To sustain successful operations, projects should be undertaken in an efficient and transparent manner. Efficiency improves the affordability of projects, increasing opportunities for growth. Transparency allows a broader range of input to refine a project plan, lowers resistance to change, and increases the probability of success.
The six steps below outline a process that can be used to ensure efficiency and transparency in operations projects. With each new initiative launched, these steps should be refined, applying experience gained in previous projects, to tune the process to the dynamics of your organization. After a few iterations, creating and implementing optimal solutions will begin to feel natural, and anything less, anathema.
If you haven’t already done so, I recommend reading 4 Characteristics of an Optimal Solution before proceeding to the six steps. As each step is executed, bear in mind how the activities described aid in achieving the four characteristics desired. If activity begins to stray from the process goals, reassess and adjust the tasks, participants, objectives, and evaluation methods to reestablish and maintain alignment.
Step 1: Conduct a Preliminary Assessment
The project leader (project manager or consultant) begins with a high-level discussion with the project sponsor to determine if a proposed project is ready for launch. During this conversation, the project leader should assess, at a minimum:
Step 2: Hold a Key Stakeholder Meeting
Identification of key stakeholders may require additional investigation by the project leader. It is important to seek input from all key stakeholders to prevent an incomplete framing of the project that can lead to the need for modification. Extensively changing a project’s requirements while in progress can be expensive, time-consuming, and can even cause a loss of credibility of the project team or confidence in its leadership. Conversely, excess attendance can slow the process, cause distraction (e.g. sidebar conversations), and be a great detriment to the launch of the project. On its face, this step may seem simple, a trivial formality. However, there is substantial risk in giving it short shrift and substantial payoff in conducting it with proper diligence.
With input gathered from key stakeholders, the project leader should be able to define:
Step 3: Submit a Project Plan
Incorporating the input of the key stakeholders, the project leader develops a comprehensive project plan. The more thoroughly developed the project plan, the greater the transparency and efficiency in execution. Misunderstandings, missteps, and late-stage changes are minimized when important details are clarified at the outset. Project plan development is an extensive topic; detailed coverage is beyond the scope of this discussion.
Components of the project plan include:
Step 4: Approve the Project Plan
The project leader submits a completed project plan to the project sponsor and other stakeholders for review. If modification or clarification is required, it is best done at this stage to prevent misappropriation, or waste, of resources as the project progresses. Once any required changes are complete, the project sponsor formally approves the project plan and initiates launch of the project within the organization.
Two factors critical to the success of a project are integral to the internal launch: (1) staff communication, and (2) assignment of a Responsible Individual.
Communication to the staff should notify individuals of the impacts that the project will have on them, and the organization, both during execution and subsequent to completion (e.g. the objectives of the project). Team members must be fully cognizant of their responsibilities to the team and project, while other staff may need to adjust to reduced availability of resources when they are committed to a project.
A consultant project leader should have an internal counterpart with whom to discuss all project-related matters. The responsible individual could be the project sponsor or a designee; it must be a person authorized to initiate action required to ensure project success. This liaison must also be able to access or acquire all data and information relevant to the project. The more closely the consultant and liaison work, the more efficiently the project can be executed.
With preparations complete, approvals granted, and assignments made, the project execution can begin.
Step 5: Execute the Project Plan
Given the array of potential projects an organization may pursue, it is infeasible to discuss all possible elements of project execution; the discussion here is vastly simplified by necessity. Execution of a project involves myriad activities of various types. Common, generalized project execution activities include:
Step 6: Close the Project
Project closure requires confirmation that all responsibilities of the project team have been fulfilled. A review of project documents provides a roadmap to follow to verify project completion. The documentation review includes the project charter, the project plan and all of its components, derivatives, and change notices. All of the detours and wrong turns must be reviewed to ensure that nothing was dropped along the route.
An extremely valuable, yet often neglected, component of project closure is the review of lessons learned. Team members, stakeholders, and the sponsor should reflect on the entire project, considering what went well, what went poorly, what was unexpected – and why. General questions to consider include:
As an organization executes additional projects, following a structured process such as that described above, it gains maturity from the experience. Organizational maturity increases the understanding of the requirements of a successfully planned and executed project, improving efficiency and communication. Confidence builds, feeding a virtuous cycle of transparency and constructive feedback. Positive effects spread throughout an organization, developing a cohesive team that is proactive, capable, and efficient in all its endeavors.
Jody W. Phelps, MSc, PMP®, MBA
JayWink Solutions, LLC
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