* No.6 in a series of articles I wrote in Dec 2010
Several comments on my last post about flabby project methodologies focused on “outcomes”, particluarly from the public sector. The rationale is pretty straightforward:
- As the client, we know what we want to get out of the project (a more efficient call-centre, faster turnaround time on website changes, instant access to documents from wherever I’m working, etc.)
- As our IT partner, you will know how best to use the technology available to achieve these outcomes.
- Therefore we won’t prescribe how we want the systems to work, but we will prescribe what we need them to do for us. You will compete with other candidate IT partners and we’ll pick the one that on balance offers us the best value, which may not be the cheapest.
This is great – the board can focus on outcomes and not get bogged down in detail. Of course, somebody has to deal with the detail don’t they – and this falls to the project team.
Project managers tend to be task focused and they love sequences of activities that add up to completing a deliverable, and sequences of deliverables that add up to completing a project. Everybody understands nice, clear, concrete activities and deliverables, and when they are put in a Gantt chart and ticked off on a regular basis it becomes competitive and the plan seems to hold hypnotic powers over the PM, and even more so over the PMO and other assurance folk!
The great danger is that all focus shifts towards completing activities and deliverables, and away from the expected outcomes of the project. Who cares if you delivered your new call-centre system on time and within budget? What matters is whether it has given you the 20% staff reduction, or the 10% more sales, or the 15% fewer complaints …whatever was promised in order to get the project approved!
Tricky eh? Project teams do need to focus on tasks and deliverables – after all there’s a deadline and budget to meet! Similarly the project board needs to maintain its own discipline of focusing on outcomes – only delving into the detail by exception.
It is the project sponsor’s job to set the context within which the project team can focus on its tasks. To be fair, most kick-off meetings do talk about the outcomes – or at least the outcomes that aren’t too sensitive. But the memory of the tub-thumping sponsor evangelising about the joy of multiskilled homeworking staff quickly fades and newcomers to the project get (at best) a look at the kickoff slides on day 1 while they are waiting for their user account to be set up.
It falls to the PM to reinforce the project context by constantly reminding the current team why they are producing the deliverables. The PM must set the focus of the project plan and the project meetings not on “go live”, but on delivering the promised outcomes.
Take a back seat at your next project progress meeting – does the dialogue show a good balance between understanding what needs to be delivered and how it contributes to the promised outcomes?