When stepping into a new project, different role, or a job at a new company, you will often find one of the biggest issues you were brought in to solve is project execution. Everyone struggles with it. Smart leaders help make project execution, and benefits realization, better. Project success can be improved by first creating the right environment for success.
As a gung ho project manager, the first inclination is often to jump in, rely on your experience and sheer will, to ‘get ‘er done’. This is a great attitude for a project manager to have, however, there are a number of specific things you must first do to create the best possible environment to help increase the likelihood of project success.
Never assume you know it all. There is a reason that things are done the way they are. Too often, we assume that the people that did it before us, were uneducated idiots and we certainly know a better way. The truth is, people are basically good and want to do good work. They have tried their best and have been met with challenges. Your job is to learn a different way and benefit from their experiences of failure and try a better way.
Take time to observe and understand the objectives, the challenges, and why things were done a certain way. Does an outsider’s viewpoint help? Do new relationships need to be made? Are new tools and processes needed? Are there different people that need to be involved (or not involved)? Understanding the root cause of the issues takes time. Don’t rush this step.
Place Your Pieces
Once you understand what changes are required, you need to set the stage for doing things a different way. If you implement a new project approval process, new processes need to be created, documented, explained, and taken for a test drive. If you need new people on the team, you need to provide job descriptions, communicate changes, and hand off former responsibilities. This takes time. Don’t rush this step either.
This can be a frustrating time. You have a good idea what needs to change, you are excited to succeed, but you will need to move purposely (which often translates to ‘slowly’) and make sure everything is in place.
Doing the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. If you want to be healthier, you need to eat better food and/or exercise more. You can’t make a mental decision to be healthier and mentally make it happen without something changing.
By changing the structure of the way your work is done, you are allowing for a different outcome. Does your process allow for automation? Do you review projects frequently enough to avoid status sandbagging (keeping a project status green when you know it’s not, so you can catch up later and avoid an embarrassing red status and the attention and work that come with it)? Do projects get started that you don’t have the resources, or the critical business need, to complete?
These are all things that can be remedied by a standard, consistent structure. Build these structures into your work. Many will see them as worthless red tape, but if made wisely, these are the things that will allow you to deliver predictable results and make the lives of project managers easier.
However, implementing structures correctly, takes time as well. Don’t rush too fast. Take the time to get the structures right.
Train (i.e. Patience)
More than anything, know that people need time to understand changes, realize how it impacts them, make changes, and adjust. You will need to explain these changes multiple times. Be patient. It won’t be right the first time. Be supporting. You will fail. Adjust in a positive way.
This is a critical time for you as a leader. The way you train your people will play a huge role in how eager they are to make the changes and follow your plan. This, in turn, will determine how successful your changes are, and how successful your projects are.
But again, as with every other step, it takes time (and patience).
No one plans to fail, or execute poorly. There is a reason that things were harder than expected. When coming into a new environment, take the time to do it right. Learn before you do. Strategically set the pieces in place before you do anything. Build in processes that will help make important things automatic to drive behavior and results. Understand that everyone doesn’t have your same vision and experience, so spend your time getting them aligned with your vision.
This takes time. Don’t take short cuts. Do it right. By purposely creating a better environment, just like eating better or exercising more, your project execution success will increase and you will have healthier projects.
Tell me your thoughts in the comments and let’s open a dialog. I would be excited to hear other opinions on this topic.
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Adam Tidwell is the Senior Manager over the IT Project Management Office (PMO) for Western Governors University, an online competency based university based in Salt Lake City. He managers a team of Project Managers and Scrum Masters to plan and execute all IT projects for the university. He also manages the annual roadmap for the executive leadership team.
Adam has worked at Kyazma Business Consulting managing enterprise-wide Salesforce implementation projects. He also spent 11 years at eBay managing various cross departmental process improvement projects and establishing the first PMO for the North American Customer Support organization.
Adam currently teaches Project Management for the MBA program at the Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah and has served in various volunteer positions with the Northern Utah PMI Chapter, including two terms as President.
Adam has a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and a master’s degree in Computer Information Systems. He is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP), Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP), and Certified Scrum Master (CSM), and is currently preparing to take the Portfolio Management Professional certification exam (PfMP).