Wanna win? Start at the Finish Line!

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This month our guest blogger is Eric Roberts. Eric is the Vice President of M&A at Blackberry and knows a thing or two about getting things done! A longtime friend of Peritius, we are happy to share his perspective on reaching your goals – the right way.

 

Sorta sounds like cheating, doesn’t it?  Here’s what I mean – would you ever run a race where you didn’t know the distance or where the course would take you – or when you’d get to stop running?  You just line up at the starting line, someone blows the horn and off you go…your running friend next to you says, “Boy I hope this is a short one – last year it was really long.”  Sound fun?  Of course not, it’s ridiculous!

So why then do we see companies launch new programs or initiatives or even annual planning cycles without first defining what “victory” looks like?  How do we know when to spike the ball?  When to pop the champagne?  After all, we’re going to expend significant company resources… we’re going to have nights where we don’t get to see our kids go to bed… we’re probably going hit all sorts of challenges along the way – wouldn’t we want to know precisely what winning is going to look like… precisely which mountain we’re going to climb?

If you’ll allow me to extend the sports metaphor just a bit longer – one beauty of sports is that the ultimate goal is absolutely crystal clear before the game begins.  In fact, it’s crystal clear before training begins (actually it was crystal clear before many of us were even born!).  And because of that clarity, the coach knows exactly how to prepare her team, exactly what drills need to be run, exactly where obstacles may pop up that they’ll need to mitigate.  Further, every player understands how his/her contribution aligns with the ultimate goal – and stays aligned to that well-defined objective (rarely do we see a swimmer attempt to tackle an opponent!).

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My good friend Laura hit on this a couple years back when she started referring to it as “outcome management”.  I love the emotional clarity that comes with that phrase – that is, rather than managing the program team to work really hard, hold crisp weekly meetings with tight action item lists and schedules (all very important, by the way) – manage the team to carefully defined outcomes.  Use those words: Outcomes.  Victory.  Finish Line.  The words themselves demand a level of focus by stakeholders on the project end goal.  And isn’t that exactly what you want?  A team of stakeholders who understand the ultimate outcome and how their efforts support that objective?

I have another friend who leads large Civil Engineering projects in Wisconsin.  His leadership mantra is FINISH.  It’s so easy to start projects and often easy to get them to the 90% completion stage, and unless you’ve defined very carefully what it means to be done, the team just doesn’t know when it’s there.  The project isn’t finished until that last orange barrel is picked up and the highway is swept clean!

Now, if done properly, this precise definition phase may take longer and be more uncomfortable (especially the first couple times) than you want.  You’ll need to go deep… much deeper than normal.  What are the KPI’s you’ll track and expected levels at the finish line?  How will the ongoing execution and maintenance of the program be resourced after go-live?  What will that ongoing operational budget look like?  These second order measurables not only provide the clarity needed to efficiently execute, but will drive critical activities & behaviors along the execution path.  As an example, let’s say you’re implementing the latest SaaS ERP system.  Do we get to celebrate simply by going live?  What if our defined victory included a customer satisfaction metric that we score at least 80% satisfied /  extremely satisfied within 30 days post go-live?  Now we’re on the hook to not only deliver the system on time, but also deliver a system that end users love.  That drives better use-case capture up-front, a better UI, more rigorous testing, better communication & training with the user community, etc.  By including precise measures of success at the beginning of the initiative, we automatically drive improved program performance (not to mention fewer arguments when we get to the end and resources begin to peel off to the next exciting project).

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Finally, a word about leadership in this space.  It’s been my experience that the best leaders have learned this lesson – perhaps without even thinking about it – and live & breathe it daily.  They obsess over defining their vision… including specific words that elicit an almost emotional response, inspiring followership.   (In fact, they probably drive their kids nuts with it too!)  Great program managers intuitively think this way – even project milestones use the right words / phrases / definitions.  This is, in my opinion, one of the most subtle but critical roles a leader plays – it’s a leader’s opportunity to set the bar high and stretch the organization to achieve more than it thought it could. The team can constantly reference that ultimate goal when tough prioritization decisions must be made… when obstacles are met or new team members join.  Imagine if every employee in your company (project, initiative, endeavor) not only understood, but could articulate what victory looked like (completely) AND was able to describe exactly how his/her effort contributed.  Wow!  Sounds like productivity.  Sounds like autonomy.  Sounds like the foundation of accountability.  Sounds like victory!

 Next time you kick off a new initiative, project or annual planning process (yep – it’s almost September already!), start by defining what “finished” will look like – be manic about it.  Buy the team pizza, lock yourselves in a room for an all-nighter and come out the next morning with a concrete definition of what it will look like when you win – establish an expectation of victory!  If you can do that, execution is easy.

Eric Roberts, guest blogger

 

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.

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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?

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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

Welcome

After frequent humiliation from my colleagues’ statements that I’m not hip enough because I don’t blog, tweet or participate (much) on social networking sites, I’ve decided to create a blog. On this page I will be sharing my perspective on everyday events, both work and personal; the lessons I learn from my observations; and how at times, those work and personal observations go hand in hand. This page will be a mash up — please note my appropriate and hip use of this term — of Seinfeld, CNN News and Dilbert. I think that I can be funny and make people laugh with me (or at me for that matter) … but you be the judge.

On second thought, don’t be the judge and let me think I’m funny. I look forward to and welcome your comments, feedback and suggestions. I may not be hip but at least I’ll have a blog. Welcome to my corner.

Laura

Cartoon © John Atkinson, Wrong Hands. Used by permission. (Thank you, John!)

Cartoon © John Atkinson, Wrong Hands. Used by permission. (Thank you, John!)