Projects can swiftly get out of control, and can easily lose momentum. By that time, however, they’ve already started to take a toll on the confidence of stakeholders, participants, and clients. Because of this, the ability to implement effective projects requires excellence, support, and commitment at each stage of the build.
The things project leaders must do well:
Be able to attract and effectively hire and retain supremely competent dream-team members who are capable of working more like responsive, fast-moving, flexible, project team members than like traditional employees. The focus is on contribution, achievement, and success – not office supplies and drama.
Be able to leverage and utilize the best talents of each team member, regardless of position, title, or task, without regard to the “politics” associated with traditional employment. Project teams must work like contractor engineers in a huddle, not like cogs in top-down structures with their traditional bottlenecks, and a primary interest in escaping blame and responsibility.
Effectively predict costs, especially on large ventures. It always costs more than you think. The unknown and unpredictable is always present. If you’re not willing to quote for that up front, and make some people unhappy with the number, you’re not really planning a project, you’re planning a disaster.
Effectively predict realistic time frames, especially on aggressive ventures. Same thing with money – those are the two things a project will always use more of in ways you don’t expect, at least if you don’t have a consistent pattern of success in ventures of the same type and scale. This is especially true if you plan to cut corners on realistic safeguards for success, and if you don’t plan and adhere to the scope effectively – you’ll spend more time or money, and likely both.
Apply realistic safeguards for success, such as truly adequate testing and pilot implementations, comprehensive training, and coaching toward maximum efficiency and individual effectiveness. Even more significantly, effectively plan the scope in an accurate way that maps processes to take into account everything the project touches. And even then, don’t be arrogant, give the processes back to the man on the ground, and let him tell you what you still don’t know and didn’t think of. Nothing will ruin planning like an utter lack of humility. If you think you own it, but you don’t touch it on a daily basis, think again. The man whose wrench is on the boiler owns the boiler, when it comes to the process – you need that perspective, not just a flowchart that can be easily filed in a cabinet.
Construct, streamline, and utilize a swift and effective decision-making and sign-off apparatus. If everyone wants to get a say, add their personal flavor, tweak some part as a way of applying their brand or adding their voice or their initials in the concrete, you don’t have decision making at all – you have a committee – a congress. When was the last time one of Congress’ large scale projects went particularly well, not to mention coming in under budget and on time? The alternative to an effective decision-making apparatus is that the drywaller is closing up the wall before the electrician is done, and you’ll have to tear down and redo. And that means the painter is costing you more, while he sits on his can.
Effectively define and communicate the scope of the project to all stakeholders and clients, with emphasis on understanding and acceptance of the new culture. It is always a culture change, or the project wouldn’t be worth implementing. Building it from the outside is how prisons are constructed; living communities are built from the inside. If the planners spend to much time at the drawing board, and too little onsite living in the apartment, you’re going to have mattress-burning riots in the yard when the fence starts to go up.
The emotional commitment to the project’s actual implementation must be present in every participant, but especially in those who lead. Nothing draws down the direction and momentum of an implementation faster than not being sure whether you really want to pull the trigger, or whether you really are all in for what it all means. This is not only a “middle management” issue – the commitment must be in place at the top, and sideways as well.
A project implementation requires a definite set of conditions to work. These do not ensure it will go smoothly, they ensure it will go at all. If you pull out one of these pins, the structure will wobble, the audience will reel, and the participants will begin jumping off. Not only that, your contractors will ask for more money. To quote the film Ronin, “If it’s going to be amateur night, then the price has got to go up.”
Before launching a project, organizations should take real stock of themselves, their history and, pride and egotism and overconfidence aside, ask themselves whether they have the soft infrastructure in place, along with the real infrastructure, to conduct large-scale projects, let alone projects of moderate scope. If not, a lot of time and money could be saved by building the foundation first, and then trying to erect the skyscraper.