It’s all too easy for project managers to forget what Project Management is all about. It’s all too easy for project managers to lose track of what’s ahead because they’re too busy trying hard to solve the problems that keep popping. And it’s all too easy for project managers to be so focused that they lose awareness. If this sounds familiar I invite you to keep on reading.
Not that there’s something wrong with focus: there’s nothing wrong with it and in fact it’s one of the “must have” qualities of any project manager. Just don’t think for a second that focus will be enough. But having present in your mind why organizations do projects is something very useful that allows you to put things into perspective. If you check the literature, organizations do projects for several reasons that sum up to this: organizations do projects to survive. But let me elaborate on this.
An organization can do a project because they have to (for instance, because new legislation is out that demands some changes in their quality processes). If they don’t comply they may just have to shut down the company.
It could also be that an organization needs some kind of improvement. This is the case of companies that do a lot of research and development projects. What would happen to a car or a cell phone maker if they didn’t invest any more in such projects? Would you buy a car exactly the same as the one you bought 15 years ago for about the same price as any other new car on the market? I guess not… Sales would drop to a point where the company would be forced to close down. For cell phones the scenario is even worst: any 1 year old cell phone is simply out-dated…
So the argument on this article goes like this: companies have to change to survive and so they do projects to change the things they decide they want to change. Your job as a Project Manager is not to question if the planned changes are the right ones. Your job as a project manager is to make sure you project’s results are the right ones to allow the planned changes in the organization. In comparison, anything else is less important than this, even the delivery of the project on time, on budget and with the planned quality (although the planned quality should have a bit of this “fit to purpose” included).
It is very useful for you to have this present in your mind. When you discuss a change request, the first question you should ask is “does this change request contribute to the organization make the desired changes”? If it doesn’t, the interest in this change request must be low – even if this change request will permit performance improvements or whatever.
When you propose a change request you better be ready to defend it. If you can say: this change will postpone the final delivery by 2 months but it will make sure you can use the project result to improve the organization as you planned; and this will be compromised if the change request isn’t approved. The argument is much stronger in this case, agree?
This is just an example. The point is that if you always aim for the end results to be useful for the organization, you’re making sure that every step is taken in the right direction. This is the difference between project outputs and outcomes, as they’re called in some literature. Project outputs are the results of the project, what is actually delivered by the project. And a project outcome is what the organization will do with the project’s outputs.
For example, you may have a project to design a cell phone and so the cell phone will be your output. But the real outcome is the cell phone sales to maintain the company’s market share. So in this project, while you’re concerned about all the technical bits, the schedule, costs and whatever more, you must keep an eye on the outcome as well: the company keeping its market share due to this cell phone. If the company doesn’t achieve that, the project will not be successful.
Projects only exist because of the business. In order to deliver successful projects, you don’t have to be happy with the business, but you do have to understand the business you’re working in.
Image from http://www.wemakemoves.com
Written by Luis Seabra Coelho