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Projects are an integral part of staying lean, efficient, and ahead of your competition. Often complex in nature, they involve a variety of moving parts kept running by dedicated and agile team members towards an end goal. As a project leader, you focus on planning, execution, team performance, and ensuring any risks and issues are anticipated and mitigated early.
So why do so many projects fail? Let’s take a look at the top five reasons.
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1. No Pause to Plan
Oftentimes projects can be a reactive and not a proactive exercise. You’re handed a vision and a goal post and told to run. It is important to pause and take time to solidify the foundation which your entire initiative will rest on so your team can hit the ground running on day one.
- Defining a central vision around the end goal of your initiative – including defining a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and an accountable owner, or committee, for its direction
- Creating a clear and maintainable project plan that outlines key tasks, milestones, and deliverables required to complete the effort
- Building agile processes to allow for easy onboarding and predictable execution – inclusive of approvals, escalations, issue resolution, roadmapping, and scope
- Defining the tool set and repository structure to be used for day to day work activities, deliverable creation, risk and issue tracking, and single source of truth knowledge sharing
2. Hazy Metrics
If you can’t measure it, you’ll never know where you stand. Projects have so many different ways to analyze progress revolving around quality, cost, and time. With an abundance of data, it’s imperative that teams clearly identify and set the appropriate success criteria, definitions, and benchmarks at all levels of the initiative to ensure clarity and a unified way of determining if and when course corrections are needed.
- Defining metric based success criteria for entering and exiting different phases of your effort focused around the areas that matter most to keeping your team moving in the right direction
- Setting clearly defined and transparent Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) or Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), that best match the goals of your initiative, and measure progress against them
- Establish a recurring cadence to review performance against your baselines to understand what is working, where corrective action is required, and how your benchmarks should evolve over time
- Limiting your metric set to a sustainable amount so your team can stay focused and you can ensure impactful decisions are made
3. Lack of Accountability
Organizational structures can be complex and politically challenging. Everyone wants to do their best, but if they don’t feel invested, things can slip through the cracks. Setting clear and defined roles, responsibilities, and reporting structures goes a long way in ensuring every team member is empowered to make the right decisions in a collaborative environment.
Accountability can be set with:
- A clearly defined RACI assigning responsibility and accountability to appropriate team members, while also providing a high level overview of who is involved in each activity
- Organizational charts and process maps codifying escalation paths and reporting structures, allowing for roadblocks to be removed and decisions to be made quickly
- Defined checkpoints and ceremonies (i.e. daily stand-ups) to allow team members to own successes and pivot in a quick manner when necessary
4. Confusing Communication
The game of telephone is a risky one – especially on larger initiatives. You often get one message spliced into multiple flavors or a melange of messages colliding with each other to create confusion and delay. It is imperative to define a communication plan and strategy for relaying critical information to the right parties at the right time via the right channels. Doing so will ensure a singular voice and proper direction in moments of challenge and success.
Successful project communication includes:
- Defining an approach to communication that focuses on vertical inclusion of leads from each functional area who will aid in disseminating key executive messaging to the larger team, and participate in solutioning dialogue
- Establishing a communication plan focusing on defining owners, stakeholders, methods of information sharing, medium, and recurrence
- A focus on clean, concise, and accurate information
- Opening centralized forums and channels for clarification and discussion
5. Task-Based Leadership as Opposed to Servant-Based Leadership
Management isn’t just about the task, it’s about the team, and more importantly the people. Oftentimes leaders forget that without a motivated and empowered team, nothing moves forward. Focusing on removing roadblocks while fostering an open and respectful environment for ideation, collaboration, growth, retrospective, and task ownership are what keep teams performing efficiently and calmly even through the roughest waters.
To be a servant leader, one must focus on:
- Creating an open, transparent, and collaborative environment to foster inclusive communication, promote honest feedback, and assist the team with any obstacles preventing them from reaching their full potential
- Being the champion for your team by allowing team members to fully own their task and ensuring they have the proper tools and support to achieve success
- Fostering growth minded environment allowing team members to have a voice as part of key decisions surrounding their tasks, process, and work product
- Establishing a regular cadence for retrospective meetings to discuss team successes, pain points, and an action plan towards continuous improvement
Remember a project environment is exciting and always evolving. There will be successes and setbacks throughout, but with the above five learnings you can ensure that you will be ready to take on the challenges at hand.