The phrase “business as usual” calls to mind an image of the same employees performing the same tasks in the same conditions day in and day out with little to no variation. To some managers this may sound ideal because the operations and the output are predictable. However, there are two problems with “business as usual.”
- By discouraging change and variation, it prevents progress (wherever you are today is where you will be this time next year).
- When change is unexpectedly introduced to the workflow (and it will be), “business as usual” breaks down and comes to a screeching halt.
How are teams supposed to constantly improve their performance without disrupting their own progress?
The answer is projects.
Projects are clearly defined tasks that exist outside of – but coincide with – “business as usual.” They make it possible for organizations to evolve while reducing impact on daily activity, but only if they are properly managed from launch through completion.
Here are six aspects to consider to ensure success through project management:
Align the Project Goals with the Business Strategy
Projects should always move the company forward. They can do this by either adding a feature, product or service that helps the company fulfill its corporate mission or they can fix an existing problem that is hindering its success. Aligning the project goals with the larger business strategy requires that anyone encountering the project has a solid understanding of those goals as they are laid out in the project plan. Not just the who, what, when and how, but also the why.
Leadership and Direction
To bring a project to completion on schedule and under budget, a manager must maintain a bird’s-eye view of the project while the team members devote absolute attention to their individual portions. The leader also sets the “tone” for the project. A positive, but driven, leader who embodies the company’s ideals will foster an engaged and productive team. Projects are about discovering and implementing creative solutions to problems, and it is the leader’s responsibility to give team members a sense of ownership of their contribution – and the team’s responsibility to accept it.
Maintaining Focus on Objectives
The primary advantage of a project is that it introduces innovation within a company while reducing disruption. The challenge is to maintain focus in an environment where projects are introduced on top of a team’s existing workload and the search for solutions can lead to inadvertent discoveries, whose novelties can derail a project. Guiding a team through these distractions requires clearly defined objectives and accountability. The team needs to be able to visualize the process so they aren’t just shooting ideas into a void. There are numerous project management software solutions out there, and one of the best features they ever came up with was the ability to assign and accept tasks. As Scott Belsky, author of Making Ideas Happen, asserts: “An unowned Action Step will never be taken.”
Mitigating and Managing Risk
There will always be risk. Always. Project management can minimize risk, but it can’t eradicate it. What matters is how leaders and teams deal with the specter of possible failure. This is why certified project management professionals exist. They are trained to identify and neutralize potential sources of risk before they even have a chance to develop into problems. They are experienced leaders who can guide teams around the pitfalls, but if they ever do find themselves in trouble, they have been trained for these situations, too. Like a captain in a stormy sea or a tight-rope walker without a net, PMPs don’t just accept the risk – they thrive on it by converting it into motivation. PMPs are as fearless as entrepreneurs and as careful as investors.
Project management is a process. In large-scale projects, it can swell up to a process made up of smaller processes. And that’s okay…as long as it’s part of the process. Implementing a clearly defined process increases overall transparency and efficiency. Team members will know where they stand, and leaders can oversee various factions simultaneously. Being able to see the steps will help to naturally guide a team from a project’s conception, step-by-step, through its completion. The successful implementation of a process is about as close to a well-oiled machine as project management gets. However, a process must be able to withstand last minute changes. If it is too rigid, it will breakdown when even a small problem occurs; too loose, and productivity will suffer.
Monitoring, Tracking and Control
The true value of project management becomes apparent when you can call on any member of the team at any point in the process and ask, “Where are we with X?” – and get a clear answer. This is only possible with the visibility that project management provides. An experienced leader guiding a talented team through a carefully-honed process allows for absolute monitoring, tracking and control of the project. This enhanced visibility into the process allows managers to trace the overall project flow and allocate resources as needed, in real time. If one part of the project pulls ahead while another is struggling, the problem is easily identified and solved without jeopardizing the entire project.
Is it possible to achieve success without project management? Technically, yes. If you attempt enough projects and have some luck on your side, you will surely succeed at least some of the time. Very few of us have the resources or the job security, for that matter, to succeed “some of the time.”
Project management increases the rate of success and minimizes the risk of failure. It makes success a part of a process that can be replicated over and over again company-wide. All of the team members know what to do to achieve it, and the project manager can observe the process and remove any obstacles that might stand in the way.
Through project management, a team can proactively grow and adapt to changing environments while minimizing disruption to “business as usual.”