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Why Do Projects Succeed or Fail? Aligning Functional Goals

My last post concerned the first principle of the Basic Collaboration Level of the Project Execution Maturity Model, Collaborative Execution. This post introduces the second principle, Functional Goals Alignment.

Functional goals alignment
Many project teams consist of multiple disciplines from a variety of sources: technical experts, operations experts, subcontractors, supply chain management, financial controllers, schedulers, etc. Each of these team members are placed on the team to accomplish the project’s objective, yet, they bring with them the objective for their functional disciplines as well.

Let’s assume the main goal for the project is the delivery of project scope. There are necessary conditions as well, like cost and schedule, but the goal is the completion of the deliverables. Now, for example, we add the supply chain people to the team. What is their goal? Perhaps it is purchase cost variance. Delivering the project is important, but not their main goal. In which case, we have two people on the team whose goals do not match. Now, let’s add the financial controllers. Is their goal to deliver the project? Perhaps it is budget compliance. Now we have three people on the team with three different goals.

What are the likely behaviors of these team members? Would they sacrifice their careers to the project? Highly unlikely. Instead, the project team will have contention and behaviors that don’t contribute to accelerating progress toward a common goal.

Few would argue against the value goal directed work. But in most projects, the only person on the team with the single objective of completing the project is the project manager. The project manager, with limited organizational authority must somehow sort the conflicting goals and still achieve the project’s objective.

How can you tell if your team is out of alignment?
The things you should look for is a lack of responsiveness, low engagement (with the project), and a slow pace in task completions or problem resolution. You may also spend a lot of time trying to find the person who’s accountable for what, and find it difficult obtaining resources to support your project (from your “teammates”).

When functional goals are aligned, each member of the team is free to act in the best interest of the project, without being hindered by conflicting goals from other areas. This eliminates the source of internal conflict, and speeds decision-making and action.

Alignment of functional goals increases task and project velocity by removing organizational friction from the project team. It reduces the time taken to clarify accountabilities and obtain the right resources. It puts everyone who is on the project, on the project, increasing engagement. That increased engagement facilitates the improvement of productivity, as well as the allocation of the appropriate resources to the project, by reducing decision delay.

So – how do you align functional goals?
You’re probably not going to change the organizations’ measurement system. So rather than take that task on, implement ways to spot misalignment so you can mitigate or block it.

In order to create alignment, you must first determine what aligned behaviors you want, and then identify the conflicting behaviors. If you don’t know where to start, look at what is occurring that you don’t want. Then pick the opposite behavior. It’s easier to see problems than solutions, but that’s a place to start.

In most organizations we work with, I don’t often see a big conflict between goals, but rather an absence of aligned goals and guidelines that define good performance. There is really no context for creating alignment, so it’s up to the project manager to define these goals and guidelines to get the team on the same page.

We believe that a shortcut to shaping behavior is establishing measurements and feedback processes. “Show me how you measure me, and I’ll tell you how I’ll behave.” So – to get your team aligned in their behavior, create the right measurements.

We, in our projects, start out with simple measurements to guide behavior, like:
Velocity – the speed of task completions. Are we moving faster? Actually completing tasks and handing them off?
Rework – how often we have to do things over? The rule is always do it right, don’t sacrifice quality for speed.
Frequency of Progress Blockages – how often do we get surprises? The number of surprises tell us that people are not raising problems early – an important prevention behavior. We want team members to get into the habit of fixing problems as soon as they’re identified. If we find an area that’s at risk, or completely stopped, we want to the team to respond.

This is just a starting point to align team purpose and behavior, but don’t lose sight of the main idea—the team must have one goal, and your measurements will be useful to ferret out the conflicts and remove them.

(Read a great example of aligned goals in chapter 6 of our free eBook, Achieving Top Performance Under The Worst Conditions: 7 Lessons Learned from a Disaster. Or watch our video about goal alignment here!)

In the next few blog posts, I continue to identify the elements that drive effective project execution excellence, giving you a measurable means to assess your status, to target areas of improvement, and to make meaningful progress in the way you deliver projects. Get a preview and learn more by reading our free eBook “Why Do Projects Succeed or Fail? Discover What Really Makes a Difference.”

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