Proactive Planning for Project Health and Success

13 June

Perhaps you have heard, or even used, the phrase that projects seem to take on a life of their own. What if we started to treat them if they actually did? Better yet, what if we actually proactively managed their health and wellness for them?

Interesting idea don’t you think? Even more so, when you consider that depending upon the research you read, projects often have a failure rate of somewhere between 50-70+ %, and business dissatisfaction rates with the outcome of their projects tends to mirror that sad result. You are probably saying to yourself – isn’t that what a project manager and a project team are actually there to do, make sure my project is properly managed? The answer is a bit complicated and partially yes, and no. So how do we insure your project bends the trend, delivering business value and satisfaction you need? It may not be as hard as you think, but it does take some work on your organizations and your parts.

Let’s play out an all too common scenario: Your organization can get projects done, they have in the past and will in the future. Your organization seems to have the tools in place: applying lessons learned from past projects to update your methodologies, prioritizing projects based upon capacity, assigning and using the right resources appropriately based upon the prioritization. On projects themselves your team has a defined scope of work, their providing status and budget reports, using phase gates and sign-offs to move forward with work. Their checking all the right technical boxes, but things are starting to go bad – again. Before you know it your project is in trouble, and you are struggling to get it back on track. Timelines are slipping, costs are escalating, and the business can’t be bothered with your project problems.

So how did we get here? As Project Managers and team members we often miss the tell tale signs or symptoms, prior to the onset of the sickness. We may make a note to change a behavior next time, and hope that lessons learned will make it better for the next project. In short, we react, – often too late and after the fact, because we are too close, and too focused on getting our project done. We are living in the day-to-day and not objective enough to see the forest for the trees, because this is our job! So how can we step back and see the all of it? Truth is, we may need some help outside of the project to do so.

Enter the project quality check or health check. This is a regularly scheduled review by someone outside of the project (a peer project manager, quality reviewer, another executive, management team member, or external reviewer, as examples) with key project stakeholders, such as the sponsor, executive staff, business management, end users and other impacted parties. It is designed to check the pulse of the project from time –to-time and allow for course corrections more proactively throughout the project lifecycle, rather than after an adverse effect has occurred. Think of this as similar to your annual health check or wellness assessment, an un-biased review to determine how things are progressing, see if there are any troubling signs that should be probed further, and to make recommendations for inclusion within the project process, to make the project and the desired outcomes better.

Project health checks can be done for any length, type, level of complexity, or nature of project. They can be highly formalized or casual in nature depending upon organizational needs. They should be done proactively and viewed as a learning opportunity, not as a punitive measure to catch fault and, they should all demonstrate some basic components to be effective. They should:

Be built into the project timeline – identified as a task, with a responsible party and with reasonable frequency
Gather both what is working well on the project, along with what could be improved
Focus on behaviors, not individuals. It is not a review of someone’s individual performance
Incorporate project satisfaction as a measurement
Seek to poll/interview different respondents within the business, management team and end-user groups to gauge understanding and engagement, especially in larger impacted populations
Ask for identification of the responsible party for measuring benefits realization of the project (and any benefits realized to date) – this should lie with the business/operation not the project team
Look for clues in the organizational environment e.g. sense of excitement versus dread; ownership, engagement and participation, options versus excuses, etc. that may speak to larger issues
Have a debrief scheduled with the PM prior to releasing the results. This allows for better acceptance, understanding and decreased defensiveness
Deliver results that are actionable and can be incorporated into the project process, and
Be treated as a continuous improvement process and always tied to driving value for the organization among other things

As project managers and team members, we need to realize that although our projects can be technically successful – on time, on budget and meeting all the specifications, if our end product is not embraced by our customers, in the end it is a failure.

Now is time to start looking at our projects as having a life of their own, because we all hope that upon completion they will continue to grow, and be embraced by our organizations. The best way to get them there is making sure they are healthy today and into the future. So when do you schedule your appointment?

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