One essential skill in successfully executing strategy is project planning. While there are a number of outstanding software products that are helpful in laying out complex projects, many leaders just need to understand—and employ—the fundamentals of basic project management to enjoy success.
Over the years, I have taught these fundamentals to executives of companies, small and large, and have found that for each major strategic initiative, you need to clarify six key elements to structure projects that will render the outcomes you desire:
1 – WHY the project is being pursued; i.e., its connection to strategy, organizational vision and goals.
2 – WHAT specifically you want to accomplish (desired outcomes), including the scope of the project. Scope sets forth the boundaries of what a project entails, along with what is out-of-bounds.
3 – WHO will be involved in the project. Be sure to consider all stakeholders, including (but certainly not limited to) the project leader and team members, customers, vendors and other interested parties. It may even include those who might disrupt its successful completion. For small projects, the project leader may constitute the whole team. That said, each project leader should be able to clearly identify to whom they are accountable and who they can turn to for support. Project leaders must clearly own the project, must understand the project and its scope, and should thoroughly consider all stakeholders. It is important to recognize that not every stakeholder should be on the project team. “Too many cooks in the kitchen” almost always destroys project outcomes.
It can also be equally destructive to overlook key stakeholders. A number of years ago, I was fortunate to get acquainted with the CEO of Porsche. In our discussions, he told me of a project at one of their factories in Germany. They were adding a new paint plant in that city, something they had done elsewhere without much fanfare. However, although they had cleared all government environmental regulations for the plant, they had overlooked a strident group of environmentalists in that city. Failure to consider these stakeholders resulted in protests that prevented the paint plant from opening until Porsche executives addressed the protesters’ concerns directly.
4 – HOW the project will be accomplished. This includes the specific essential actions that must be accomplished to complete the project, as well as the resources that will be required to get the job done.
5 – WHEN the project will need to be completed, as well the deadlines for various actions and/or milestones.
6 – WHERE the project, and the essential actions which comprise it, will take place.
A SIMPLE PROJECT EXAMPLE:
Let’s assume that your business vision is to become the industry leader in the manufacture and sale of widgets. To do this, you recognize that your widgets must be the best in the world, and sell at a price reflective of their value to your customers.
These high-level initiatives break down into several tactical projects, including Customer Value Proposition Alignment (CVPA). Your why for this project is to assure that the company definition of a high-quality product aligns with what your key customers desire, thus assuring that they will continue doing business with you.
The what for the CVPA project might be defined as “clearly defining product and service features that delight your customers.” The scope might be “research only,” not on making product quality enhancement decisions.
That leads us to who will be involved in the project. The project leader might be a senior marketing executive, with the team including selected customers, members of the sales team, and customer service representatives.
The final components of our project plan are the how, when, and where for the CVPA project. Here’s an example of how those elements might be laid out in our plan:
- Define Customers to Observe and Survey: Start Date– 04/10/16, Deadline– 04/10/16
Resources required– Conference room with whiteboard
Venue– Corporate headquarters
Participants- All Project Team Members
Responsible Party– Team Leader
- Observe Customer Use of Our Widgets:
Start Date- 05/02/16, Deadline– 07/01/16
Resources required- Customer approval, video recording equipment
Venue- Customer X, Y, and Z Plants
Participants- Team Members A, B, and C
Responsible Party- Member A
- Observe Customer Use of Competitive Widgets:
Start Date– 05/02/16, Deadline- 07/01/16
Resources required– Customer approval, video recording equipment
Venue– Customer Q, R, and S Plants
Participants-Team Members D, E, and F
Responsible Party- Member D
Clearly, some projects are more complex than the one I’ve selected here. On such occasions, the use of project mapping tools such as Critical Path or Gantt Charts may be useful. These help project planners to list all activities required to complete their project, the time expected to complete each activity, and the dependencies and sequencing of activities. As mentioned above, there are a number of outstanding project management software alternatives available to facilitate your use of these tools.
In summary, project planning is an indispensable skill in business success. It provides the Why, What, Who, How, When, and Where for the essential actions that will bring your vision and goals into reality.
Richard Tyson is the founder, principal owner and president of CEObuilder, which provides forums for consulting and coaching to executives in small businesses.