There is often no frequent and periodic monitoring that progresses the initiative, and facilitates removal of obstacles
Project management needs a very specific and disciplined approach which is lacking in most implementation efforts today
While strategy is usually defined in the boardrooms of large organizations, significant gaps emerge in implementing these strategies at the ground level. Prasun Chowdhury, Director, Avenir, discusses why this happens and what companies can do to make their strategies succeed
There are a few reasons that explicate why this phe-nomena exists across organizations and across departments. Let us examine a few reasons which will sound familiar:
• The linkage between the organizational goal of improved financial performance and its planned initiatives is either not robust, or is so indirect and complex that there is little shared understanding amongst the middle and junior executives, who are responsible for its implementation.
• The ‘who, what, when and how’ of initiatives are not clearly defined. Consequently, there is sometimes shared responsibility across departments, but no single entity that is clearly accountable for the implementation and the results.
• Balanced scorecard used to allocate these initiatives often encourages multiple initiatives for each department or function. The inevitable result is bad multi-tasking with the same set of people taking up a number of initiatives all at the same time and then crisis fighting among them.
• There is no structured mechanism to monitor the progress of these initiatives. As a consequence, student’s syndrome (last minute efforts) is prevalent, leading to sub-standard quality and incomplete scope of each initiative.
I propose that each strategic initiative be treated as a time bound project. While many readers of this article may argue that is exactly what is done in their organizations, I beg to differ.
A dip stick research conducted by us across more than 50 medium and large organizations revealed that less than 15% of them have any kind of structured project plan in place for the initiatives embarked upon; resources required are not firmed up; accountabilities are not identified; milestones and decision gates are not transparent; even the rationale for the initiative in terms of linkage with the organization goal of making more and more money is not obvious to the implementers. There is often no frequent and periodic monitoring that progresses the initiative, and facilitates removal of obstacles.
The New Product Development function of an organization rarely knows the impact of their initiative in monetary terms, given the uncertainty of introducing a new/modified product in the market. They hardly ever know how to prioritise among the numerous new product opportunities on the table, and the time line committed and their past history of completion in time. Seldom are there specific gates and events when key decisions have to be taken on continuing, discontinuing or course correction of an initiative.
I propose below, an overview of a step by step approach that can significantly improve the chances of successful initiative implementation in organizations:
STEP 1: Project Definition – Determine the Following Clearly
The Why? How will this initiative contribute to the current throughput improvement, inventory reduction or fixed expense control/reduction for the organization, and by how much (an intelligent range is admissible)?
The What? What key dimensions define the initiative – what are we going to do?
i. How will we know if the initiative has been success-
ii. What could make the initiative fail?
The Who? Which single entity/person in the organization is accountable. He or she may subordinate resources from within or outside the organization but ultimately it is that person who is going to stand up for the results. Such a person is usually the Project Champion.
The When? The final completion timeline for the initiative.
Key Inputs? What are the key resources (both monetary and human) required to do to make the initiative successful.
This is also the ‘Project Frame’ and needs to be clearly documented and aligned with the ‘Project Sponsor’ – the person who is going to set the direction, provide the resources and facilitate the removal of obstacles and challenges. Such a person is usually from the top management.
Now, and only now (and not before) can the initiative be called a ‘Project’.
STEP 2: Project Planning and Structuring
This will use the Critical Chain Project management (CCPM) approach of Theory of Constraints (ToC) to enable a transparent and aggressive timeline for the project, and set up the base for effective project monitoring.
Role of each key project resource. Each person involved in the project must have clearly defined tasks and roles, although they can again subordinate resources from among each other or from outside the project system. Resource staggering is a part of this step to ensure that there are no in-built conflicts for resources. This will also highlight if too many projects are being run concurrently, leading to resource contention among projects. In that scenario, it is vital to stagger the projects by choking the start of some projects till the resources are freed up.
Aggressive Timelines for each task. As per the CCPM approach, excessive safety needs to be removed from the tasks. Aggressive timelines (usually 50% of the initially quoted task timelines) are incorporated into the project plan with a project safety buffer (half of the cumulative safety that has been removed from the tasks) at the end of the critical chain of tasks. The non-critical chain also had a similar feeding buffer to protect the critical chain from the non-critical tasks.
Decision Gates. If it is a project that necessitates key decisions to be taken at some points in the project life cycle, these need to be clearly defined, along with the accountability of who will take such decisions, what will be the basis for such decisions (parameters) and how the decision will be implemented within the project map?
STEP 3: Project Execution and Monitoring
This is the most important step in the whole game. All that has been done before can come to nought, if project execution and monitoring is lax. At the same time, one needs to protect from getting into too many details and micro management. The following elements of powerful execution as per CCPM need to be institutionalised in the organization for each project:
Buffer Management meetings: These meetings are conducted by the Project Champion along with the key project team members to evaluate the task(s) progress, analyse the buffer status and dialogue on recovery actions that may be required.
Full Kit: A check list template needs to be filled in before each task in the project to ensure all the input requirements for the task to be successfully accomplished are in place. Without this checklist it is forbidden to initiate the task.
Issue Register: The persons responsible for the tasks need to document and share in the buffer management meetings’ key issues and challenges that are holding up the task progress and how they plan to overcome these obstacles.
Risk Register: For strategic risks facing the project, a risk register needs to be maintained under the direct control of the Project Champion. The Project Champion will need to dialogue constructively with the Project Sponsor to ensure that these risks are taken and mitigating tactics are in place to alleviate them.
Assiduously following the structured process of Critical Chain Project Management will ensure that even in a relatively complex multi-project environment of most medium to large organizations, initiatives can be completed in or before time, resulting in translating the strategic intent of the organization to tangible results for the key stakeholders. In our consulting experience, achieving results through excellence in implementation is what has differentiated the best organizations from the ordinary.