February 22, 2006

If Customers Aren't the Enemy, Then Who is?

The short answer is - we are.

I'm just about to finish a project that was not successful. Much was accomplished but the effort should have terminated at the half way point for a number of reasons. It wasn't fun, deadlines were missed, there was scope creep, and sabotage. It's no wonder that up to
70% of projects fail to live up to expectations.

Most times we know something is wrong and do nothing to fix it and become our own worst enemy.

I had a mentor once tell me that the key to success is - not completing every initiative presented to you. They didn't mean that you can leave initiatives, committee or work group that hits your email inbox half baked, not living up to your commitments. Although I'm sure that in some companies doing just that has become an art-form.

What was meant is having the courage to put an end to a task mid-stream and re-allocate and shift resources to other more valuable projects.

So how do you know when to "pull the plug?"

The short answer is that you can't always know. Except when things get so bad and so dsyfunctional that even a casual observer can sense something is going very wrong. Other times you need to rely on a few key things. As follows:

  1. Make sure you assign the right leader (aka project manager) to begin with. Match the individual with the needs of the task.
  2. Set expectations for success and ensure that this person has a back channel for advice and to raise issues and problems;
  3. Assign the right level of quality resources to each project/team so the task can be completed;
  4. Have a monthly review of each effort/program/project with each leader. Rate the progress on each. Rank by progress attained;
  5. Identify the projects where there's deadline slippage or even slightest hint of a problem. Remember it's human nature not to convey bad news, so you'll need to make sure you're getting factual input on the reason for the delay or problem.
  6. Determine if bringing more help to the project will bring it back on track. Make sure the issue isn't poor leadership. If it is, then bring in a new leader;
  7. If things continue to worsen, then you need to make a decision to end the project and transfer its people and resources somewhere else in the business.

So in case you're curious about my project -- #3 was the culprit.

Related Links: , Customers Are Not the Enemy

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