Sunday, 01 May 2011 00:00

The On-Again Off-Again World of Projects

Rate this item
(0 votes)

A Pretty Bar Graph

Businesses exist to make money. To improve operations they create various initiatives with promises of improving the bottom line. Projects, though, cost money. They do not make a profit. The dichotomy in a strapped economy to spend savings on projects to improve future profits usually results in the conservation of cash. Many an argument has been had over whether it is better to run improvement projects, burning precious cash and heading off the competition, or taking the traditional approach and wait for times with better cash flow. Subsequent to 2008's financial folly, it is well known that most companies sat on their reserves and waited. That action may have some unintended consequences that are in the midst of surfacing.

Projects Spend Money

First, executives must get past the fact that projects do not make a profit. There are certain projects geared for increasing profits. They land a new customer, sell some special product, or implement a new capability, but their return on investment (ROI) is months or years after the project's completion. To make matters worse, if discussions drift toward creating an innovative product or service, in hopes of huge returns, the situation is further complicated by the addition of significant risk. This leaves these adventurous endeavors only to companies who have a healthy tolerance for failure.

Frugality Fatigue

In the down turn since 2008, risk aversion has been at a level unseen in my 30-year business career. For a large majority of companies (Apple and Google being two notable exceptions), the slightest hint of risk in a project, would blacklist it from ever seeing the light of day. Without attempting to recover them, management cancelled projects that stumbled into harm's way. For most situations, this was an appropriate reaction, since project failures need objective outside resources to identify their ills, which most companies were unwilling to hire.

Entire organizations hunkered down to withstand the financial storm doing just enough to keep the lights on with twenty percent less than the bare minimum staff. People are tired of bailing wire, string, and duct tape (and the fear of unemployment) holding their groups together. They want change and will find it in their current company or in a different company that they perceive will have better conditions.

The Revolt Against the Spendthrift

The tide is turning with some potentially disastrous consequences. Projects are being started, people are moving to new jobs, and others who have been on the dole for months, or even years, are returning to the ranks of the employed. With this has come an eruption (okay, maybe a small upsurge) of excitement about solving the problems that have beleaguered companies for the last three years. The result is an onslaught of hastily initiated projects to solve poorly understood problems. The pent-up frustration from performing only essential projects has created a hunger to jump, ill prepared, into the meat of a project, avoiding the drudgery of planning. Executives pushing for higher profits, more efficiency, and a desire to vault ahead of the competition fuel this attitude. It creates a perfect environment for fostering failures, frustration, and fire drills.

Meeting in Middle

If rapid results are required and executives are too anxious to wait for an exhaustive design, take a lesson from the agile community and try an iterative approach. Gather a team of key stakeholders—the ones that will use whatever the project is trying to produce—and challenge them to build something production worthy in thirty or forty-five days. The key is that they may need to live with these results. If they cannot make even the smallest of useful tools in that length of time, maybe the concept is too big to be addressed. The "fail fast" approach conserves cash and promotes a nimble organization. The short timeframe iterations promote team member creativity and innovation while maintaining a laser focus on the problem at hand. The result is an energized, productive workforce that feels purpose and value, while the company minimizes expense.

Kids In A Toy Store

The combination of the perceived need for immediacy and the pent up desire to do something fun, can only be analogous to telling your children that need to buy any toy they see that might make them happy. Best practices wane, common sense becomes scarce, and chaos is customary. No business, especially now, can afford to run off half-prepared in the hope of improving their business. Proper planning is paramount. Segment the goals into small achievable packets and assign people with the appropriate attitude to complete the tasks. Frequently assess their progress, stopping any work that will not achieve quick and decisive results. This requires an involved and progressive executive leadership to guide resources toward the toys that will truly provide the best results. This melding of executives and individual contributors is the key to a cohesive and powerful organization.

Read 4381 times

Related items

  • Process Mapping

    Process is at the core of any business. It makes work predictable, repeatable, and transferable. Without it we cannot scale our businesses. However, process can be a bane to making progress. Processes that work for a $10 million company have difficulties supporting a $30 million company. Trying to scale them to a $300 million company will not only fail but not address the issues that larger companies have that were never dreamt of in a smaller organization. Processes need to be discarded, revamped, and built—all of that without creating an overburdening bureaucracy.

    Anytime you need to go someplace, you first have to know where you are. Processes are never static and your company's current state is probably far from where you think it is. Hence, the first step is mapping out you company's current state followed by defining the future state. This is more than a logical map of the process; it must also include physical maps. Whether your process is solely to provide a service (say, website development) or physical (say, manufacturing) there are logistical issues that complicate the process flow. Without fully understanding those nuances, future state processes will not reach the desired efficiencies.

    For more information about process mapping fill out the form to the left and we will get in touch with you.

  • Success vs Culture

    The other day a Latvian student contacted me for my views the connection between culture and success criteria—an important and intriguing topic. After working in Taiwan, Singapore, Korea, Japan, Israel, United States, and Canada, I wear many scars of both blatant and subtle cultural violations. I also know that within a culture one person's success is often another person's failure. So, after dispelling concerns about clicking on some random email link, I completed her survey (please feel free to take it yourself). In the process, I struck up a friendship with the student, Kristine Briežkalne, who is studying at Riga International School of Economics and Business Administration . She has some interesting views and presented me with a Venn diagram showing four frames to a project (business, client, project management, and growth perspectives) and how they intersected. As the diagram is part of her Master's thesis, I will let you ponder the how to label the overlapping areas (an eye-opening exercise).

  • Kill The White Knight

    There is a reason we do not teach classes on fixing failing projects. Many a cynic feels that we simply do not want to teach our trade, however, our reason is far nobler—we should be teaching prevention rather trying to create white knights to save the day. It is the same philosophy as building a fence at the cliff's edge rather than an emergency room at its base. Our language is replete with idioms telling us to look past the symptom and address problems at their root cause. 'An ounce of prevention versus a pound of cure' or 'a stitch in time saves nine.' Please, feel free to supply your own in the comments. Unfortunately, most of our businesses loathe this philosophy, waiting to address an issue until it is irrefutably broken.

  • Tales of an Expert Witness: Sex, Lies, and Video Tape (Part II)

    Trust relationships, certifications, and standards sound like such a safe harbor. These sound like such great words in a proposal or statement of work. How could you possibly go wrong building a trusted relationship with a customer by committing to follow a standard? In fact, this can burn you… in court.

    No one ever starts a project with the goal of ending up in court. In fact, litigation may never cross your mind; after all, you have built a trusted partner relationship. Taking a few cautionary steps, however, will make your life easier if you end up in that ill-fated litigious position. Your best chances for success come long before you enter the courtroom—even before the project starts.

  • Comparing Organizational Change Management Models

    A few weeks ago, I set out to write a post on the comparison of various organizational change management (OCM) methodologies and realized that would be a disservice to my readers. It would simply drag you down the path of implementation while failing to focus you on building the foundation. The pressure was too much and I have relented to numerous requests on making that comparison. The caveat is that juxtaposing these models is not comparing different varieties of oranges or even apples and oranges; we are surely comparing the peel to the fruit they contain. Hence, comparing methodologies like Kotter's model (the peel), Prosci's ADKAR (the core), and General Electric's Change Acceleration Process (the whole fruit) need a different approach.

Leave a comment

More Info on Project Recovery

Tell me More!

Please send me more information
on fixing a failing project.

Rescue The Problem Project

Internationally acclaimed

Image of RPP

For a signed and personalized copy in the US visit the our eCommerce website.

Amazon logo
Buy it in the United States Buy it in Canada Buy it in the United Kingdom
Buy it in Ireland Buy it in Germany Buy it in France
Buy it in Italy Buy it in the PRC
Buy it in Japan
Book sellers worldwide.

Upcoming Events

Other's References