EventMAP’s Chris Thornhill discusses the importance of focusing on the bigger picture as set out in the business strategy rather than focusing on individual outputs of projects alone.
How do you know that a project has been successful? I’ve worked in IT for nearly 30 years – most of which I have been involved in Project Management, but around eight years ago, and quite by accident I became interested in KPIs whilst working in global role for a large IT company. We were gathering and reporting on the performance of projects and programmes and generated a large volume of charts, graphs, and metrics. It was the classic mistake of not being able to see the wood for the trees and the information was not driving better decisions, and therefore improving results.
In an effort to try to rationalise what we were doing I came across a number of websites and one in particular by Stacy Barr that changed my perception on what constitutes as ‘success’ in project management. Through this website I was introduced to the concept of Performance Measurement which puts the spotlight on your business and focuses our minds on what needs to improve.
As a Project Manager, you focus on the project delivery in terms of cost, schedule, scope i.e. was the project within budget, on-time and whether requirements are satisfied? As a programme manager, you are focusing on sequencing a number of projects to deliver an outcome which provides greater benefits than delivering projects individually. Often, as one project or programme finishes the associated project/programme manager are quickly moved on to the next project. Sometimes a benefits realisation plan would be used, which would be reviewed to confirm that the benefits were realised. Hence success was a bottom-up process and greater success was accumulative, based on successful outputs (projects) producing a successful outcome for the business. It seems logical that a well thought through solution would always delivers the desired results. Reviewing the benefits realisation plan would determine that at a single point in time, the change was successful but because of the transient nature or project management this is where the problem starts.
Performance management is about focusing your attention on the important tasks that need to be delivered in order for a change to be successful. It is a top down process which looks at the results you are aiming to achieve rather than measuring the success of individual people, tasks or projects. The ability to define a good performance measures (KPIs) can lead to a high-performance culture. In other words, rather than waiting until the end of your business year to determine whether you have been successful, you are measuring your business’s performance regular basis to determine whether changes are delivering expected improvements. The skill is defining a good KPI(s) as a poorly defined ones can be, at best are useless, and at worst can drive poor behaviours.
From a senior leader perspective, a set of truly focused KPIs is like having a set of dials and gauges which tell you how well your business is performing. A simple analogy is that you would not try to change the velocity of your car without using a speedometer to confirm you had successfully achieved the new speed. To achieve the change of speed you may have had to change a number of things e.g. the engine speed, the gear ratio, the driving lane, etc. which individually you can measure and may indicate a change in speed, but would not necessarily give you the assurance you had achieved the correct velocity.
Project Turn Around:
Project Management is a tough job and in that I include Project Managers, Programme Managers and Portfolio Managers who on a daily basis have to deal with risks and issues some of which are often out of their control but have to respond and action to resolve e.g. changes in legislation, absenteeism due to sickness, power outages, etc. One of the main issues is that projects have limited budgets and once the money is spent the project team moves onto the next project and little thought is given to an old project once it is delivered despite how ‘successful’ it was, as determined by the benefits realisation plan. Yet the question is how do you know that the project really was successful?
Some changes need time to bed in i.e. new ways of working need to be used and practiced, or new technology needs to be learnt, cultures need to change, and often this takes time, sometime weeks and months beyond the end of a project. Hence the true benefits may take time before they are realised. In fact, there may be a down-turn in productivity whilst an organisation goes through some growing pains before an up-turn is seen.
Adoption of the new solution is a huge problem and without the understanding of why a change is necessary the benefits of the change may take longer to realise than expected. Hence a good ‘management of change’ process is needed to communicate change to your organisation. Management of change is the way an organisation communicates information to their organisation, and this is done through different delivery channels e.g. team meetings, e-mails, webpages, posters, etc.
Communicating an organisation’s strategy is a key approach to start that management of change process off. I have seen some really poor strategy documents which are a mix of aspirations, milestones, projects, targets, statements of intent, and written with ‘weasel words’, and because of this they are generally difficult to read and digest, particularly for the workforce who are most impacted. However, using some concepts from Performance Management, we can organise and lay out a strategy in a more meaningful way such that the whole organisation can understand (top to bottom) and therefore be more engaged to deliver a better result.
All the employees of an organisation are stakeholders in the success of the business, so why not communicate the company strategy and make it easy to understand? Every employee should be able to see direction the business is going and structure their efforts to align with the company strategy. There should be a clear ‘line of sight’ for all work efforts which from a business perspective is where an organisation is spending its money. Hence, efforts that do not support the strategy need to be reviewed and stopped if necessary.
Normally a project is justified through a business case which articulates the benefits which are usually stated in monetary terms and may also identify the return on investment. The idea of bringing Performance Management and Project Management together as a complementary set of disciplines allows a senior leadership team to see the true value of the changes made over time and determine whether the impact of changes have been sustained. Note: the impact of a change may diminish over time as new technologies or new ways of working or competition are determined which may prompt further action.
Frustratingly, in companies I have worked for strategy is deemed as ‘something that management does’ and once a year the strategy is announced (I call this the ‘ta-da’ moment) and then as an employee, it is never heard of again. Creating a strategy could be the subject of another blog, but there a lot of good books and websites that can help you formulate one. Once one has been determined turning it into something which can be delivered against is where Project Management and Performance Management come together to help articulate the intension and direction to the organisation.
To do this a ‘Strategy Map’ based on the mission, vision and company values statements should be created. It chunks up the strategy into Key Result Areas eg. Grow the company, Customer Service, Team Performance, etc. I use the term ‘chunk’ deliberately as this is a technique used in Project Management to describe breaking down a large piece of work into manageable pieces of work. In the diagram below the Programmes and Projects would represent the actions to be taken with respect to each Key Result Area.
Below is an example of how to lay out a strategy in a codified way which is easily understood by all staff members and can be used as a communication channel highlighting changes and improvements to the company’s operations.
Mission: To be the world’s favourite airline.
Vision: To ensure our customers depart and arrive on time and every time and travel in comfort and style.
Values: Customer satisfaction, Employees are stakeholders, professional service to customers and suppliers, job satisfaction.
The strategy map shows the initiative (projects and programmes) which support the objective set for the key result areas. Using a map like this will show employees which area of their strategy they are working on, hence are more likely to feel part of the company’s success and help to achieve targets. The strategy map includes KPIs which will be different for each circumstance and based on the desired outcome of leadership. If measured on a regular basis, you should visually see improvements, as each project or initiative releases the associated benefits it has set out to achieve.
By regularly monitoring the KPIs the data can analysed and used to make informed business decisions. In some cases, a project (even a successful one) may have an unintended detrimental effect on the desired business outcome. Assuming this is not a bedding-in issue, you’ll be able to investigate and take action. Without the KPI in place, it may take a lot longer to establish the impact of the change and whether action is needed. The lack of timely action could lead to an impact on your business in terms of costs, or reputation, or employee retention, or customer satisfaction. Hence having KPIs helps leadership to see whether they are on track to achieve goals or whether they are getting blown off cause.
You may have heard the expression “If you don’t measure it, how can you say you are in control” and leaders need to be in control of their business to ensure success. By combining the skillsets offered in Project Management and Performance Management, changes can be better communicated and understood by the workforce especially if the Strategy Map is used to help visualise the direction and outcomes a company is trying to achieve. The bottom-up and the top-down nature of these two methodologies can provide valuable insights to business leaders and help achieve desired success quicker.
Established in 2002, EventMAP are a specialist software and consultancy solution provider. We have provided services and solutions for the Health, Education, Defence and Policing sectors. We have some of the world’s leading experts in optimisation which help our clients make better use of their resources, saving time and reducing costs. We provide Project Management consultancy and help clients achieve their goals whilst staying in control of their projects using the techniques described in this blog so that they achieve the maximum value for their investment. Why not contact EventMAP and see how we can help you?
Chris has worked highly successfully in Project Management for around 20 years and spent the last 4 years solving problems around space utilisation particularly around room booking and timetabling. Prior to working for EventMAP, Chris has worked for the University of Cambridge, HP, CSC Computer Sciences; working with clients in a wide range of industry sectors.