News

Proejct Execution

Posted on: June 13, 2017

Is your organization “high performing”?  Do you excel at execution?  Do key initiatives get completed on time and do the expected results get achieved?

Research shows that 90% of companies don’t achieve their strategic plan due to poor execution.  A key differentiator between high and poor performing organizations is the ability to execute key initiatives.  Per the Project Management Institute’s (“PMI”) 2015 research titled “Capturing the Value of Project Management,” high-performing organizations:

  • Successfully meet goals 90% of the time versus 36% for low performers.
  • Waste 13 times less money than their low-performing counterparts.
  • Fully understand the value of project management and have a project management culture.
  • Are significantly more likely to focus on talent management.
  • Support project management through standardized practices and align projects to strategy.

If you want improved results, improve your project execution.  Management typically thinks of this in terms of “project management”.  However, we believe that project management is just one process that should be contained within a system of execution.  We call this a Project Execution System.  In addition to project management, critical elements of this system are:

  • Foundation – commitment and culture
  • Project Selection – deciding what to work on and what not to work on
  • Talent Development – use projects to develop talent
  • Planning – think before acting
  • Accountability – tracking and keeping commitments
  • Completion – celebrate and improve

Foundation

Execution starts with commitment and culture.  The CEO and the entire management team must fully understand and support project execution.  Management must ensure their company has a culture of project management and accountability.  A fully functioning Project Execution system must be a top priority.

Resources must be committed to the system.  The amount of resources will vary depending on the size of the organization.  At a minimum, one person must be trained in project management skills.  The entire management team must have some level of project management training so they are familiar with the basics.  A project management software application should be selected and deployed.

Standards surrounding project execution should be established and adhered to.  Such standards would include prioritization criteria, talent management intentions, management reporting, linkage to strategy, etc.  Such standards are critical in ensuring long-term success. 

You must have a solid foundation or your project execution system will fail to achieve the results you want.

Project Selection

Does your company tend to work on too many things at once?  Do new projects constantly get added to the mix without taking any off the table?  Do some projects that were at one time considered important tend to fade away as other priorities take precedent?  Most companies do not have an effective system to prioritize work. 

Prioritization begins with the development of a list of potential projects, or key initiatives.  Each project should have a basic definition, including the proposed scope and goals.  Too many companies do not go to the trouble of defining an initiative before launching it.  Then each project should go through an established prioritization system (numerous prioritization tools are available), which begins with a linkage to the company’s strategy.  If an initiative cannot be directly linked to the strategy, then it should not be considered. 

A key component of Project Selection is deciding what NOT to work on.  This is probably the most difficult step in Execution.  Every project can be shown to have some benefit.  So how can one say “no” to an initiative which would benefit the company?  Because working on too many things will result in no benefit.  You must have a way to formally select projects that will not be worked on.  Such projects should go on the “waiting list” for consideration during the next planning phase.  

If you can limit strategic, company-wide key initiatives to only 1 or 2 large projects, you will find out that your results actually increase!

Talent Development

If your company is not rapidly growing, you might struggle with how to develop talent by giving your team members new experiences.  However, every company has the ability to use project management as a way to develop talent.  Project leaders and team members should be selected based on not just executing the project, but based on who would benefit the most from working on a particular project.  A project team member’s technical skills can be enhanced with leadership, emotional intelligence, teamwork, and other business management capabilities.

In selecting project leaders and team members, determine who might benefit from working on each project.  Identify the skills that are expected to be enhanced during the project, such as leadership or communication.  Consider assigning formal mentors to the team members being developed.  Then ensure that the progress is monitored.  Don’t wait until the project is over.  Project leaders and team members will incur issues during the course of the project, especially people issues.  Effective development will only take place if issues are addressed immediately. 

The PMI research concluded that high-performing organizations are significantly more likely to focus on talent management.  By including talent development in your execution system, you will complete projects and you will increase your organizational capability.

Planning

Everyone would agree that projects should be “planned” before beginning any work.  This is a simple, basic concept that is rarely followed.

Every project should have a defined scope, goals, timelines, and how success will be measured.  Every project should at a minimum have major milestones with expected dates of completion.  A project plan should be required prior to any actual work being done.  For more complex and large projects, detailed gantt charts should be completed.

Do not assume your team knows how to do the planning.  If your project leader is not trained, use your project management resource to train the team on how to properly plan a project. 

Accountability

Executing projects is where actions intersect with accountability.  Your team will be executing actions, but you must have a system of reporting and accountability.  Weekly accountability meetings are a best practice.  Such meetings are short and concise updates whose primary purpose is to ensure the actions are meeting the plan objectives.  Every team member should tell the team if they accomplished what they promised at the previous meeting.  They should then state what they are going to accomplish during the upcoming week.  These weekly meetings help to create a culture of accountability.

Companies should establish a simple and effective project reporting system.  Management should be aware of the progress of major projects.  Functional leaders should be aware of projects that are affecting their functional areas.

Top performing companies use accountability in a positive way, not as a hammer.  One of Deming’s 14 points of management is to drive out fear.  Instead of thinking how to hold people accountable, your culture should be such that employees embrace the thought of being given accountability.  Make your culture one of “caring and accountability”. 

Completion

Every project should have an ending.  Once a project comes to completion, results should be determined and summarized.  Those results should be compared to the original plan.  If the project was a success, it’s important to celebrate and recognize the team members.  Few companies excel at recognition despite the fact that employees crave it! 

A de-brief should be done at the end of each project which includes determining what went well and what could have been improved.  High-performing organizations use this step as a means of continuous improvement and knowledge transfer.  Also, the de-brief should determine whether or not the talent development objectives were met.  Recognize that the result of this process is an increase in your organization’s capability. 

Summary

High performing organizations excel at executing key initiatives.  Management in those organizations have the culture and commitment that are required for an effective project execution system.   Is your company excelling at project execution?

An outside, experienced perspective can be extremely helpful in increasing your ability to execute.  Integres can help you.  Contact us today.