It’s happened to all of us before. You get out of a chair the wrong way or pick up something heavy and POP! Your back goes out! You double over, putting your hand on the pressure point to find relief from the unbearable pain, and try to catch your breath. When it becomes plain that no relief is to be found, you call the chiropractor, but she can’t see you for another three days!
The pain continues. Your performance deteriorates as you can’t do what you used to do, and chores and tasks around the home and office quickly fall behind.
You finally get in and see the chiropractor. The troublesome joint cracks during the adjustment and immediate relief follows. There’s lingering soreness, but nothing like days prior. Your back is in alignment and once again you can function as a normal human being.
Organizations Can Get Out of Alignment
It’s possible to have an organizational backbone that’s out of alignment as well. How does this happen within a company? By only rewarding operational activities and people, and not rewarding those who work on projects.
Think about how the success of most companies is measured, which is typically by increased sales and profits, a reduction in expenses, and gains in market share. That success is then communicated throughout the organization as, “This year’s award for highest sales goes to Steve,” or, “This year’s award for most profitable business unit goes to Cheryl.” In addition, bonuses and total compensation are generally attached to operational metrics.
Operational excellence and efficiency should be rewarded. It’s what keeps cash flowing into the company and allows it to stay in business. But, it also needs to be acknowledged that project work is just as important. Successful projects are the enablers of smooth and profitable operations.
This is where the misalignment can occur. People that work in operations are "volun-told" that they are now assigned to a project. This pulls them away from their normal “day job” for which they are rewarded for, and still responsible. The added pressure and imbalance in priorities causes stress. Job performance suffers and work starts getting backed up on both the operations and project side of things.
What can be done? The first thing is to understand how operations and projects complement each other.
How Projects Align with Operations
The reason projects are undertaken is to break the status quo and move from one state to another. An organization doing what it’s always done is a recipe for disaster. That’s what happened to Kodak as they continued to manufacture film, not seeing that the world around them had gone digital.
Projects allow you to:
- React to competitive disruption - You find that the competition has introduced a new product, feature, or service that your company doesn’t provide. Your customers like what others are offering, and you see your sales soften. Introducing a project to develop something similar or better can curb the negative impact on sales.
- Innovate to stay ahead of competition - The flip side of defensively responding to competitive disruption is to offensively introduce disruption. Your organization can preemptively offer a new feature, product or service designed to attract new customers. There’s no better way to introduce something new than through a well-run project.
- Respond to changing customer needs - Finally, customers can be the driver behind needing to do something differently. What used to satisfy their needs last year could now be considered old hat. You always need to have an answer to their unspoken, “What have you done for me lately?”
Projects create new features, products, or services. Projects create the future. Operations internalize and deliver the output of projects thus generating more cash for the business. It’s a perfect marriage of two disciplines if everything remains aligned.
An Organizational Adjustment
If your organization is out of alignment because it rewards operations and ignores, or worse yet, punishes those on project teams, don’t wait to make an adjustment.
Align your organization to reward those on project teams for helping create the future. Examples of alignment could be:
- KPIs from a new project - A new feature introduced by a product update could reduce calls to Support by nearly 20% within the first month.
- Savings from a new project - A project can introduce a more efficient way of performing a task and save the company 15% within 3 months.
- Increased sales from a new project - This project gives customers just what they were asking and sales could jump 30% in 6 months.
Make sure the results of the project are objective, measurable, and trackable. Reward the project teams for hitting these targets. Rewards could range from monetary (i.e., bonuses) to recognition (“... and this year’s most innovative project goes to the Project Reimagine team”), to whatever you feel will fit into the culture of your company.
Start Your Adjustment Today
Executives and shareholders favor operations because it’s easy to understand and their return on investment is clear. You can achieve similar results with projects by following this five-step treatment plan:
- Understand and communicate the relationship between project work and operations
- Review how project and operations teams are compensated and rewarded
- Review how project teams and operations teams are working together
- Develop an AS-IS and TO-BE model for the future
- Make any necessary adjustments
The result of taking these five steps aligns with Stage 4 in our Project Management Journey of Strategic Project Delivery. This is the point where mindsets shift from “how are we doing” to “here’s how we can drive competitive advantage….”
So, if you find yourself in organizational pain caused by misalignment of operations and project teams, start making those adjustments today! You’ll be amazed at the results and how much better everyone will feel.