Have you ever started a project that did not have clear expectations? The sort of assignment where it seemed like the key shareholders all had significant, but contrasting deliverables.
How did that make you feel? If you are like me, that’s when that uncertain feeling starts to develop in the pit of your stomach. The realization that, at best, there’s a lack of alignment, at worst, this project was poorly thought out.
It reminds me of this quote, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” I used to think of that quote whenever I observed dysfunction, but now I view it differently.
That quote now makes me think about the many possibilities that are available when approaching an assignment. It’s all a matter of what path we choose to pursue.
However, there are best practices that will help to offer structure and guidance when executing projects where we don’t have the needed clarity to deliver good results.
Here are a few things to consider -
This is where many of us begin when we are given a new project or objective to own. What are the deliverables? What results are we signing up to drive to completion?
And, it makes a lot of sense to start here, it’s one of the quickest and easiest ways to ground and assess a project that might be vague or unclear in its intentions.
Your approach to evaluating project deliverables can be a powerful tool to provide clarity for yourself, and perhaps more importantly, for the requestor, here’s how to finetune this approach -
Capture all outcomes for the project, don’t eliminate anything in the beginning
Place the outcomes in an ‘x to y by when’ format e.g. Improve delivery accuracy from 90% to 95% by the end of July 2022
Prioritize each outcome and assess against the timeframe
If you follow the 7 Habits, you’ll be familiar with beginning with the end in mind. However, the picture of what that end looks like can often be murky.
It usually looks like the target that we are trying to accomplish. A percentage increase or reduction in a specific amount of time. However, this approach carries some unspoken assumptions.
To clarify what the picture should look like at the end, here are some questions to get answered -
What needs to change to get our results, and what needs to stay the same?
What needs to be in place to make the results sustainable?
Are the results and the Priorities / Intent aligned?
Alignment from Key Shareholders
I often find myself attributing a high value to the first opinion I hear on a new topic. It has a big impact in shaping my perspective and it’s a lot harder to change after that point.
The same thing can happen with new projects, it’s easy to view the goals of the project as the only thing worth considering since it’s the criteria we are personally responsible for.
It’s rare, however, that I do not need the input or resources of my cross-functional colleagues. So, here’s how I ensure that I demonstrate the value in collaborating on my projects -
Seek to understand the impact of the project on my impacted colleagues
Seek to understand where there are similar goals that are geared towards the same results
Seek input and buy-in to align the project base on the needs of my colleagues, where possible
One of the fastest ways to ground a new project in reality, is to review the resources you have at your disposal to get the results requested.
Resource allocation is often an indirect measure of the priorities of any organization and therefore, can help you to determine the relative importance of the work you have been assigned.
After you have alignment from your shareholders and clear success criteria, you need to then align your deliverables to the resources available, here are key points to consider -
What is the budget available to complete this project?
Is there a team assigned to the project? Will they have other responsibilities?
What is the timeframe for deliverables? What are the consequences if not met?
“If you can't measure it, you can't manage it.” - Peter Drucker
This quote speaks to the engineer within me. That, and I acknowledge my desire for validation. But, technical-minded or not, we all need a way to measure how successful our actions are.
Previously, we discussed shareholder alignment and targeting the right results. When those pieces are in place, metrics help to determine if our actions are working.
They are also a great source to quickly reinforce buy-in and alignment. Taking our shareholders along for the journey keeps our work focused while incorporating inevitable changes.
To fully harness the benefits of tracking our progress, consider these points -
At what point will you change strategy based on your results?
Do you need predictive metrics (Lead), responsive metrics (Lag), or both?
Can your shareholders easily comprehend your results graphically?
There is a tendency to get frustrated when we are presented with projects and assignments that feel vague or poorly thought out.
We might even question what’s going on at the senior levels of leadership and whether or not they may be detached from the realities that are occurring daily.
However, it’s worthwhile to remember that a part of our role is to provide the context, technical expertise, and leadership that our organizations need to be successful.
With that in mind, the frustration then comes down to the execution and how best to leverage a process to get to the most advantageous results.
I encourage you to apply the principles discussed today if you are ever searching for a path forward when things are unclear. I hope that they’ll provide you with the tools you need.