A new year means it is new budget and new project time. Everything on the status chart is green and we resolve to keep it that way. However, in the back of our minds, we fear this year will end like the last as a desperate race to get our deliverables completed just under the wire. How do things always seem to go off track and what can be done to prevent it? The answer to both of those questions is “culture” but let’s start with more tangible steps.
Keeping a project on track starts in the planning phase. Most planning stops when you find there is a “happy path” to success. This year, instead of stopping when you determine it is possible, take the extra step of really brainstorming what could go wrong. Make the unknown known by Red Teaming (have another team come in and with the explicit goal of tearing apart your plan) and by engaging “the guy on the ground” early on. The front line team has tacit knowledge that cannot be replaced by all of the preparation in the world. Adjust your plan to account for these contingencies. Prepare for what you will do when the unexpected occurs because the unexpected will occur. Finally, allow for some flexibility. When something doesn’t go according to plan, be prepared for your plan to flexibly adapt rather than rigidly crumble.
During the execution phase remember the plan is not the objective. One of the biggest hindrances to the successful completion of an objective is the “tyranny of the plan.” Simply put, at a certain point people forget about the long-term objective and become singularly focused on following the plan. It doesn’t matter how hard you plan, there will be variables you cannot control or foresee. Keep the objective as the focus and the plan as the current best route but, like any good GPS navigation app, be prepared to adjust your route during the journey if traffic builds ahead or a clearer path appears.
So what does this have to do with culture? Every person on the team needs to be comfortable pointing out what might go wrong in order to have a candid conversation about how to prevent it. Your front line team (“the guy on the ground”) is your most important asset for spotting problems early and determining how to prevent or fix them. However, for that person to be able to perform this function, a culture of trust and openness within the project team needs to exist. The point of the planning exercises is not to defend the plan. It is to accomplish the objective in the allotted amount of time. A defensive response will shut down conversation and lead to “surprises” that could have been planned for. During the execution phase, knowing “traffic is building ahead” or “a shorter route has been calculated” requires the constant tracking of key variables and most importantly the transparent communication of issues and successes both within the project team and with the wider group of stakeholders. Hiding problems also hides solutions.
Remember the objective is not the plan. Focus on that over projects plans, politics, and ego and you will find a way to meet that objective on time and on budget. Good luck!
This article was originally published at Inspirantgrp.com/inspirantinsights
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