Recently I attended an offsite meeting with other senior executives from my company. Our homework assignment was to list the 6 largest projects we undertook the past several years and break them into a successful and not successful list. We first looked at those that were successful and identified the attributes that made them so and then the unsuccessful list to see where they went wrong. What was interesting (and highly unusual) were that the lists were mirror images of one another so perhaps we are on to something.
The three key ingredients on all our successful projects were:
- Visibility of the project
- Inspiring leadership
- A project plan.
Visibility means the project had to be important. It needed to be well thought out, data driven and have clear realistic and measurable goals. Projects that were just an idea without clear data to back it up were not successful. The project needed an executive sponsor who would regularly discuss the merits and tracking of the project with the executive team. Projects that lacked executive sponsorship died on the vine and never got the overall support or traction for a positive outcome. The project needed to be aligned to the company’s strategic plan or vision and needed regular tracking and a “kill-switch” to stop it if it would not meet goals.
Inspiring leadership was an attribute on all successful projects since they just flat out get more out of the team, provide motivation and a purpose. Think of Apple without Steve Jobs. Leadership also includes selecting the right and dedicated team. We found that projects when staffed with people who were expected to do their regular jobs as well as work on the project did both poorly. If the project is important enough to the company’s long-term success – staff it appropriately, provide a sufficient budget and set up a winning team mentality.
Last, we found it imperative to have a detailed project plan with defined timelines, a schedule that breaks down tasks, sufficient resources and an end point with a deliverable. Tracking and accountability are fundamental to driving to completion.
These attributes worked for large scale projects involving millions of dollars and years of development but I bet they would as easily apply to smaller initiatives with shorter timelines. They might sound basic but even large companies sometimes forget to refer back to the fundamentals; you can be sure I will next time someone comes up with the next bright idea.