Monthly Archives: July 2013

Have you ever worked on a project that didn’t have a clear goal? By “clear goal” I mean one that is fully defined, stable, lacks any ambiguity and is shared among the relevant stakeholders.

Why is this so important? Can’t we just start with, say, “The goal is to deliver machine X”?

Unfortunately, such vaguely defined goals leave a lot of room for interpretation and chances are different people will come up with different interpretations to fill their perceived void. Others get lost and lose their motivation.

In our practice we often find that many problems in project planning and execution have to do with the lack of a clearly defined goal, turning a project to a plaything of change requests, complete “rescoping”, unclear priorities, demand management and similar things. How are you supposed to deliver in time, within budget and scope under such conditions?

To avoid these issues, start with a clear definition of the project’s goal that is consensus among stakeholders. You will find a simple tool to be helpful. It is called ODSC, for Objectives, Deliverables and Success Criteria for three goal dimensions. It is powerful for verbalizing and agreeing on a project’s target.

Before we go into that – who do I mean by “stakeholder”? You should go rather wide than narrow and involve project leaders, managers, members, senior management, even customers and suppliers.

Objectives – The first dimension states the purpose or objectives of the project. Why is it important to the stakeholders? What problem or demand is to be addressed by the project? Would the objective solve this problem or meet the demand? Always take the throughput (performance) of your organization into account.

A discussion will reveal many different facets, in New Product Development these may range from turning a technological breakthrough into a product, to increased profit margins, to opportunities for fostering the corporate image. To ensure a broad perspective and consensus from all stakeholders, you should look for six perspectives: financial, process, employees, customers, corporate culture/philosphy, and corporate social responsibility. So the objectives of our example may be:

  • Make profit
  • Show technical competence to the market
  • Give project members an opportunity to learn
  • Provide customer with a machine that matches his requirements
  • Improve project management capabilities to always deliver on time
  • Consume little energy in the process

Deliverables – This dimension defines what you need to produce as a project output in order to achieve the objectives. They are the tangible (product) and/or intangible (solution, service, change) outcomes to be created by the project. Consider quantitative, qualitative elements and scope. The deliverables bring the objectives to live, they are the necessary conditions, means or enablers of the objectives. It is important to not confuse objectives with deliverables.

Let’s look at some deliverables for our example:

  • Higher profit
  • Machine X
  • Manuals
  • Shipping material
  • Project members having better understanding and experience in the technology
  • A Project plan than can be reused

Success Criteria – The last dimension defines the relevant and non-trivial, measurable criteria for success. When would the project be considered successful? What must it not violate or affect negatively? Is a time commitment involved (only for the final delivery, challenge any internal milestones)? What evidence-based measurement criteria can be used?

Let’s again look at some example success criteria:

  • Machine X is delivered to customer according to specifications by agreed date
  • Use no overtime
  • Profit of 40%
  • Machine X produces 50% more than competitor’s model
  • Submitted 5 patent applications
  • Produce 10% less CO2
  • Customer has no change requests
  • CEO says: “I am very proud of this team.”

To sum it up, ODSC act as your guiding star across the project ocean. They define the end state to be attained. Everything you do (all tasks) support creating this end state. If this is true, then missing, faulty or incomplete ODSC are a cause for rework, scope creep, missed due dates, and budget overruns. In the same way that you easily lose your way in the fog

Why don’t you to start using ODSC right away to:

  • Clearly distinguish between means and objectives
  • Clarify success criteria and measure success based on evidence that the objectives have actually been reached
  • Align ODSC elements amongst project stakeholders
  • Increase success, fun and learning on your projects

Don’t forget to share the ODSC in prominent places in your project environment, maybe on large wall papers and on every project document and plan.

And, please share your thoughts and experience on our Visual Project Management LinkedIn group.

Christoph Lenhartz is General Manager Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) for Pinnacle Strategies. He oversees all EMEA business operations, including business development, resource management, and project delivery as well as leads a team of international experts who assist Pinnacle’s clients in making substantial and sustainable improvements in operations and performance. He has more than 20 years of industry and consulting experience helping clients significantly improve their bottom lines. Additionally, he serves on the boards of TOCICO, the Theory of Constraints International Certification Organization and the Eliyahu M. Goldratt Foundation.

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Operations Management PhotoWe’ve all seen promising initiatives get started with hearty organizational enthusiasm only to gradually die out, not meet full expectations, or get displaced in favor of ‘new thinking’.

Having been the individual responsible for many such initiatives, I’ve learned (often the hard way) that it pays to “stack the deck” at the beginning of the project while enthusiasm still runs high.  While most of the suggestions in this article are in no way revolutionary or ground-breaking, thinking about how each of these complimentary tasks contributes to “stacking the deck” is most certainly a worthwhile exercise in building a good foundation for a successful initiative.

Commit to the Effort in a Project Charter.  A Project Charter is a document typically signed by at least the Initiative’s Sponsor (person allocating budget) and the Project Manager (person responsible for planning and executing).  The Charter identifies things like project scope, project objectives, major stakeholders, and team member authority levels.  Additionally, I strongly recommend that your charter articulate the vision of the end-state as well as the metrics upon which the effort’s success will ultimately be judged. Risk areas that could impact your success should also be highlighted.

Having a signed project charter has saved my ‘back side’ on a couple different occasions.  Especially on longer projects, a Charter can be used to remind those with short memories what they signed up for at the project start and help motivate them to play their part.  It is also a useful document to align players that may change after the project gets kicked off.  Identifying risk areas such as this up front prepares you to negotiate contingencies for when Murphy strikes.

Conduct a Stakeholder Analysis.  Going through a written exercise of identifying the stakeholders and understanding how the project will affect each person and their role in the organization is time well-spent.  A major part of a Project Manager’s job is to convince others to accomplish project-related tasks.  In today’s matrix organizations, the Project Manager often does not have direct authority over many of the resources assigned to the team and must negotiate conflicting priorities and/or objectives.  A Stakeholder Analysis helps one articulate what these priorities and competing objectives might be.

As a practical matter, I typically put together a matrix for my personal use (or the use of a select few trusted team members) that lists what is important to each impacted stakeholder and what my engagement plan with them will be.  This is especially important for those who may perceive the initiative as threatening (or maybe just cumbersome), but you should also do this for those who will be positively impacted.

Develop a Formalized Project Plan.  In a major initiative, a formalized project plan can be your best friend.  A good project plan will break down the project into bite-sized tasks for your team members and establish the linkages that tie the work together.  It will also guide progress with estimated task durations and strategically placed buffers to account for the uncertainties that are inherent to project work.

There are undoubtedly some guys who ‘have done this a 1000 times’ and can successfully pull off a successful major initiative with an ad-hoc management style.  For those of us who are less risk averse and want to ‘stack the deck’ in our favor, a good project plan will serve as an effective communication vehicle both early in the project and later….after things haven’t gone according to plan.

Read some of our case studies here to see how these implementation realities helped achieve great results for our clients.

Cory TerEick is Pinnacle Strategies’ Engagement Manager specializing in the Oil & Gas and Aerospace industries. In this role, he is responsible for delivering results and sales while leading an international team of expert consultants working at various client sites around the world.  Mr. TerEick is a results-oriented problem solver with a track record of helping clients overcome significant challenges and driving high impact, transformational change. He is a recognized expert in advanced project management methodologies as well as mega-project design, execution, and turn-around. Mr. TerEick is especially skilled in operations diagnostics, process re-engineering, and portfolio-level strategic planning.

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Everyone has started a project only to realize that you do not have all the items you need to finish.   Drywall anchors – picture hangers – spackle – no matter the project, it’s the little things that get you hung up.  So you either have to stop and run back to the store so you can finish, or set aside the project until you can swing by the store “later”.   Either way, it’s extra work and it takes longer than it should.

Many engineering projects suffer from the same problem.  In a hurry to start, we begin the work as soon as it appears on our desk. But too often, the task takes longer because we don’t have everything to finish.  Worse, we don’t know we can’t finish (who knew we were out of drywall anchors?) either because we didn’t check or we didn’t fully unpack the task before we started.

False starts are worth addressing because of what the do to the workflow.  Multiply the starting and stopping effect by the quantity of your engineers, designers, drafters, buyers, etc., and you’ll see the delays and rework cascading across all of your projects.

It’s such an obvious thing, isn’t it?   But what’s obvious and sensible is not what we find in the workplace.  The reason – especially in knowledge work – is that it’s difficult to incorporate sensible and obvious into a coherent system of project management.

Most people don’t see it a problem, just a fact of life.  From a project systems point of view, it’s hard to see that false starts is the cause of many of your project problems:

Loss of Momentum: My previous post discussed the problem with too much work in process.  False starts exacerbate the effects – false starts inflate WIP even worse, it can’t move!

Rework:  Without the full kit of information to finish, tasks are often completed incorrectly.  Going back and redoing the work takes time and consumes additional resources, putting other work behind schedule and impacting not only that project, but also potentially the other projects that use those resources.

Extra Costs: Doing it twice or three times.  Using resources more and longer than you had planned to.  This time and those resources have to be purchased.  Working overtime to catch up.  Temporary workers.  Tiger teams. Not free.  Not planned.

False starts are much more than a nuisance; they are a systemic problem affecting your entire project management process.

What to do about it? First, make a decision.  No task starts unless it can finish.  This changes the emphasis in the organization from keeping busy to preparing to succeed.

Next, resource the preparation activity.  Someone has to be accountable for full kit and clean start, someone has to check that the work is ready to start.

Then, focus on identifying what is needed to finish a task.  That in itself will shift your team’s thinking, give some thought to establishing hand off criteria; determining when it is good enough to say “done”.

In our work with project teams, we see false starts often: in projects, in manufacturing.  For example, at one manufacturer, shortages to final assembly were high and the receiving department didn’t want to stop the line. Crews were constantly deployed out of position, working overtime, crowding stations, creating rework and scrap.

By eliminating the shortages, the clean start, the line accelerated and overtime declined substantially.   You can read more about this case here.

Although the example is of a manufacturer, the concept applies to any workflow.  The practice of a clean start with a full kit is so important to overall project performance that it has become central to our project and workflow transformation engagements.  It moves teams from merely being busy, to being effective.  It changes the way they look at their work.

It’s a simple thing you can do that will transform your portfolio performance.  Decide.

Read more about the false starts in our eBook Blindsided! Five Invisible Project Threats Successful Managers Must See.

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