I’m going to start this blog by making some obvious statements about working a project without being clear about what it’s meant to achieve.
- A crucial element to a successful project is that everyone understands the single end toward which they are working.
- It is also important that the team works from clear statements of WHAT they will achieve to reach that end.
- A well-defined focus of what will be achieved allows a team to identify HOW to work cooperatively and align their efforts for maximum possible success.
- In life, however, confusing what projects are meant to achieve and how that will be done creates problems.
(See, I told you they would be obvious statements.)
If a team uses project management tools, this confusion should be minimized. In real life, though, teams get working on projects without formal project plans all the time.
Confusion at the Beginning
At the beginning of new projects, the initial conversations set the team in a direction, and the enthusiasm for the new thing gets people moving. This rush to start making progress is when people begin confusing WHAT they are going to achieve with HOW they are going to achieve it.
Whatever the reason, teams without a clear statement of what will be achieved will easily find themselves implementing uncoordinated or misaligned tasks. In this situation, the work won’t progress and the team will likely be frustrated.
Specialists and experts on teams tend to start identifying and working on strategies each of them thinks will create the desired outcome. The problem is, without clearly stated and shared objectives, multiple experts with different training can choose excellent strategies… for potentially different objectives. This lack of alignment around shared objectives quickly becomes problematic.
In a situation like this, there’s a simple solution that doesn’t require full project management documentation: step back and define the Outcome, Objectives, and Strategies for the project. Doing this, the team will eliminate the confusion and start moving forward.
- The Outcome is most like a “Goal” in project management. When articulating the desired outcome, you are making a statement that starts with “In the end, we will…”
- The Objectives are WHAT the team will achieve on the way to the outcome. Each objective represents a measurable component of the outcome. When all the objectives are achieved, the outcome can be realized.
- The Strategies are the steps to be taken to reach each of the objectives. The strategies are HOW the objectives will be reached.
However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results. Winston Churchill.
The key to successful projects is having clearly defined objectives because this provides specific targets to focus on while identifying and selecting the most aligned strategies. When everyone is aiming at the same thing, the team will be more successful in reaching it.
Process for Applying These Definitions
The process of defining Outcome, Objective and Strategy is critical go getting a troubled project out of the proverbial ditch. This process should always be applied to a new project because starting with clarity is always advantageous.
START with ensuring that there is shared understanding and agreement on the Outcome.
- Write the Outcome on a whiteboard or a flip chart and discuss whether there are different ideas that need to be considered or added.
- After making revisions, conclude with each person affirming their understanding and agreement.
NEXT, clearly define the objectives that need to be achieved to realize the outcome. Identify the three to five achievements that you can measure and demonstrate results.
- Define each objective in terms of what will be done, when, and how much of it you plan to do. Consider adding where and who to the definition.
FINALLY, choose the strategies you will use to reach each objective.
- Identify and select the most effective and logical steps that, when taken, will achieve the objectives.
After doing this work, you’re ready to start making progress toward the outcome immediately.
If you have a project that is stuck or one that isn’t thriving as you think it should, please contact me. In a single meeting, we can apply these simple definitions, create a better focus for the project, and get your team back on track.
Also, if you would like your team to be able to use a simple process like this consistently on multiple projects, I’ll be happy to provide training to build that capacity in your organization.