From Davis Balestracci -- Activity is Not Necessarily Impact: FOCUS!

Published: Mon, 09/16/13

From Davis Balestracci -- Activity is Not Necessarily Impact:  FOCUS!

Feedback from a 13 September plenary:  "I have to say, your presentation was one of the best I have experienced.  I look forward to learning a lot more."  [Now THAT'S "wherewithal"]

[~ 800 words:  Take 3-5 minutes to read over a break or lunch]

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"It seemed like a good idea at the time."

Hi, Folks,

As improvement professionals, part of our learning curve is the experience of facilitating project teams that fail miserably.  Then, despite the necessary lessons learned, there still remain some very real dangers lurking in any project (more about this in a minute);  but it goes beyond organizing and facilitating a team.   What about the choice of project?

The question that inevitably comes up in the post mortems - if indeed there is even a post mortem - of projects that didn't even get close to desired results is, Why was this project chosen in the first place?  With a collective shoulder shrug, the consensus many times seems to be, "It seemed like a good idea at the time."

What percentage of your work is 5-star projects?

Here are five project evaluation criteria by Matthew E. May.  He suggests scanning the current organizational project portfolio and evaluating your role by giving each project a star rating:  one star for each criterion.  Ask yourself, What percentage of my work is 5-star projects?

Passion.  Personal passion for your project is a good indicator of potential engagement.
  • Does it call on your key talents and strengths? Does it require you to stretch them, so that you'll learn and grow?
  • If it's a team project, are the talents and values of your project team aligned to the project? Does your project team believe in the purpose of the work?
  • Will there be big, noticeable, positive change and walloping impact for your intended audience?  
  • Who exactly is on the receiving end of whatever it is you're going to deliver?  
  • Who is truly interested in the outcome of your project?
  • Will your project create raving fans - people whom you will "Wow!" with expectations, needs, or requirements that are exceeded?  (In today's social media world, it's much, much easier for a raving fan to broadcast your project's virtues, so "rave" is an important consideration.)
  • Will these results be strong enough to not only create followers and zealots, but motivate them to tell others who will tell others, etc.?
  • Does your project represent a breakthrough or revolutionary improvement or innovation, i.e., does it require your best creative thinking and problem-solving ability?
  • Will it deliver something distinctly better in terms of greater value - not merely just "new" or "different?"
  • Is it a high profile, high stakes project that will attract resources (people and money)?
  • Recognition + resources = higher probability of success
  • If you've done the first four criteria well, this shouldn't be a problem.  But if visibility is a problem, are you fully leveraging them to sell it?

Picking right is just the start -- Next comes the planning, prep, and project management

Matthew E. May also shares from his experience seven seemingly unshakable truths about projects:
  • A major project is never completed on time, within budget, or with the original team, and it never does exactly what it was supposed to.
  • Projects progress quickly until they become 85% complete. Then they remain 85% complete forever - sort of like a home improvement project.
  • When things appear to be going well, you've overlooked something. When things can't get worse, they will.
  • Project teams hate weekly progress reports because they so vividly manifest the lack of progress.
  • A carelessly planned project will take three times longer to complete than expected. A carefully planned project will only take twice as long as expected. Also, ten estimators will estimate the same work in ten different ways. And one estimator will estimate ten different ways at ten different times.
  • The greater the project's technical complexity, the less you need a technician to manage it.
  • If you have too few people on a project, they can't solve the problems. If you have too many, they create more problems than they can solve.

Being human and passionate about improvement, we have delusions of success and a bias for optimism. We take on more than we should, routinely exaggerating the benefits and discounting the costs.  We exaggerate our abilities as well as the degree of control we have over events - tending to take credit for success and blaming failure on external events.  We over-scope, over-scale, and over-sell while, simultaneously, we under-estimate, under-resource, and under-plan.

Any size project will become complex and challenging - competing interests and conflict will occur, and individual members' performances vary widely.  Besides these human factors, there are the inevitable continual shifts in direction and frequent stalls that slow momentum and demand constant planning, adjustment, and improvisation.  [When you are sitting through yet another "sanitized" conference project presentation where nothing seemed to go wrong and none of this is addressed, start asking some questions about how these issues were handled and watch the presenters squirm]

These are the truths of projects, even the best-picked ones, in a "quality as bolt-on" environment.  Only by making sure many of them are proven false will you have a high probability of success.

Then again, if these truths were recognized and dealt with in an "improvement as built-in to DNA" environment, a much more effective culture of blitz teams could be an innovative solution.

Until next time...

Kind regards,

P.S.   Are some of your 5-star projects still "vague?"  Help me help you FOCUS them to get results

  • Perhaps a plenary speaking engagement at one of your professional conferences or internal quality conferences to create will and belief in a critical mass of like-minded colleagues
  • A "data sanity" seminar to expose the invisible everyday opportunities that will help you gain the respect you deserve when you do it
  • Show the power of "plotting a dot" to help you do something to eradicate data INsanity
  • Or just about any other reason!  I love corresponding with my readers and answering questions.

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