Procedures for project kick-off are often developed, to ensure we don't repeat mistakes of the past. Typically to kick off a project we need: (Read more)
There are four foundation project roles that are essential to ensure your project has in place to start well, keep momentum and finish strong. Like the four wheels on a car, they need to be pumped to the right level and all aligned in the same direction to work at their best. Four Foundation Project Roles Vision Makers/Sponsors are people who want to see the project succeed. They take on financial decisions and have the authority to approve expenses, assist with procuring any additional funds, if needed, and keep Executive focus. Technical experts, or Subject Matter experts with technical skills, are people who know how the software works. They have the right technical skills and ability to advise on the configuration (or development) of the software, and guide, based on expertise, on the match of software to the business process. Business expert or those who will be stuck using the software. These people have insight into how the business process works right now. They will know what needs to be done day-to-day. These are people who've got the right knowledge to be able to contribute to the project in the form of business process and improvements, i.e. Stakeholders, Business Analysts and those who are impacted by the project. Project Managers are people who can co-ordinate, document, articulate decisions, monitor the timeline and stay focused on the goals of the project and keep everyone heading in (generally) the same direction. When we start preparing project teams and selecting (or negotiating for) people to contribute to the effort of a project, choosing the right combination of people from across the business and project partners makes all the difference. Just because someone is available to be on the project team doesn’t mean they should be. Although we don't always get to choose; and we often inherit project participants. In this situation, a skills gap analysis is helpful so that we can build out an inherited team with additional skills. Each project has the need for a different blend of skills and balancing that blend is the job of the Project Manager and Sponsor. When you're coming into a team that's already formed, being able to get a sense of how the team is operating allows you to figure out where the problems are. Good Working Behaviours We've put together some thoughts on what good working behaviours look like and some woeful ones so that if you see them, you can develop a plan to get it back on track: Most of the time we find ourselves helping businesses that don’t ‘do’ projects all the time. So the people who have been handed a project role may have no idea what’s expected of them. This is where clarity of what’s expected of each role is helpful. It’s important to define what each person is responsible for at the outset. Getting clarity about what’s expected and who is required makes it easier for people to plan their own work and contribute when they are most needed. If you are embarking on a new project, we have experience in building project teams that get the job done. We invite you to connect here.
Excluding re-planning from your retail project management practice, is like looking at a map before starting out on a hike and then never consulting it again. It's not likely to get everybody to the destination in one piece. It’s easy enough to fall into the trap of thinking that planning is something that happens just at the beginning of a project and then you just execute the plan. Reality is a little bit different. Some years ago, I hiked the Kokoda Track with my son in a school group. We had a plan, where we were going to stay each night and how to get from one end to the other. One of the unexpected things that happened on this hike was a landslide on the track. On the second to last day, we were supposed to get to Isurava, where the memorial is. There had been a landslide, and we were not able to make it to camp that night. So, we had to re-plan. We had to stop in a different village from where we had intended to stay. We made camp earlier that night, and then we had to get up earlier the following morning. Our local guides were able to find a path through the jungle. Basically, we were walking through what was a virgin jungle, and then walking through a massive tear in the landscape, which was where rock and mud had slid down the side of the mountain. We made it to our destination. Later than expected, but we all made it there in one piece. I'm sharing this story because it reminds me of a lot of the kind of re-planning that we need to do in projects. Changes come out of the left-field, like that landslip, changes that you couldn't have possibly planned for. In project work, people's lives happen; there are sicknesses, people's families have difficulties and breakdowns, and projects being pretty much about a team of people means that those kinds of life events can impact the project plan (and the schedule, because they are NOT the same thing). So, a plan is not a fixed thing that you just do once and then follow to the letter. A plan is a constantly evolving thing based on the changing circumstances around you (and sometimes the changing business needs). This has been January for me, both personally and professionally. The assumptions that I started the year with have turned out not to be so, and the optimism that I usually feel at this time of year is not there. I, like probably many others, have struggled to find optimism as this year has so far been mostly characterised by a heightened state of alertness that the extraordinary events of the bushfires have generated. Whilst I am a city dweller and less impacted by the fires, the smell of smoke and the hazy conditions, not to mention the constant sense of pending emergency, is draining. So far from starting the new year refreshed and ready to go with new retail projects, it feels a bit like we’re scrambling to re-frame, re-plan and make better sense of what’s ahead. At 6R, we're expert at implementing retail systems and we're here to guide and lend a hand when systems implementations are planned and re-planned. Feel free to reach out and connect with us, we might be the experience that you need.
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.
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.
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?