Sunday, December 14, 2008

Getting your Top Five Obstacles Behind You

Back on December 1 I posted and article titled "The Top Five Obstacles to Predictable Project Execution". This posting is a follow up to that article.

What are the next steps after the top five common project execution obstacles have been identified as scope control, individual objective clarity, project planning detail, requirements closure and project leadership skills? Ideally we must improve upon each of the obstacles to the point where they no longer:

  1. Enable the need for rework of already completed tasks.
  2. Enable wait states due to lack of information.
  3. Enable non-value added activities to take place.
These three project performance indicators become the measurement criteria for work flow efficiency and will be invaluable in providing insight into progress. Once they are no longer enabled, predictable project execution will result!

The primary step is to adequately resource an effort to eliminate these top five. It must be a focused effort with someone responsible for delivering a solution, wherever in the organization that solution may need to be. But wait, adequately resource? I have just lost you on costs, haven't I? OK, let me back up a bit. The primary step is to identify how much these top five are costing you in terms of delays to revenue ready products. Now you have a justification for the second step, which is to adequately resource the effort to remove these top five barriers.

Get someone on the hook with the passion to uncover root cause, ability to gain consensus for real solutions and be comfortable working across all organizational silos. Failure to do so will be a grave error and allow a naysayer the opportunity to say, "I told you so". Recovery from a failed attempt will be far more difficult than engaging the ideal resource in the first place. Do not cut corners in putting the right person in place for driving the solutions.

Approach the top five with a strategic approach to problem solution. A tactical attitude would focus on activities within a NPD project workflow whereas a strategic approach will focus on the big picture view of how to plan, resource and engage on projects to eliminate impact from the top five. The mission is a change from what is "believed" the best the team can do - to becoming the best via the elimination of the obstacles that are well known disruptions to projects. Don't focus on why things can't change, evolve thinking to how things can be changed.

Have you started the mental list of why this could never work for your organization? The uniqueness of your particular situation precludes this from being possible, right? Fight the negative thoughts or you will only strengthen the hold of the status quo. Justification of uniqueness will pave a lethal path to non-action. The time is now for a focused attack on the top five sources of unpredictability in project execution. Honestly, why wouldn't you get started today?

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Great Divide – Technical Leadership and Project Management

Many organizations have superb technical leadership along with excellent project management. Why then are projects routinely failing to meet commitments? I believe it’s a gap between technical leadership and project management. Project management spans across all the organizational silos, typically without a significant technical depth in any one area. Technical leadership knows the ins and outs of their particular silo, however does not tend to have the project management expertise and skills to properly scope, plan, communicate and assess activities for their particular technical area.

This gap leaves projects with a void of planning expertise that is essential to properly plan the lower level execution details that feed into an organizations overall project plan. The simple truth is that if a project did not complete as planned, something that should have been part of the planning process was left out. What’s being left out of the process? Some of the nuts and bolts details, decisions, deliverable expectations and/or risk management within each of the organizational silos were lacking essential depth. The sub-planning that rolls up into the projects master planning was not as thorough as it needed to be, due to skill gaps between project management and technical leadership.

The expertise disparity between project managers and technical leadership can be addressed in one of two ways. Either the project managers develop the technical skills of each organizational silo (unrealistic) or develop a subset of project management skills within each of the silos. The great divide between technical leadership and project management must be bridged, or organizations will continue down a path of missed commitments while laying blame everywhere but where it belongs. While in reality, fault rests on skill gaps that diminish a team’s ability to fully develop a thorough implementation plan that encompasses the entire organization’s contributions from top to bottom.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Top Five Obstacles to Predictable Project Execution

Are there some well known obstacles in your NPD work flow that consistently hinder project execution and you would like them resolved and put behind you? Of course you do, just like the majority of organizations in this business. In fact, if you were to create a list of your top five obstacles they are likely to be similar to every other organizations top five items. Why are they still there today, continuing to disrupt your project execution? Only you can honestly answer that question.

Do you believe your NPD organization is unique in the top five issues that are keeping project execution in a state of unpredictability? You may be surprised to find that your organization is not dissimilar to many others, when looking at project execution bottlenecks. I find it truly fascinating that the top five are so common across organizational, company and international boundaries. We are all dealing with very similar project challenges and for the most part tolerating them as a routine part of our business. The ongoing acceptance aspect is what I find most troubling. There are a few exceptions where organizations are actively whittling back the top five, however it is not the norm, often smothered under a guise of resource availability.

Requirements Closure
Completing a product definition that has a depth of detail, in the time frame necessary, so as to prevent rework of any design activity due to a lack of requirements information. That's the objective, one that needs focused emphasis to remove this as a common source of impact to a project.

Project Planning
This is the activity that will lead to reaching commitment, one that your NPD team believes in and will be able to hit. The problem is it's not happening and the reasons tend to be generalized into a few different bins. Root cause for failing to meet planned commitments must be understood and addressed, whatever or wherever the source may be.

Individual Objectives
On this one each team member may not always know what is expected of them, to the level of detail that will prevent them from reworking already completed activities. Team members may be guessing or making assumptions about deliverables. This type of uncertainty is commonly due to information lacking in the area's of how, what or where. Not a good situation where being predictable is an objective.

Scope Control
A lack of product scope control leads to confusion on requirements. The team often does not know what changes should be made and which ones should be left behind. The engineering team typically will assume if a feature is being discussed, it is a requirement, without regard to schedule or cost impact implications. This one quietly steals away your team's productivity, often without a trace.

Project Leadership Skills
This item involves a deficit in the skills necessary to recognize and effectively deal with the other four items in this list of top five. This is bright technical talent leading a project without the proper skills to manage project details such as requirements closure, detailed planning, establishing detailed individual objectives or managing scope change.

Note: I will be posting a follow up to this post in mid-December on the subject of resolving these top five obstacles.