Project Management is the Journey, Outcomes are Your Destination

After years of contemplation and introspection, I’ve come to the conclusion that it IS About the Destination!  (See, I’m trying to retire before I hit the ripe old age of 85).

I came late to financial investing in my life.  I never really understood the value of the market and stock options.  I worked for Microsoft early in my career when stock options were plentiful and Microsoft wasn’t that big.  Needless to say by not understanding the value of the market and the stock options provided….I’m still working for a living.  See….I was focused on working for my money rather than having my money work for me.  I forgot about my long term goal (destination) and delayed my retirement by another 40 years.

So I learned, did my research and finally understood that the key part of success in investing is to define your goals and consistently work toward them.

iStock_000056745992_XXXLarge_EIGHT

Mind you, this is not a lesson in investing.  Yet, I always look for similarities in different parts of my life.  For instance, my progression up the investment learning curve and how most companies manage their portfolio of strategic initiatives.

Let’s assume that most companies have goals that are defined in the strategic vision.  These strategic goals plan for their future growth.  Yet how many of these companies monitor their portfolio regularly?  How many companies align their portfolio with their strategic goals in order to measure whether they were able to successful reach their desired outcomes?   If they aren’t doing it, then why spend all this money to create a strategy in the first place?  It is a waste of resources both human and financial.

Unfortunately, I see this way too often.  I previously described this in my previous blog: Project Management is “Broke.”   By the time a project is kicked off, stated project goals are defined as on time on budget and within scope.  But what happened to the project purpose…. the strategic goals? Is the company spending money to check off the box or to solve a problem, grow the business, reduce or contain costs?  I contend that the reason many companies fail in reaching their desired business outcomes is because they aren’t aligning their project with their desired outcomes, monitoring them for changes, and working consistently toward those outcomes.  Implementing a new system or changing a process is great but what were you trying to address by putting in that new system or changing the process.  Don’t train everyone on a new system for 12 hours without understanding what your users need to know and target the message accordingly (actual recent case study with a prospective client)

Companies need to stop focusing on project management and begin to focus on Outcome Management.  Outcome management looks at the big picture.  Take the cartoon that shows two doctors standing over a patient.  The first doctor says, “The surgery was flawless”….the second says “too bad the patient died.”  What are you trying to achieve?  A perfect surgery or a healthy patient?

Outcome management focuses on four things.

  1. Solutioning. This is the alignment between strategy and execution. Are companies using their investment money wisely? Have they prioritized their project portfolio to ensure that they are spending their money on the optimal initiatives that have the best chance of getting them to their goals? Through a better understanding of the organization’s strategic goals, you can ensure that the project is both on point and aligned with strategy.
  2. Execution. This occupies the space where most place project management. But I contend that by today’s standard, not in the proper way. A mix between art and science (see Sept. 2014 blog), focusing on ensuring that the effort is on time, on budget and within scope while keeping a consistent focus on the prize is the only way to be truly successful. As an example, a large public company involved in a merger was looking for synergies in every department to help cut costs. However, early on in the project, they realized that the original goal had been met. By measuring throughout the life of the effort, it gave the organization an opportunity. They could continue cutting through every department or they could use the fact that they had already met their strategic objective to retain their employees to provide an even greater competitive advantage. They choose the latter. They made a course correction mid-way through the execution of their plan and were able to surpass their stated goal. My experience has shown that the typical organization would not have been measuring their progression to their strategic goals. They would have continued through their original plan and cut their employees to the bare minimum. Here is the important distinction. The merging companies could have decided to continue down that path but by measuring outcomes, they were able to create and take advantage of an unforeseen value that resulted from the formation of a new organization. They were able to make a business decision rather than have one forced upon them.
  3. Adoption and Adaption. This is the soft mushy side of making things happen that many organizations think is baloney. If you’ve been in business long enough (say 6 months), you will most likely live through an example of a project that completed and brought no discernable value to the company. This could be for many reasons but I would bet that the majority of reasons are based on a lack of buy-in from the necessary parties. I’ve been involved in a lot of mergers and acquisitions. It’s amazing how many of them (95.8% but who’s counting) have not focused on bridging the cultures. The companies’ focus on the integration of process, technology and people but not the culture. Some companies will attempt this in the form of change management but either that is cut or skimped on in the budget, or it is addressed at the tail end of the initiative. It takes seven times to hear a message for it to sink in. It takes 30 days of constant focus to change a habit. People don’t change easily and they resist it where they can (directly or indirectly). Adoption is about communication. Frequent, transparent and early. Keeping information quiet or sharing on a “need to know basis” never works out well. Even if you don’t have all of the answers, give your users an opportunity to hear about something from the beginning. They will feel like they had a part in their destiny. Getting people to adopt a new process or technology is not as hard as you might believe. Even if they don’t buy-in, understanding who might stand in your way is better to know early than it is after they’ve dropped a piano on your head.
  4. Last of all are the Metrics and Measurements. At the beginning of every effort, reengage your strategic goals. Ask two key questions. What does success look like? And, when is done done? From those questions, you can define the proper metrics to track from project initiation through implementation and into operational mode.   Measurements should start at the beginning of the initiative.   Think about your financial portfolio. Your financial consultant would be reviewing your investments and course correcting all along.  Many organizations don’t want to measure due to a fear of being held accountable. If they are found to be wrong, it brings eyes on what might be viewed as failure. But if you are focusing on all of this from an outcome perspective, this information will give you two opportunities. First, it will allow you to course correct earlier. If you aren’t going to meet your objectives, you will find out sooner (easier to course correct at the beginning than towards the end of an initiative). Second, if you fail and you’ve been measuring your progress to your strategic goal, chances are that the strategy might have some false assumptions. These metrics allow your company to integrate this knowledge to create a revised strategy for the future. How can that be possibly be a bad thing?

make the change concept with related word cloud hand drawing on blackboard

I’m guessing that at no point did corporate America decide that “Our key strategic goal is to get all of our projects completed on time, on budget and within scope.  If that goal is accomplished, we will reach our desired business outcomes”

Managing to desired outcomes brings companies back full circle to their overall strategy.  Outcome management is changing up the way things are done.  It creates accountability (a whole different blog), and a focus on adoption for which the benefits are huge! Better returns, better information yadda yadda.

I bet my Microsoft earnings (if you can find them).

Laura

2 thoughts on “Project Management is the Journey, Outcomes are Your Destination

  1. Hi
    Project management is an art for helping in manage the projects. I agree with these four points:
    Solutioning
    Execution
    Adoption and Adaption
    Metrics and Measurements
    Yes, money is very important and it matters in every project.

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