Great ideas are just that until we turn them into real and measurable progress. Having a strong vision and sense of direction will quickly run out of steam or descend into chaos unless the change feels tangible and achievable. Think of it as climbing a mountain like Everest. We need some kind of plan, not every detail, but at least an idea of what needs to happen next, even if it’s initially focused on getting to base camp. Having clarity of what needs to happen and, importantly, what we can do right now to get started is what we call Execute.
Execute is the process of knowing what the journey looks like, where we are on the journey, what our part in it is, how decisions are taken and by whom. In business, this also includes encouraging and facilitating course correction when needed and ensuring most effective use of resources. Most importantly those involved in and around the change need to know what’s expected of them and by when and in a level of detail that is appropriate to them.
Whilst PMO and Project Management are considered relatively mature disciplines in most large businesses there are a number of pitfalls that we’ve seen many organisations fall into. Here are some of the more common ones:
Heavy handed PMO administration: The trick is to have just the right amount of governance and not too much. We’ve seen many organisations fall into the trap of adding so much project administration and heavy handed PMO that the whole process slows right down. We find that continuously challenging any form of activity that isn’t moving the project forward helps to get everyone into the right frame of mind and avoid unnecessary admin.
Unclear definition of completion: Solid plans can only be built when the end point is well defined, including quality considerations such as testing and documentation. We find that it’s helpful to start from an agreed “definition of done” and then work back from there to establish the deliverables, tasks and resources needed to achieve it.
Confusing plans: Building upon the above point, a plan is simply a more detailed view of the journey you are on and how we are going to deliver the things / changes (deliverables) we have committed to. If we can’t quickly see the journey and deliverables in the plan then that tells us that the plan needs work. Also consider the different audiences and what they need to know.
Always “Green” till it’s too late: Status reporting indicators (Red / Amber / Green – RAG) can be a great visual when used correctly but all too often are used inappropriately. If reporting bad news is likely to lead to difficult conversations or threats to careers then it’s not surprising that we tend to try to avoid it. So consider how it’s used and, more importantly, how to get everyone in the team feeling comfortable with communicating progress and problems honestly.
Unclear roles and responsibilities: Even highly agile, fast moving projects need structure. We recommend as a minimum a strong Steering Group that is empowered, willing and able to take decisions when required. And ensuring the delivery teams are well defined and with clear responsibilities. The amount of structure will depend on scale and culture but should always be challenged from the mindset of efficiency and effectiveness. If it isn’t working, be prepared to change it quickly.
Too many meetings: Meetings are a great collaboration tool if used effectively. Sadly they often end up being a showcasing event for the few and a time sink for the many. So be careful with that one. There is plenty of good advice on running effective meetings so take it.
Regardless of the specific methodologies and controls used (and there are plenty to choose from), we suggest asking the following questions to establish if “Execute” is working well:
- Does the change feel achievable?
- Can we all see how we are progressing?
- Do we know what decisions we need to take, who needs to be involved and when they need to be taken?
- Does everyone who needs to know have the information they need at any given time or know where to find it?
- Are we spending too much time away from delivering the changes because we are answering points 2-4?
One final thing. We’re all busy and many things are constantly competing for our time and attention. What we prioritise is what gets done, whether individually or as a group. We may say that something is a priority whilst our actions tell a different story. If we’re not getting the things done that we feel we should then maybe we should ask ourselves the hard question, when exactly in our diary did we schedule to get it done and what stopped us doing it? Because that was our real priority.