’s not moving, and anything else that feels like a waste of time.  Being ready to go for a meeting with only a few of the meeting participants in the room is frustrating, and something I put effort into avoiding. The average company loses more than 20 per cent of its productive power to organisational drag — all the practices, procedures, and structures that waste time and limit output. 20 per cent, that's one fifth of the working week! Or another way to think about it is that one day a week is dedicated to all sorts of over communication, meetings that are unnecessary and complex bureaucratic processes that stifle peoples capacity to get stuff done. It's something that we often observe ourselves in delivery of projects. The symptoms of the 'drag' are everywhere; calendars that are back to back, meetings that lack purpose and focus (and go for too long), emails that pile up and the complexity of so many people involved in every decision.  This article talks about organisational drag is like it's a chronic disease, it needs constant management, or it completely overtakes your organisation. Anything that takes constant management requires discipline and consistency, and taking back control of the meeting process is one small step we can take to reduce the 'drag.' Meetings are seen often as a necessary evil, something that many people ‘love to hate’ they complain about them running over time or being disjointed, and off topic but then contribute to this problem by running late themselves and introducing items that are not relevant to the discussion. I read a lot of advice that emphasises the importance of forming good habits. Some good habits are considered ‘cornerstone behaviours’ and in life, cornerstones that are advocated for are: exercise, eating well, and getting enough sleep. If these are the cornerstone habits of making stuff work in life and health, then when it comes to organisations you can gauge a lot from behaviours like meeting culture and the state of common areas. Consider ‘meeting approach’ one of the cornerstone habits of an organisation. In projects, it’s important to establish good meeting habits early in the engagement with clients. I consider it one of the small things that we do that builds trust and consistency. Being on time and ready for meetings is something that contributes to the time we spend together being productive and useful for everyone. If I start on time and finish on time (or early) and participants come prepared with what they’re supposed to do and make themselves ready for the conversation, we get a lot done. To me, this is about creating a good working relationship. And if I stuff up, I own it and make every effort not to do that again. Small behaviours have a ripple effect. A project participant recently told me “I’ve have been more prompt generally since you’ve been here!” She was talking about more than work. She has taken me seriously on starting meetings on time and meeting deadlines and it has spread to other aspects of her / and life too. Small habits make a difference. Showing up on time and being prepared for the conversation is a good cornerstone habit to put effort into in your projects and business. What other good habits make a difference for you?

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Decision Making is Easy (when you ask the right questions)

"In good decision making, frugality matters," says Malcolm Gladwell;taking complex problems, and reducing them to the key levers that help us choose is a critical skill. Getting to the heart of the decision, however, isn’t always so easy! I was recently reminded of this; a project team spent weeks designing, dreaming and negotiating what could be achieved with their new website design. There was a list of requirements that was like an out of control Christmas list, and everyone was very excited at the idea of something new that would improve the customer experience. But one thing had been forgotten. Just a small matter of how much they had to spend. We’ve all been there, beer budget but champagne taste (I do it all the time). So, in the end, the decision was easy and the constraint of having to work within the budget helped them decide. Constraints help the decision making process I  noticed a similar pattern years ago whilst waitressing. When customers came into the restaurant, if there were no bookings, it didn’t matter where they sat. Gesture to the restaurant's ‘sit anywhere you like’ would result in much debate back and forth.  They would often choose one table only to move to another and then another. Whereas, if I gestured to a specific table and said, "would you like to sit here?" customers would either accept the offer or ask to be seated at another table. It’s that old chestnut about cognitive load. If the decision is made for you, it is either accepted or not, but being forced to make an active choice and decide for yourself from the whole restaurant is much harder. The project team were constrained by the limitations of what they had to spend. How much time and effort could they have saved by getting this basic building block in place before the requirements even got underway? The decision could have been made a lot earlier in the project. Finalising the budget and the business case before the project starts helps make the decision process smoother because it’s obvious to everyone the boundaries we’re working within. As soon as we were able to articulate the right question(s) the decision was easily made. Projects are all about working with constraints. Usually, there’s limited budget, time and people.  Clearly articulating the constraints that are going to drive a decision early in the process, can save a lot of time and energy and reduce frustration and disappointment all around. Why does restricting options help us to get on with good decision making? There has been a lot written on the topic of 'choice' and I particularly like the advice of Sheena Iyengar, who highlights 4 ways to help with decision making: (Read more)

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Learning New things is Hard (especially in projects)

We’ve reached ‘that stage’ in the project, the learning curve is steep. Last week one of my team members was showing people how to open multiple browser windows and explaining that this was not a feature of the browser-based system they’re training on but rather of browsers themselves. It was enlightening! The learning path ahead is going to be a bigger effort than I had expected for this team. To get a project off to a good start the internal people need to get the objective of the project, be clear about what success looks like and understand what it is they need to do. They also need to be good at their regular jobs or have someone help them with their regular job because what they’re about to embark on is a long way from their regular work and often it takes additional effort and focus to get the new stuff that they’re not used to processed. The most significant thing the internal team are going to do in the execution of new project is learning; (Read more)

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How to overcome software disappointment

Chatting to someone I had just met at a business breakfast, we were 'finding common ground' that you do when you first meet. She shared that her organisation is undergoing a significant software change project. They have appointed a vendor (software supplier) and are in the process of replacing 55 legacy systems (that’s a lot). They’ve selected a tier one software provider and they’ve got experts coming out of every orifice. But still, there was this disappointment about how the process was going. The gap between what they’ve been sold and what they must do to get it anywhere NEAR working that way was not clear to her from the outset and the effort ahead was starting to dawn on her. I’ve seen this before, I call it software disappointment, it happens all the time in software projects, and you can see how. The software vendor wants to put their best offer forward The vendor wants to show the very best of how their software works, they want to impress their potential client and show that their software is robust, scalable, flexible and most importantly SOLVES the client’s problems. So, they configure it to show the client how it could work, and the client is impressed. They ask many questions, compare the software to others, compare it to their current internally broken systems and get excited about this brave new world that will make every working day easier, more streamlined and end repetitive tasks. The client wants to get the project a good start inside their organisation To make an investment like this, the client needs to sell the idea internally. To get buy in and endorsement from multiple internal parties the software and the project ahead needs to have a solve problems for multiple business units. So, things are (often) stated in the most positive terms, and the negatives and risks are usually downplayed. This is where the natural optimism of humans  works against us a little. People are excited and motivated and executives commit to ‘x’ project (where ‘x’ is the replacement of whole system from end to end), and the software vendor is pleased.  They have their work sewn up for the next ‘x’ years and are going to improve the working lives of client and their staff. But (and this is the bit that the software suppliers don’t focus on) it’s going to take an awful lot of the client’s own internal effort and IP to get there. This is the ‘software disappointment gap’. Clients think that because they’ve done all that hard work of selecting a vendor and that the vendor has shown them a system that works a whole lot better than theirs does, that they can relax. In fact, the project work is only just about to begin. ...and that's the software disappointment gap It’s like getting a new phone. It doesn’t come installed with all your apps, it doesn’t have your ring tone, links or email, you must set that up. That takes some effort [personal aside, I’ve done it 3 times this year and it’s a pain in the arse].  In an organisation large enough to have 55 legacy systems, that’s a LOT of set up, a LOT of internal consultation and cross business unit collaboration and cooperation required to get the project moving and to implement something that works at least as well as the existing systems do. It’s this internal effort that organisations so often miss, or if they don’t miss it at an executive level it gets missed in translating it out to the wider group. Like my breakfast companion, whilst rationally she could see exactly why this was all needed and she was making the required mental adjustment to the work ahead, she was also choosing not to stay for it. Did I mention she was leaving the business? There was a restructure in her team and she was taking the opportunity to walk away. Smart businesses prepare themselves properly for the work ahead. Check to see if your business is doing these things to prepare for project success: Create capacity. Sometimes this comes through back-filling roles for key people, hiring extra hands (either permanently or temporarily) or by reworking the structure and make up of a team. But the reality is that a project requires additional work inside the client business. Additional work doesn’t happen without additional capacity! Alignment to the project objectives. It can be forgoing other planned improvements or reigning in expectations about business as usual. A key point is to stop all but the most essential work on old systems once you’ve committed to a new system. It’s a big part of both managing workload and creating commitment to the success of the new project. Improve your communication. It’s a lifelong practice both professionally and personally and it makes all the difference. So many of the mis-steps we make in business and in projects come down to communication. Improving communication of internal team members increases effectiveness. Look for advice from those who’ve done this before, both lessons learned internally and external support. If you are struggling with the software disappointment gap, get in touch.  We work with retailers to equip internal teams for the project efforts ahead. Our project management tools are light and flexible for retailers.  

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