Mastering the Obvious

Sometimes the best solutions are the most obvious, and unfortunately, the ones least considered.

Organization change is hard because leaders and project teams forget to do the simple, but important things, while spending extraordinary amounts of effort in the glitzy and complex.  Technology projects focus on the technology.  Outsourcing focuses on cost analysis.  Mergers focus on the synergies or the marketing, sales and finance strategy.  Process reengineering projects focus on, well, the process models.

Yet, somehow, amidst all this great thinking, projects struggle . . . because we don’t do the obvious things that would help us be more successful.

In a recent workshop, a technology project team was discussing how they could test the technical design specifications for their tool.  Should they survey what other companies have done?  Should they complete a study of best practices (which they hoped the vendor would provide)?  Should they build an online survey that contained screen shots and multiple choice questions?

After almost 30 minutes of this discussion, one of the less experienced members of the team finally asked, “Why don’t we just show the tool to some end-users and ask their opinions?” (Out of the mouths of babes!)

“That’s great,” said an experienced participant.  “We could organize focus groups and build a questionnaire . . .”

“Does it have to be that formal?” asked the newbie.  “Couldn’t we learn a lot just by talking with some people and listening to what they say?”

Simple, straightforward, and effective.

The best techniques to ensure project success are not fancy, but they are amazingly effective.  Here are five that should be part of every project:

  1. Involve stakeholders.  Successful projects involve stakeholders—end-users/customers, executives/steering committee members, functional experts and others—from the outset and throughout the initiative.  Whether involved formally or informally, stakeholders shape the criteria for solutions, evaluate decisions along the way and help communicate to the organization.  They will help create success and be champions for the project . . . if we let them.
  2. Listen to stakeholders.  Listen to what they say and what they don’t say.  Listen to their ideas and their emotions.  See the world through their eyes and learn how your project impacts them.  Understand their fears, concerns, needs, and desires, and let that understanding be part of the criteria for the decisions you make during your project.
  3. Include your vendors.  Make vendors a part of your project team.  Leverage their experience.  Show them the real organization, warts and all, and so they will understand how to adapt their solutions and offer suggestions for navigating the challenges.
  4. Learn from past projects.  Gather the project managers from the last few organization change efforts in a room and have them compare notes.  Or spend time with them one-on-one and have them share their “inside secrets.”  Learn what went wrong and make sure not to do it.  Learn what went right and make sure to put that in your plan.
  5. Be transparent.  Transparency helps get all the information out on the table for consideration.  It makes the challenges, and our decisions about how to manage challenges, easier for others to understand and accept.  All projects have trade-offs.  When we increase our openness, it engages others, compels them to become our collaborators and enables us to create greater buy-in along the way.

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