There are eight elements frequently missing in Product Development and Project Management, thus seriously impairing such activities. In fact, most organizations accept as a given that these critical activities will be late and over budget, and will only be salvaged, if at all, through heroic (and horrific) effort. Astonishingly, one study estimated US losses of $81 billion in 1995 on cancelled software projects alone, and that only represents a sample of over-all corporate initiatives (The Standish Group Chaos Report). Fortunately, a more reliable output is probable when the following elements are in place.
The Eight Missing Elements
Single point accountability
Decision making clarity
Employee Involvement in planning & implementation
A Project Manager with strong behavioral skills
Effective Sponsorship & Sustaining Sponsorship
A critical mass with specific behavioral skills
A clear & compelling Business Case
A communication “kick off” and follow-up
1. Applying Single Point Accountability (i.e., one person, not one group) to any task that must be managed during the process. This is especially vital given the matrixed cross departmental and cross organizational nature of modern projects.
2. Clarity about who decides (again, Single Point) and by when.
3. To the extent possible, engage employees impacted by the project in both planning and implementation.
4. A single Project Manager functioning as a change agent (not as a boss except among those who report to her/him), with high ability to be both confrontative in a non-blaming way and empathic, must monitor and manage the work.
5. Sponsorship and Sustaining Sponsorship is essential. Allow me to expand on this poorly understood yet vital element. The employee looks to his/her immediate boss for clarity about daily priorities. The supervisor of any employee is, in reality, their only effective Sponsor. Furthermore, “the manager (supervisor) can only Sponsor those who report to him or her” (Walking the Empowerment Tightrope, King of Prussia, PA 1992, page 21).
The CEO (or whomever is the initiating Sponsor) must build Sustaining Sponsorship with their direct reports, who in turn must build Sustaining Sponsorship at the next layer, and so on down to the level of the floor supervisor. This cascading alignment is often neglected. Worse, many projects attempt “matrixed” Sponsorship (for example, the MIS Director “sponsors” change in production). Such arrangements are the kiss of death.
6. A critical mass of organizational leaders and product/project employees must be capable of giving and receiving specific, non-blaming & timely feedback.
7. It must be clear to all involved why this project is important.
8. Goals, roles, and the timeline must be communicated to all impacted employees via a kickoff and periodic updates.
Skillful application of the above consistently results in key initiatives coming in on time, on budget, while meeting or exceeding customer and quality standards.