You just ordered your favorite pizza from your local pizzeria. The scrumptious pie is supposed to be at your door within 45 minutes. An hour passes and still no delivery. You call and ask about your pizza. “Yeah, it’s ready,” says the voice on the other end. “It’s right here on the counter in front of me.”
Technically, the pizza is ready. But, your definition of done included not only making the pizza, but also someone getting into their car, delivering it to your house, and the moment you would open the box, experience the sight, aroma and hunger-crushing taste you were looking to achieve.
In other words, a pizza is not made for the sake of a pizza being made. A pizza is made to be eaten.
It’s easy to fall into a similar trap when managing projects. A project is not done for the sake of doing a project. A project is done for the sake of the business and achieving business results. If a project doesn’t go the last mile and become operationalized into the business, it’s just like a pizza sitting on the counter waiting to be delivered. Yes, it’s done. But, nobody is benefiting.
Ensure Your Projects Integrate into the Business
That’s why you need to stop managing projects, and instead, start delivering projects and integrating them into the business.
Think about a quarterly earnings review conducted by public companies. Executive leaders will speak to employees, shareholders, and investors about the business results that have been achieved last quarter. Is the message, “We are happy to report that we completed 11 projects on-time, in-scope, and under budget”? No, never. That update would leave a huge “So what?” in the minds of those who wonder how their investment is doing.
Rather, you are going to hear, “We are glad to report that sales have increased 12% across all business units and costs have decreased by 5%. Our earnings are strong and we’re looking forward to paying out record dividends!” Now, stakeholders aren’t left guessing about the “so what”.
Where are the 11 projects that were also completed during the past quarter? If done right (integrated into the business), they are part of the 12% sales increase and 5% cost reduction. Projects are enablers of business. For example, projects remove friction for customers, making it easier for them to buy goods and services resulting in increased revenue. Or, projects automate and eliminate unnecessary tasks, thus saving time and reducing cost.
How Do You Operationalize Your Projects?
Sounds great. But can this be done? Consider the following 7 steps:
- Begin with the WHY of the project - Have a crystal-clear understanding of why a project has been approved. Partner with the business sponsor and ask for a copy of the business case, AFE (authorization for expenditure), or any other document / presentation that enabled this project’s approval. You will end up with something along the lines of “replace outdated systems and return 20% ROI”, or “increase production by X% thus increasing sales by 15%.” By the way, you will never see “do this project for the sake of doing this project.”
- Determine the Measurement of Success - Now that you know the business reason or the WHY the project is being done, how will you know if you succeed or fail? This is an easy step to skip or kick down the road, because defining metrics requires thought. For example, if the WHY of the project is to increase sales, how can you differentiate that it was THIS PROJECT that increased sales and not some other project completed in parallel? If the measurement of success is not clear up front, it gets very muddy and hard to define later.
- Determine the Frequency and How Long Success Will be Measured - This goes hand in hand with Step 2. Once you have determined how you are going to measure success, also define how frequently and for how long. Will people want to know weekly, monthly, quarterly? Is it something that needs to be measured for years to come or can it fall off a report once the full benefit has been realized? Again, these questions are good to have answers to up front, to avoid confusion later.
- Complete the Project - This is where most project managers will stop. “Yep, we’re done. Project was delivered on-time, in-scope, and under-budget. I’m ready for my next project.” Remember the pizza that’s “done,” sitting on the counter and not at your house bringing you satisfaction? It’s great that the project is done, but it’s not integrated into the business at this point. This is where you can differentiate yourself as a project manager and stand out from the rest by following through on steps 5 - 7.
- Integrate into Operations - You now partner with the business team and work with them on DELIVERING the project. This means that whomever this project is designed to impact knows that this project is coming, they know how to do whatever is required to benefit from any change it brings, and they know where to get help. There’s A LOT of opportunity in this step to help your business partners integrate this project into your business. Think Change Management, Training, Support, Implementation, Communication, and other disciplines that are needed to make sure the benefits are realized.
- Start Tracking the Benefits - Remember the measurement of success that was defined in step 2? This is where you objectively start gathering those results. Maybe it’s the first day the project was integrated into operations and it’s being used by customers. Maybe it’s a week later. Regardless, make sure you can easily track and start reporting out on the benefits that the project is intended to deliver.
- Identify the Audience and Start Sharing the Results - Who needs to know if this project is successful or not? At a minimum, it’s going to be the executives and sponsors of the project, those who were impacted, and of course finance is going to want to know the results and benefits obtained from the expenditures they made. Pull the audience together and start sharing the benefits.
There are two scenarios that can play out here. 1) The project delivered the expected business results in this timeframe, or 2) the project did not deliver the results intended. Everyone will be thrilled with the first scenario. Everyone won’t be quite as happy with the second scenario, but it’s not altogether terrible. At least the business criteria for success are known and adjustments can be made to how the project is operating in the business. Or, worst case, the project can be killed and money spent better elsewhere. Heck, Google does it all the time! Check out Killed by Google for the 275 apps, services, and hardware they ditched.
Benefit the Organization, Benefit Yourself
Taking a benefits-based approach to project delivery and integrating your projects into the business will propel you to another level as a project manager. Not only will you benefit the organization with this type of project delivery, you’ll benefit yourself by maintaining a high demand for your unique skill set and abilities.
Now, let’s go grab that pizza that’s sitting on the counter before it gets cold.
SOLUTIONS MADE SIMPLE SUMMARY
How to Operationalize Your Projects
Below are 7 steps you can take to integrate your project into business operations.
- Understand the WHY of the Project - Partner with the business sponsor to find out why this project was approved and what it is intended to accomplish.
- Determine the Measurement of Success - Develop a definition of success early on in the project. Increased sales? Decreased costs? How will it be measured?
- Determine How Long Success Will be Measured - Come to an agreement on how long project benefits will be communicated to stakeholders.
- Deliver the Project - This is Project Management 101. Work on getting the project done so it can be integrated into operations. Most project managers stop at this step.
- Implement into Operations - Work with business partners to make sure they understand and account for everything required to integrate the completed project into operations, including Training, Change Management, Support, Communications, etc.
- Measure Success Criteria - Start measuring results as soon as it is integrated into operations. This will prove out that it can be measured, as well as provide data points for any necessary fine-tuning.
- Communicate to Stakeholders - Let everyone know if the project delivered the benefits initially called for in the business case or AFE (authorization for expenditure).
Operationalize - To put into operation or use. The goal of the projects you manage is to get them to the point that someone is using them and benefiting from the results.
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