Work on Fewer Projects and Get More Done

October 20, 2011  5:04 pm

Good Intent Unintentionally Sabotaged – Have you observed this in your organization? Each year the Leadership Team goes through a planning process. With good intention, they launch a number of initiatives to achieve stretch goals. Work begins with great enthusiasm but soon becomes mired down. Reality hits, priorities are diluted and the rhythm of bureaucracy sets in.

“Idea darlings” are aggressively pursued by the Leadership Team and move to the front of the queue. The rest of the projects languish … or worse. Sure, as time permits they’re continually worked on. Yet they’re not predictably getting done. And perhaps worse, execution effectiveness drops off as expected organizational learning is lost and then repeatedly must be regained.

It is not uncommon for organizations to underperform on project intent. Many times there are simply too many things being worked on at once, consuming attention and resources, and giving rise to increasing conflicts and bottlenecks. Perhaps some of these situations sound familiar to you?

  • When the business plan was being developed no consideration was given to projects and initiatives already active in the organization
  • The year progressed, things changed. New projects were launched at multiple levels in the organization but there was no reliable process to terminate old projects and free up people and resources to work on the new one
  • The same core group of people is called on over and over again
  • There is no such thing as a “not to do” list to maintain organizational sanity

For a moment, let’s assume that most organizational projects arise from an important business need. If the project is successfully completed, the organization receives the benefit right?  Well, let’s see…

Company Alpha has an idea for a hot new invention. Faster product development = faster time to market and recognition of a new profit stream. Given the opportunity, it makes sense to commit a focused team to complete the work. BUT…  many organizations run numerous projects at a time, perhaps more than they are aware of, with their people and resources diluted across a broad spectrum. Think about your bottom line. Is it better to execute ten good projects and start delivering benefits as quickly as possible or run 4x of them  concurrently — with all achieving various stages of completion and few reaching closure?

Given that choice, the better path forward is clear. So, even though at times it may seem counterintuitive, the better answer is invariably to work on fewer projects in order to get more done. So, what’s a way to simplify and clarify the project portfolio you ask?

Conduct an Initiatives Inventory.

This is a structured and eye-opening activity that enables the organization to learn what’s really being worked on, see the decisions they need to keep momentum, and, gain insight into leadership’s role in making project teams more effective. How does it work? Simple…

  • The Leadership Team and functional managers (two to three levels down in the organization) identify all of the projects and initiatives consuming time and resources.
  • A project and required resource list is created, and we ensure we dig deep enough into the organization to capture all of the projects as told by the people who are leading and working on them.
  • We establish a scoring system to rank the amount of time people are involved in the project. For example, A= over a month, B= two weeks, C = supervision and meetings, etc.

When the inventory is summarized in this way it offers insights into a common hazard revealing those who may be overloaded and can bottleneck progress.  Now we can rationalize based on current priorities!

Leaders are facilitated through the thorny decisions to rank the highest value projects while terminating or deferring those of lesser value. Additional screens are created as needed to thin the list. From this point the  Leadership Team can now assess the organization’s internal capability and decide on a small list of critical projects that can be active concurrently.

Finally, we put into a place a process to control new project starts (and the intended or unintended commitment of resources) at all levels. This allows the Leadership Team to rationally manage projects to closure while introducing new work when active projects are completed and resources are freed up for reassignment.

So, working on a fewer projects at a time enables you to get high impact projects completed timely and effectively. This accelerates the start of the benefit streams and drives your bottom line.

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  • John Settineri

    Thank you for sharing this excellent post to the blog. Provides helpful insights.

    In support of what was described, wanted to share the approach to strategy deployment that has been found to be very helpful in our organization. For our strategy deployment approach we use “A3 thinking” combined with the “OGSM” (objectives-goals-strategies-measrures) to identify the most critical few initiatives that will address the most important problems and needs in the business. When we do it correctly, it has helped the organization choose and focus the organization on the most important priorities that must be resourced and executed before all else.

    As is probably the case in many organizations, some times the prioritzation occurs more effectively than in other cases – but a more deliberate approach to the strategy development and deployment has made a difference in many areas for us.