Project Reinvigoration thru Steady State Execution

Have you found yourself to be the key stakeholder (or sponsor) of a mission critical project that seems to be languishing or is heading in an unanticipated direction? This situation is not uncommon and is one of the primary reasons we, at Customer Centricity, are engaged.

This two-part series shares the approach taken by one of our senior Project Managers (Caesar Gonzaga) to reinvigorate a project to get to steady state, high performing execution.

While this particular example stems from a recent engagement with a medical device company, working on an initial product launch, the principles apply across all industries and types of projects.

If you’d like to learn more about how this approach could apply to your project, feel free to give us a call. Caesar has just become available and may be able to help you achieve the results you are expecting as well.

Project Reinvigoration

by Caesar Gonzaga

As the primary stakeholder of a project’s outcome, you have come to a realization – you need help. This can result from a number of factors – complexity, scope, concurrency / timing, resources, partner management, and so on. You have a lot on your plate and managing project minutiae will significantly affect your strategic and operational duties. It’s time to bring in a resource, specifically a project manager (PM), who can drive those details. Not just any project manager, but one grounded in and experienced with commercial initiatives.

The following lays out a basic blueprint for the initial engagement and path to getting the project pointed in the right direction. It is a direct read on what your PM will do and think about, and helps you and the team prepare for and expedite these initial steps.

An independent project manager, engaged at this juncture (an in-process project), will not have had the opportunity to be part of the core team developing the project concept to initiation. The team composition has been set and goals / objectives were reviewed, approved and things are moving ahead (albeit, not at the pace or direction intended). While you’ve brought on this key resource mid-stream, you still need to maintain forward momentum. 

Open the firehose; it is time for your new PM to drink.

Your project manager will need a short runway to get his / her bearings. Don’t be surprised (or offended) if he / she extensively leverages the “tenth man rule” to counterbalance what may be considered indisputable project-related facts. You should expect the project manager to act as a contrarian or devil’s advocate as they immerse themselves in the details.

During this stage, the primary rule for the PM is: “Do No Harm”. That is, the PM realizes that it is of paramount importance to not reach conclusions prematurely. This time is to gather details to be digested and cohesively stitched together, BEFORE making sweeping recommendations. 

Following is what to expect during this initial orientation phase, to help you and your team formulate responses to reduce the PM’s time spent capturing the necessary information. And, be prepared for the common response from the PM to information provided: “What’s the justification / reasoning for this?” This builds on the 5 Ws, which are key to getting hold of the top-line project framework.  

  • What:  The project’s goals. These could be incremental or one big bang but it’s essential for the PM to understand the language of the project sponsors and stakeholders about what they wish to accomplish via this project.
  • Why:  This should come naturally as part of the “what” discussion. Essentially, your PM is looking to understand the driving force behind the project’s existence. It brings to life the economic, social, health-related, environmental and/or other benefits in realizing the project’s outcome.
  • When: What is the planned release of the final product? Is there a roadmap with milestones in place? Is this a hard date or can it float earlier or later?
  • Who: The critical contributors to the project – you, other stakeholders, design engineering, manufacturing, supporting staff, external partners and suppliers, etc.
  • Where: This may or may not be relevant in every case but should be covered regardless. Some projects are wholly “in-house” while others require multiple companies to engage and deliver. The core project team may also span multiple time zones which requires accommodation to meeting times and delivery dates.

After addressing the above, the PM has the framework to begin validating and re-baselining the project plan. The next step involves peeling back the layers to determine where exactly the project is, relative to the answers provided to the 5 Ws. In other words, it’s time for you and your PM to look for Waldo so you can draw a path for him to exit the crowd.

The PM will now begin diving deeper looking into key components of this complex project and its timeline. This step could be called “To-date”. The PM may have gleaned some (and potentially all) of this during the initial discussions and will have those notes “at the ready” for this step. While there may be more individual Q&A between you and the PM it is at this stage you should expect the PM to begin applying discipline and project management principles to firm up and drive the project to realization by ensuring and/or implementing the following:

  • Plan: Is there a project plan/master schedule? Is it at the right level of detail? Does it accommodate dynamic changes to design and/or manufacturing? Do all vested stakeholders see the forest as well as the trees?
  • Resource Map: What is the division of labor amongst the team? Do team members have multiple responsibilities? Are the skills required for the project represented on the team? Are resources full time, part-time or as-needed?
  • Business Processes: Have the design and manufacturing processes been rationalized to the project’s framework? Are these project processes documented? What level of handshake transactions are required between critical (internal or external) organizations? Is there a central repository to maintain the project’s documentation? Is it accurate and timely? 
  • Deliverables: In short, what’s been accomplished so far. But, of more interest would be – what hasn’t been and why?
  • Risks: While these may have been captured by any of the actions above, it is important to formally identify risks and ensure there is a mitigation plan for each. Are all practical risks captured with realistic mitigations documented?

As the primary stakeholder for project success, you should now have a near complete picture of the state of the project from the PM. 

A final step remains: scrubbing the information captured with a focus on improving the project’s operational execution. It is here the PM’s approach is to “Mind the Gap”. If you’ve ever been on the subway in London, you’ll know what this means.

In short, your PM will don their Sherlock Holmes deerstalker and briar pipe and analyze the scene. At this stage you and the PM will discuss the following:

  • Are there interpersonal and/or intercompany conflicts?
  • Are there staffing, skill-set and/or time allocation issues?
  • Do the project’s goals and timeline meet the complexity and technological “smell test”?

You’ve now arrived at the “Reset” step. Based on the focused effort with your PM, you’ve identified what is working well, opportunities for improvement, and are ready to reinvigorate the project. It’s now time to bring the team together and formally announce there’s a new sheriff in town. Just kidding. Depending on the sensitivity of the findings, you’ll want to hold any private conversations necessary before presenting the go-forward plan to the team.

After that dramatic and uplifting reboot of the project, you have all heads nodding (in agreement, not in dozing). Everyone is onboard, fired-up and ready to go!

Congratulations. You (and the PM) may have aged 10 years in the span of days to get here. And, the good news is: you are just getting started! 

In our next article, Caesar will share perspective on getting to steady state, high performing Project Execution.

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