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Defining and Delivering an Effective and Successful Project
By Richard Desmarais

The underlying message of this article is that half of a project’s success depends on how well it is defined. It’s easy to accept any project that is sent your way. Depending on your assertiveness, you might be able to refuse it or dispute it. It could also depend on the level of confidence you have in your job. Will you risk your job if you speak out? Are you comfortable doing so? Does the company culture support outspokenness? It’s also easy to make work for yourself with a project to pass the time. We’ve all been in this situation from time to time. Why risk looking like we have nothing to do when a make-work project can be concocted with aimless purpose?

A great project is clearly defined by a strong business case. Every business case should clarify the following points and thus signal a call to action:

  1. What performance indicator is not meeting expectations?
  2. What area is being adversely impacted?
  3. What goal or metric is not being met?
  4. What are the specific problems as a result?
  5. What is the quantifiable pain the problem is causing?

To make things easier, simply put (a) through (e) in a sentence.

As a company, (a) performance for the (b) area is not meeting (c). Overall this is causing (d) problems that are costing us as much as (e) per year/month/unit/etc.

Even under the best of circumstance when a project has been legitimately scoped, delegated and budgeted for, it may not be a project worth undertaking. Let’s examine some of the reasons why.

  1. The problem is too easy. It’s not a project, it’s a task. Someone made a bad decision along the way or there was a typo. Fix it and move on.
  2. The solution to the problem is known. The champion behind the project is out of touch.

  3. The problem only requires rolling up your sleeves and manhandling a solution such as an all-nighter; no actual problem analysis is required.

  4. The problem is actually an issue with management and is better left to them to sort out…assuming someone has the guts to tell them so!

  5. The scope is too broad. There are too many goals, process owners, areas for improvement. Too many departments are involved. Projects like these need to be cut down into bite-sized chunks.

A good rule of thumb to remember when defining a project is to ensure it delivers a financial benefit – directly or indirectly. Will is save money? Increase revenue? Improve the balance sheet or knock off strategic goals? If it isn’t meant to deliver a financial benefit, the justification for your project could be a hard sell. If you dig deep enough, you should be able to quantify the benefits of the project in dollars and cents.

Let’s assume you are trying to improve employee morale. What would happen if the project is successful? Employees would be happier and more motivated about performing their work. Tardiness and absenteeism would be reduced. Attention to detail would improve. Mistakes would drop. Employees would service customers with more genuine care. Turnover would fall and retention would rise, leading to fewer new hires, hiring classes, training investment and more. As you can appreciate, all of these spinoffs have a measurable and quantifiable effect.

Richard Desmarais is a Quality Management Systems professional with broad experience in ISO 9001 auditing, consulting and training for service-based and entrepreneurial businesses. He is interested in consulting work and other projects for anyone considering pursuing ISO 9001 certification or compliance. Richard can be contacted through his linkedin profile.

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