It that time of year again! The holidays are successfully behind us and we begin to look with optimism on what the next year may bring for us and our families. It is also time to think about the changes we would like to make in the upcoming year and when our intentions to make those changes are most keenly focused. Maybe your list sounds similar to mine: This year I am going to exercise more, lose some weight, eat healthier, create a better work/life balance, and help more in the community. All seem like great goals, and well worth investing our efforts to make them successful.
We often go through this practice for ourselves almost by rote, but do we go through a similar effort for our businesses? Now is also a great time to take a good look at what we originally planned for our business, and what we need to do to drive it (via selected projects) to the success we envisioned as we got into them.
Let’s think about this like starting an exercise program. We will go through a couple of steps to get to a baseline, agree to our plan, then set off to work. The goal here is to allow you to do the things you need to do to move the organization forward, align your scarce resources accordingly and get more things done at the end of the day. It may seem a little painful at first, but as the saying goes (with a little liberty on my part) – good things come to those who stick with it! So here goes.
Step One: Determine what the organizational (or department, team) goals truly are: grow the business, create something innovative or new, delight your customers, and so on. The key here is to be both honest and realistic – keep them focused and limit the number to something manageable. Being overly aggressive now, despite good intentions, will sabotage the process and set you up for failure later. Discuss this with the team and begin to build buy-in early and an aligned/confirmed sense of purpose.
Step Two: Take stock of your present situation by polling the organization as to the projects, initiatives and activities they have planned for the upcoming year. Ask them why the activities are important, what kind of effort/resources (if people can name “names” this would be great) it will it take to get these things done, and what the company can expect to benefit from doing them. This doesn’t need to be some administrative burden, or deep business case process, but it should pass the “red face” test. If the team can’t answer these questions here, it will definitely help later in the process.
Step Three A: Consolidate the list of all the projects, initiatives and activities together in one place for review. List the names as well, if identified.
Step Three B: Review the list. Chances are high, if you are like most companies we work with, your list is pretty long, and most of the names appearing on the list are the usual “go-to” people in the organization. These are the same people that run your day-to-day operations; coach, mentor and manage your teams, and generally fight the fires that happen in any business.
Step Three C: Mentally prepare yourself to cut this list by ~ 70-80%. Yes, you read it right ~ 70%-80%! We want to get this down to something manageable, say 5-10 focal projects. Your number may be slightly higher or lower depending upon project scope, organizational size, resource availability, external support, etc. Keep in mind the goal here – higher business value, better resource alignment/utilization, and a culture of success and throughput. Determine the number that works best for your organization, but try these parameters to start as you can always add more work later!
Step Four: Determine the right “mix” of projects and their priority by applying some simple parameters. Projects fall in a few broad categories:
- Compliance/Mandate – required changes by regulation, standard or legal requirement as dictated to the business. Failure to comply may result in penalties, fines, license forfeiture, closure etc. This may also include mandates from a corporate entity, policy or procedure requirements.
- “Keep the Lights On” – projects that need to occur (timing may be flexible here) to keep the business operational day-to-day or as a going concern. These might include application/software upgrades, expansion of plant/facilities/staffing, etc. Revenue generation/stabilization projects may also fall within this category, although you may see them as a separate category elsewhere.
- Discretionary/Investment Projects – these are the projects that should align to the organizational goals you have identified above. They generate additional business value and move your company ahead. These are the projects that you eventually want to shift more focus toward if possible.
Now apply this categorization to the project list you have identified previously. How many fall into each category?
To be continued…
Highlights from next months column will include:
- Aligning and motivating your support team
- Keeping focus and avoiding project “temptations”
- Working through challenges and tracking progress
- Celebrating and building upon success
Until next time.