“…when will you have time to do it over?”

beautiful pebble stackMost of us will agree that there is an ever increasing pressure to deliver immediate results from our projects. As organisations in many sectors tighten their belts, there is an expectation of doing more with less, in shorter time. But, in the rush to get on with doing, are we throwing out the baby along with the bath water? Are project time-lines and costs actually increasing as a result of skipping over or rushing through the scoping or planning activities?

There are many pressures on projects within the modern organisation. Some of these are cultural, such as the belief that “productivity = doing something”.

Can we kick back against this pressure, to identify or check that we are “doing the right something”?

Or, do we usually get swept along by the drive to “get on with it” while no one is quite sure what “it” is. Other pressures are related to project management capabilities and leadership.
Taking sufficient time (you can spend too much time on this, as well as too little) over these initiation activities delivers several benefits ;

  • Reduced risk of unplanned costs, resource requirements and over-runs,
  • A clarity of purpose, shared commitment from everyone involved with the project,
  • Project influencers are engaged early on, with the end point considering their needs,
  • Project risks are largely known and have mitigation strategies,
  • Increased capability to deal with the changes that will inevitably arise during the project’s life.

Often, our projects are set running without goals, expectations or drivers being clearly articulated. The benefits of taking sufficient time to develop a scope and plans are overlooked (teams are sometimes being actively encouraged to skip over or pay lip-service to these steps). An effective project influencer will recognise that there is a balance to be struck between leaping straight into “doing” and becoming stuck in a planning spiral. The two extremes are sometimes described as “ready-fire-aim” and “ready-aim-aim-aim-aim” cultures. The first was described earlier, the second is typified by indecision and hesitation to execute, due to fear of doing the wrong thing.

Tortoise and HareFor most people, planning and scoping just aren’t fun. They are not what most participants trained to do and get in the way of doing other work that they enjoy more. This can be compounded by a misunderstanding of what planning is about, as people often think they did a bad job if the project doesn’t go according to plan.

What are the consequences of this approach? Some of the tangible impacts include;

  • When (or if) a project is delivered, it misses the target completely, or takes so long that the target has become irrelevant,
  • Unplanned, unbudgeted costs are incurred,
  • Projects over-run significantly (with all the time and budget implications that entails).

There are also intangible consequences, such as;

  • A sense of fatigue at the pace and level of re-work,
  • People becoming stressed out through attempts to meet unrealistic or even unachievable expectations,
  • Frustration arising from not having a sense of where the project is going,
  • The project’s influencers push back against the change being effected by the project.

To make a big impact on your project’s success, pause to check that you are “doing the right something” Some of the activities typically included in the pause include;

  • Identifying or confirming the project end point,
  • Move on only when you have commitment to objectives and strategy from project influencers,
  • Plan realistically, initially focusing on the broad brush strokes to reach the end point. The plans are fleshed out in increasing detail as project phases move into the mid- then short -term.

Taking Stock will, at the very least, confirm that the project is on the correct course, and continue the engagement of your key influencers. Or, you may expose a gap between expectations and the actual state of play. This serves as a warning to act before disaster strikes. Your project will then have an increased flexibility to avoid or mitigate the impacts of project failure discussed earlier.

What three steps can you take to ensure your project has “the time to do it right”?