Back in 2004, PricewaterhouseCoopers reviewed 10,640 projects from 200 companies in 30 countries across a range of industries, and found that only 2.5% of those companies completed 100% of their projects. For anyone with a job, that may not be too surprising—projects get delayed and derailed all the time. But the costs can pile up. By one measure, organizations lose $109 million for every $1 billion invested in projects and programs.
No matter our roles, we're constantly tasked with creating and executing new initiatives and undertakings—so why not invest a little more energy into making sure they succeed? Learning how to lead and deliver projects more effectively isn't just good for our companies, it can often make or break our careers. With that in mind, these four rules can help.
The Project Management Institute reports that only 64% of projects meet their goals. The best projects start with "thinking" and only proceed to "doing" when there is a viable plan in place. Bridging that divide—between idea and implementation—is the first point where many projects stumble. In fact, if you and your project team can outline common goals and a carefully considered plan for reaching them, you're about 80% there.
Doing that well takes plenty of research and asking the right questions. But there is such a thing as over-brainstorming. Putting hundreds of questions on the wall in Post-It notes, or unloading every possible, half-baked idea into a Google doc, is probably a bad move. Too much idea generation at the very beginning of a project will only confuse. The trick is to keep it simple, pragmatic, and targeted.
Rather than just asking everyone to get every idea out there on the table first, try asking these three questions (in this order):
- Why are we doing this in the first place?
- What are our current capabilities for doing it?
- What are the milestones we'll need to track our progress?
In other words: define, assess, plan.
You already know that to get off to a good start, you need everyone on your team to understand their own role and work well together. But while we're used to talking about work culture with respect to entire organizations, it tends to get short shrift at the team level.
Team dynamics are all about culture. When you get that right, it's easier to forecast interpersonal problems, mentor team members effectively, or replace them quickly. Because culture comes down to the beliefs, expectations, and sense of purpose a team shares, it can change according to the project. So think about your project team's culture just as strategically as you would its goals.
Culture is a complement to the formal, established rules it takes to accomplish any kind of teamwork. An understanding of, and commitment to, the project’s mission can help guide your team when you confront issues for which no rules exist.
With so many unknowns at the start of any project, it's often impossible to chart a precise course toward success. As a result, it's important not to get stuck in too many details too early. Once you've defined your project's basic scope, that's usually enough to start outlining a few of the initial milestones. Leave the later ones for later. With every small first step, the path forward becomes ever clearer.
It's important to know when you've planned as much as you can and it's time to get to work. When we have something concrete to show for ourselves after the first few weeks, we have something to build on for the months ahead. Project teams can procrastinate just as much as any individual can. As Stephen King said, "Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work."
The biggest lesson from my computer-science schooling was the concept of reusability. In software engineering, that refers to the use of existing assets in some form within the software product development process. More than just code, assets are all the products and byproducts of that life cycle—including everything from design to implementation techniques. So reuse requires separately maintaining versions of those assets as they accumulate from one stage to the next.
This concept can be applied to any project. For example, as an author, I first write small blog posts, the blogs turn into feature-length articles, and articles become the basis of a new book. Reuse is what gives us speed and efficiency, without reinventing the wheel every time we want to create a new asset.
Not only can this help teams stay efficient as they build on the work they've done over the course of a project, it also helps everyone stay motivated. When you can watch your work build progressively—rather than just see your spot on the assembly line—you're more likely to see the whole thing through, successfully and under deadline.
Serial entrepreneur Faisal Hoque is the founder of Shadoka, which enables entrepreneurship, growth, and social impact. He is the author of Everything Connects: How to Transform and Lead in the Age of Creativity, Innovation, and Sustainability (McGraw-Hill) and other books. Use the Everything Connects leadership app for free.
Copyright (c) 2016 by Faisal Hoque. All rights reserved.