Achieving operational or strategic goals in a project management way

Simple steps can help non-project managers to guide their projects to successful completion

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Achieving operational or strategic goals in a project management way Delivering a successful project can be a daunting task for non-project management professionals.
By  Hemanshu Joshi Published  March 16, 2012

The first two months of the year have ended. Yesteryear's performance went under the microscope, strategic goals are reviewed, adjusted and formalized for the next five years. It's time for organizations to start accelerating their operational activities into full swing to achieve annual goals.

There comes the biggest challenge for the mid-management executives. They have to strike a balance between strategic and operational demands. They have to stick to achieve their strategic goals when operational activities are always pressing them for time and effort. Even though the operational activities are always urgent and it is strategic activities that are most important for the future of organization. Therefore, it is important for managers to stay focussed and steadily move ahead to achieve their strategic goals. But in practice, this is not easy.

Under the current recessional business environment, organizations have started taking their strategic goals seriously. These organizations realize that short term urgencies are overwhelming their more important strategic focus. Operational urgencies will always be there but digressions from strategic objectives cannot be avoided. This belief has led organizations to set up a Project Management Office (PMO) as a unit which would plan, manage and monitor projects all across the organization.

However, due to recessional factors not all organizations can set up a PMO or hire a dedicated project manager to run the projects, even though it would be the best thing for them to do. Under unavoidable circumstances a progressive line manager would like to take the mantle of organizing things in-house. However, due to inexperience or due to pressing business need it is quite likely for them to get disoriented easily. Here are a few tips that would help a non-project manager to manage the project and get desired results.

Initiate with setting an objective - The first thing is to begin with by setting an objective. What do you want to achieve? Setting an objective will ensure you and anyone who is involved, directly or indirectly, to understand what you want to achieve. This is your vision statement for the project. Unless you have clear vision you will never be able to set your course in the right direction.

An objective has to be a crisply written one line sentence, clearly defining what you want to achieve. Below are two samples of objectives -

Sample 1 - Reduce total expenditure by 15% within one year across organization.

Sample 2 - Document all the processes for four departments by quarter end.

Take your management into confidence - If you are not the top boss you will have to get the blessings of your immediate boss or higher-ups in the hierarchy. Your management leaders are your primary stakeholders. They are your project sponsors. You need to brief them about your intentions and final benefits. This is very important. If your management doesn't appreciate your intentions, they can easily pull the plug on your project and ruin your effort at any point of time. Most projects die premature deaths because management is unable to foresee any benefit coming.

Earn the confidence of all those who the project will impact - This process is called stakeholder analysis. Whoever is affected by your project is a stakeholder in your project. The effect of your project on them can be positive or negative. You need to make an effort to convince them the importance of project and the benefit it would bring to the organization and eventually to them. You might need to hold many workshops with them to earn their confidence. Let me assure you, this is not easy. There is always resistance when people have to do things differently. They resist coming out of their comfort zone. But for the success of project you will have influence to them, by motivation or by coercion.

Set a perimeter for your project activities by defining scope - You need to articulate the scope of your project. Which means, you need to specify what you are going to do, and what you wouldn't do? This will be like a constitution for you, so that you don't digress from what you have planned.

During the course of the project, you might find so many very important items that you must include in the project which you had not included in the project when you conceived it. Let me tell you, these seemingly important things might derail your project. Almost every second project is marred by such important things and is a reason for derailment of projects every day, across all industries and across the world. Therefore, my sincere advice to you is, stick to your project scope till you finish it. You might start another project after completion of the first where you can incorporate other important requirements which you have deferred in this project.

You need to plan and plan again - You need to plan the sequence of activities, resources or material requirements to achieve project objectives. Which activities to succeed another? What kind of material you would need and when? Which team member or resource you want to involve throughout the project or do you need them on certain occasions? What are those occasions and when are they likely to occur? The more detailed the plan is, the better it is. However, a project plan keeps evolving as you progress. Don't get overwhelmed by desire to develop a perfect plan to initiate the next step,  make a base plan, review it periodically and enhance it.

Delegate, as supermen are fictitious characters - Let us admit, you cannot do everything in your project on your own. You would need a team of specialists or generalists to help you achieve your project actives. Delegation is the key to your project success. It is team work that will ensure quality and timely delivery of your project. You need to identify team members at your disposal and assign them tasks based on their competencies. Some of your team members might be capable of performing multiple tasks and some might be specialized. At the same time these project resources would be performing their regular work as well. Therefore, you need to make sure you are utilizing their skills in the best way.

Actual execution of tasks as per plan- The actual execution takes place when the team members perform their tasks as per the project plan in order to meet project requirements.

Detailed requirements can be defined in the beginning of your execution process. You would like to elaborate your scope of work to define the requirements. These project requirements may be very elaborate or very concise, depending upon the project. However, these are very critical for you to define, as the success of your project delivery will be adjudged against these requirements. As already mentioned earlier, there will be many important requirements which were out of your initial scope, yet now these seem important. You might feel excited to cover these requirements in your current project or at times you might be pressured as well. Don't fall for them. These are scope creepers and would derail your project. You might keep an inventory of such requirements to be considered for future projects.

As the tasks are performed their quality has to be monitored as well. You would like to know if individual tasks are performed as per requirements and as per organizational standards or not. If individual tasks do not meet the requirements, the overall quality of the end result suffers. You might finish the project, but a project with no quality will be meaningless.

Overtime, as a project manager you would monitor the project progress, communicate the status to stakeholders, adjust the project plan, expedite some tasks or delay some tasks. Your best ability will be to deliver the project with required quality and meeting all the requirements, which are expectations from the project, within allocated time and budget.

Is your project bound by cost? - Often your project will be tied to budget. You might have to achieve your project objective within the budget allocated to you. With the allocated budget you would bear the cost of resource and material. Finishing a project within budget can become a big factor to your project success. However, in a situation where cost management is key for project success, if the project is very specialized, it  might not be suitable for a novice project manager to handle, and  it will be better to hire a professional project manager for such projects.

Communication holds the key to your success - Most projects fail in dearth of communication. Communication between you, the project manager, the stakeholders and project team is essential. The communication with the stakeholders will be determined by the size of stakeholders. Be it over email, newsletters or direct meetings, whichever means you chose, you need to make sure that you communicate with your stakeholders periodically and without fail during the entire length of the project, and the same with your team. However, you will have to communicate with your team more frequently, maybe daily or even more than once in a day appraising project progress, assigning roles and responsibilities and adjusting the project plan.

Projects often succumb to unforeseen obstacles - All projects are prone to risks, which can prevent projects concluding or they conclude without achieving their objectives. Project risks are diversified. Your project is at risk when your team members are not diligent enough or do not turn up, your stakeholders are not cooperative or the material you purchased didn't turn up on time. It can be anything very simple or very big but affects you to progress with your project. You need to identify such risks proactively and make provision to tackle them in case they occur. You need to create an alert mechanism which would help you tackle such risks before they pull your project down.

The project rollout - When you have successfully met all the requirements of the project, it will be time for you to roll out the project for the stakeholders to benefit from it directly.

If you are rolling out a new system for end users who are your stakeholders, you might have to train them for the usage of system. If your project was to reduce expenditure by 15%, then your management are your stakeholders. At the end of the project, your management will witness the success of the project by actual reduction in expenditure. You would have to train your colleagues to keep expenses low.

In any case you will have to retrain your users to perform their tasks differently from what they have been doing earlier. Changing the user mindset is really a big task and quite critical for the project. If your stakeholders are unable to perceive the benefit of your project and do not participate in rollout then your project will not take off. It might take some effort but let me assure you, it's worth it.

There are various ways to accomplish goals that are set for you in an organizational environment. You might do things randomly as they come. Your random approach might have given you results so far. But it is not certain that you will get lucky all the time, especially when you have to manage many parallel tasks. There is a proven methodology of achieving targets. It is best for professionals and professional organizations to use the time tested methods to achieve their goals effectively.

There are various methodologies while managing their projects. However, following the simple methods, as stated above, will help non project managers achieve their strategic or operational goals.

Hemanshu Joshi is a Dubai based project manager with total 12 years of IT experience in three core areas of Project Management, Presales and Organizational Strategy. He has been invited to business schools to address MBA students. He is a regular commentator on PM Network, an international magazine published by Project Management Institute (PMI). His recent articles are published at www.itp.net .

2062 days ago
Hassan AbuHelweh

Good article Hemanshu,

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