The Speed of Business

With the current unyielding imperative for furious production, impervious delivery, and flawless implementation savvy customers, armed with the knowledge of differentiating competitive dynamics, have elevated the standards for execution for almost every purveyor.  The obligation to deliver these new rigorous benefits with ultimate speed and impeccable perfection has placed a newfound emphasis on organized systemization and instantaneous communication.  The talent, not only to produce an ultimate quality product, but to over-protect, over-connect, and over-indulge your customers throughout the entire “process experience” is the “secret sauce” with which to win the hearts and minds of today’s highly demanding customers.

In an effort to grapple and compartmentalize the conceivable chaos of attempting high speed mass-delivery with perfection, many companies have broken their systems into programs and projects.  And with this organizational shift to hands-on process control we have seen the ubiquitous rise of The Project Manager.  Regardless of whether a process cycle is 20 minutes or 20 months, more and more we see the infiltration of project management disciplines sanctioned as the guardian for efficiency and effectiveness.

As a Leader it is important you possess the skill sets necessary to develop, enact, and lead “best in class” Project Management methodologies to ensure your processes, by themselves, present a competitive advantage.

In my article, Implementing Strategy with a Work Breakdown Structure – WBS, I discussed how to use a Project Management WBS approach in implementing internal strategic plans.  The advantages of these skills are wide-spread and should be implicit and exercised throughout your organization’s processes.  The rudimentary phases of fundamental Project Management implementation are rather standard.  Typically, they consist of the following high-level phases:

Project Management Phases

Each of these phases has their own disciplines and tactics for success.  Regardless of the exact project management doctrine, the singular goals required by all are: to deliver a program or project within Scope, On Time, and On Budget.  These three non-negotiable obligatory results are the decisive measures of any success.  For your Project Managers to consistently produce exemplary “best in class” victories, they need to possess a variety of important Leadership skills:

  • Planning & Goal Setting
  • Communicating & Directing
  • Delegating & Time Management
  • Tracking & Controlling
  • Measuring
  • Risk Assessment
  • Problem Solving
  • Utilization of Resources
  • Team Building

There are a multitude of programs and books to help guide one through the vast Project Management alternatives available.  And for those who require higher levels of Project Management capabilities, the PMP Certification Program exists.  A Leader who is serious about bringing the speed and reliability to his business that today’s competitive climate requires will invest serious time and energy into learning the disciplines necessary to engrain a Project Management ideology throughout his deliverable system.

Project Management Applications

With the accessibility of this formal curriculum, you might begin to believe the acts of bringing this knowledge to your team will spontaneously ignite fresh fires and generate brand-new competitive successes.  Although a good Project Management Program will provide the platform, there are some crucial additional dynamics which need to come into play.  In another article, Business is Easy … People are Hard – The Change Proposition, I spoke about how in spite of the best “business plans” the “people challenge” presents the most significant impediment to “getting things done”.

Throughout the years of implementing hundreds of projects and programs, I have formulated, “The Three Truths of Project Management”.  Understanding and interposing these Three Truths from a proactive position of potency is the difference between good planning and bona fide execution.  You will not find these Truths taught in any of the formal books or programs, but they are precepts I vehemently drill into the psyche of every Project Manager who leads our projects.

THE FIRST TRUTH OF PROJECT MANAGEMENT:

Everyone is out to screw you – they just don’t know it!

As a Project Manager you will discover it simplistic to gain support for your project from third parties.  Once set into motion, no one wants to be a negative influence.  As a result, people tend to tell you “what you want to hear”.  Sure, they can start on time and they will surely make the deadline.  It is easy for others to make commitments on “your” project.  They really do not anticipate any harm, so for cooperation’s sake they stay positive.  But their world has different and additional priorities than your project.  Realities shift, often resulting in them “doing their best” while your project suffers and fails.

If you assume anything, you must assume others will not deliver on their promises.  Not because they do not want to, but because something will happen “beyond their control” to cause a failure. It is your responsibility to “Protect the Plan!” This means realizing the zero value of promises.  You need proof, hard evidence, from everyone all of the time backing up what they are saying.  If they are to receive parts on Friday, you need to see the receiving paperwork.  If an item is in transit, you want the tracking numbers.  Protect the Plan!  Disregard other’s disdain for your conscientiousness.  Know where you are vulnerable to other’s failures and plan contingencies.  A Project Manager lives in a world of relying on others to carry out their responsibilities.  But you do not have to be dependent on them.  Diligently stay all over them, from beginning to end, if you want to be successful!

THE SECOND TRUTH OF PROJECT MANAGEMENT:

If you haven’t checked on it yourself – It is not going to happen!

On every project I wait to hear the ethereal words, “Trust Me, I’m on it”. This should be a Red Flag to any Project Manager.  You can’t afford to be surprised by a failure on your project.  Surprise raids you of your options.  Surprise propels you into a reactionary spin, often resulting in a less than optimum response.  You are not in a position to believe actions have been taken because someone said they would “take care of it”.

A heads-up Project Manager makes the extra calls and checks on the details.  He authenticates the reality to ensure the “ball wasn’t dropped”.  You must consistently check and follow up on the required actions of others.  Living with the liabilities created by others’ forgetfulness and dereliction is what keeps Project Managers up through the night.  You are not in the “trust” business – you are in the “show me” business.  Follow up on everything!

THE THIRD TRUTH OF PROJECT MANAGEMENT

If everything seems on schedule – you are behind!

If we are half way through a project and I hear that we are on schedule, I immediately know we are behind.  The only acceptable answer I want to hear throughout the entire project is that we are “ahead” of schedule.  Project Managers should reject the concept of being “on schedule”.  Simply, you are either ahead or you are behind.

First, being on schedule implies you are not ready for the possibility of a forthcoming event which could cause a delay.   You are working without room to implement a contingency plan when something goes wrong.  When a problem does develop, which it will, you are forcing yourself into a position of playing catch up.  Catching up means “dollars”!  And even if you are able to recover those expenses from another offender, recompense does not happen without a great deal of time, effort, and aggravation against your project.

Secondly, every project I have ever seen, whether it is painting a room or rolling out a complete customer solution, results in the last 10% of the work taking 30% of the time.  It is amazing how close you can appear to being finished, and yet the project drags on with the final touches, clean up, last minute changes, approvals, etc.  If you are not ahead of schedule all the way through, you are looking at a last minute crunch to complete everything.  At the very least, this is a stressful and tiring way to finish a project.  Stay ahead of schedule by pushing hard from the start.  Do not count on your ability to make it up later.  Time is moving.  An expert Project Manager stays ahead of it!

Three Truths of Project Management

Today’s Customers are demanding new solutions be brought to them at lightning speed and with brilliant implementation.  Your Business Plan is bursting with projects.  Regardless of whether you are in Sales, Operations, Manufacturing, Marketing, you have projects which directly affect growth and profitability.  As a Leader you must be focused on Project Management disciplines and tools for the fast and effective execution of your plans.  A Street Smart Leader learns how to use the programs and tools of the Project Management craft to outpace and outperform his competition and deliver the “secret sauce”.  And he ensures his team stays focused on the Three Truths of Project Management to solidify and guarantee his triumph!

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How many meetings do you attend over and over again where the same topics are discussed but nothing changes? If you’re like me, you find these  maddening.  Once we decide we are going to do something, why is it so often the idea is left to die on the conference table? Great ideas that can make a constructive difference to our business are just buried with the assumption our idea is now working because we talked about it.  It is D.O.A. and we do not even realize it!

Here is why.  Ideas cannot be implemented!  Yes those strokes of brilliance, no matter how earth shattering, no matter how dazzling, cannot be executed.  It would be like saying, let’s make a great dinner tonight, and then going over to the table, sitting down and waiting for the food to show up.  Your idea starves to death.

Great ideas, by themselves, are useless.  Everyone has them (or thinks they do).  The “genius” lies not in the idea but in the ability to implement one.  Your job is to take that flat-lined idea and breathe life into it so it can walk and talk and become an agent for change in your company.  We call this, “making things happen”.  With smaller ideas, you usually need only to take disciplined action for implementation.  Larger ideas, often called Strategies, take a more complex approach if we are to see them survive and thrive.

We have been taught to start by taking our Strategy and establishing goals, understanding objectives, and identifying the initiatives.  We have all heard of these things, and have used them.  If these traditional techniques are effective, then why are our Big Ideas and Strategies still on meeting agendas from year to year?

 

Years ago, when I was serving as the U.S. President of a large multinational, we created a Big Idea.  Our new Strategy was going to significantly shift our market segmentation through a redefined sales focus and new product introduction.  If successful, our strategy would deliver additional gross profit without any increase in costs.  It would turn around the financial performance of this “barely getting by” company.  We set objectives and tactics, knew we had to hire different salespeople, establish a new structure, re-train, revamp our marketing plan, develop new compensation plans, the new product, etc.

I was very excited regarding our new Strategy.  I knew we had developed a breakthrough idea and I was ready to go.  I prepared my slides, boarded an airplane and took off to present the plan to my boss, the North American CEO.  I delivered an inspired and passionate presentation.  Instead of the enthusiastic reaction I had expected, my boss looked at my slides on the table as if they were dead already.  He asked me one question, “How do you plan to execute this?”  With a little sweat forming on my brow, I quickly started to explain how I was planning a meeting with my Vice Presidents and Regional Managers.  They would be so excited with the great idea; they would take it back to the field and implement it.  We would have monthly progress reports and follow ups.  He stopped me, looked at the slides again, looked back up at me and said, “You need to take a Project Management Course.”  Then he left the room.

My flight back home was a frustrating trip, to say the least.  I knew he completely understood the Strategy.  We had talked about it together for months.  He was one of the smartest men I had ever worked for, so why wasn’t he excited we were moving forward with this plan?  I was the President, what did I need with a Project Management course?  I’ve been getting things done my entire career. I could make this work.  I wasn’t erecting a building or an aircraft carrier.  Project Management?  What did that have to do with anything?  In turmoil, I walked up and down the airplane aisle, took out paper and wrote everything I recollected from the meeting and drew up some new diagrams.  I knew there was something I was missing here.

Before we landed, it came to me.  He wasn’t questioning the Strategy at all.  But he didn’t think I had a chance in hell of executing such a wide sweeping imperative plan which would challenge our culture and traditional mindset in an absolutely new way.  So after getting over the fact I had traveled over twelve hours to get a two-line response, I hypothesized, maybe those two lines were pretty important.  And yes, the next day I enrolled in a pretty intense Project Management training program.

I learned many things about Project Management including, critical paths, sequencing, resource deployment, task constraints, GANTT and PERT charts, etc.  But the jewel I took away to facilitate implementation of our Strategy was the Work Breakdown Structure or WBS.  I learned a vital methodology for getting things done, especially immense and complex strategies.

Remember, Ideas and Strategies cannot be implemented. So you must find a way to “breakdown” the Strategy into “actionable accountable tasks”.  Many people develop the Objectives and Tactics we discussed above.  But they don’t necessarily connect the dots and pull the Strategy together.  They are often times just smaller disassociated ideas which also go nowhere.  You need to get past the Idea and get into the action.  A comprehensive integrated plan of attack that will create action and accountability must be developed.

At first glance a WBS looks like an Organizational Chart.  You begin with the Strategy in the top box and then list the objectives immediately underneath in a branch-like structure.  Then you take the objectives and break them down into initiatives.  Like the traditional model above we still aren’t at a place where action can be taken!

 

Next you take each initiative and breakdown the actual “actionable” task that someone is going to do.  You breakdown these with as much detail as possible, working further and further down the branch..  When you feel you have broken down all of the actionable tasks ask, “If I do all of these, will the box above on the chart be completed”.  If the answer is no, return and put more work into your WBS.  Go over and over it until there are no holes.

Here is an example of breaking down just one initiative.

 

Now here is the WBS secret formula.  The items on the bottom of each branch are called “Terminal Elements”.  Since Terminal Elements are “actionable”, this is where responsibilities and timeframes for delivering results are assigned.  As the results come in, they are checked off in the Terminal Element boxes as complete.  Accountability is driven at the Terminal Element Level.

If each terminal element is accomplished the next highest box above (the parent) is completed.  Do this across the entire chart and everything continues to roll up completing your project.  What does this mean?  All that is necessary to implement a big idea Strategy is execution of the smallest Terminal Elements.  The Terminal Elements become your deliverables.  And if your WBS is built correctly, they are all that is needed.  The rest of the chart can be in the background.

 

Practice! Practice! Practice! It takes practice to build proper WBS charts.  It takes practice to develop your career.  I have been at WBS charts for over fifteen years and it is still the first tool I reach for when I need to implement great ideas.  Start using them for everything.  Your WBS charts will get better and better.  Make a WBS for doing the laundry, washing your car, or preparing the meal we mentioned earlier.  I am often amazed how much time managers will spend practicing their golf swing or teaching their kid to kick a soccer ball.  And how little time they spend practicing their real craft (which by the way, most likely paid for the golf clubs and soccer ball).  Practice building WBS charts until they are second nature; until they are the foundation for how you think about implementation.

In case you are wondering how that first WBS application turned out for me.  I had our entire management team take the Project Management course.  We built a strong sales program and were successful in shifting our market segmentation.  The resulting 7% growth per job created a margin climb which increased pretax profit from .9% to 5.2%.  Using these implementation methods we took an underperforming company which was in the bottom six of the 42 world-wide companies and brought it into the top eight performers within three years.  A twelve-hour flight, two lines of hard-hitting wisdom … Project Management for a President, a Strategy; who would have thought?  What a great mentoring moment for me.

Learn to use a WBS with expertise and you will go to the “head of the class” and become a true professional implementor, a rare specialty among most Management Teams.  Put your WBS on the wall in your office so everyone can see the plan and the progress you are making.  You’ll be surprised at the attention it receives.  You will be known as a Street Smart Leader who can take those dead ideas lying on the conference room table and give them life.  Once you see those ideas walking and talking throughout your organization, you will have something to be proud of!

for more info on Work Breakdown Structures see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Work_breakdown_structure

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