Projects make change happen. And they create things and add value to our organizations. In a very real sense, the outcome of your project dictates the future of your organization. So maybe running a good project is not enough. I want to focus on some of the things that will make a merely good project into a brilliant project experience.
In a very real sense, you can create a simple equation:
What this says is that the sum total of everything you look back on at the end of your career is a series of projects. This is equally true if you are not a full-time project manager. In today’s workplace, most managers will be involved I a series of projects too. So, what will you want to look back on? Will it be a bunch of ‘okay’ projects? Or would you rather reflect on one brilliant project after another?
So, looking back, what will constitute success? I don’t think it will be simply doing a good job. I think you will see a brilliant project wherever you have created worthwhile change, and done something other people truly value. It will be linked far more to the way you and the people around you – your team and stakeholders – fee, than to what you actually did. You need to delver your projects with style!
If brilliant project management is about style and feeling is, then any project can be a brilliant project. It’s a result of the passion and commitment you bring, and way you motivate and support your team.
Never under-estimate the impact of your emotional state on the team around you. People look up to the people who lead them. And, as a result, they take a lot of their motional cues from you. If you are positive, enthusiastic, and confident, that will rub off. So too will pessimism, frustration, or bitterness.
The key to brilliant project management is therefore excellent project leadership. You need to ask:
‘how can I make my project inspirational, exciting, fun, …’
Here is my list of approaches you can take to making your project a brilliant project. At the bottom, you’ll be able to download a checklist.
There is little worse in the project world than delivering a great product only to find it is not the right product. So a brilliant project starts by carefully researching the needs and wants of your stakeholders, to specify the right outcome at the right cost-value balance point. The more you can involve your team, the more commitment they will feel to your project’s goal. And, whilst a lot of the writing you will do in creating your project documentation will be solid, clear, and business-like, this should not be the case for your goal. Take time to craft the language you use to express your project goal. Make it easy to understand, and as powerful, compelling, and inspiring as you can. Remember, your goal will be the answer to the question ‘what’s your project about’.Craft you #project goal. It's the answer to 'what's your project about?' Click To Tweet
There is more about how to define your project in this article about creating a clear project brief.
When you are researching your project goal, always test it against the question ‘Why?’ Not only is a strong reason essential to justify your organization’s investment, but the answer to why will hold within it the most fundamental key to motivating your team members and your stakeholders. Your project must matter. It must create worthwhile change. So think about how your project will help people. When you articulate your goal, you must also answer the question: ‘for what purpose?‘A brilliant #project goal must answer the question: 'for what purpose?' Click To Tweet
Generate a sense of excitement about your project by involving stakeholders wherever you can. And publicise key project successes along the way. Focus publicity communications on stories about the teams and team members who have contributed to them. This will increase readership because people like to read about themselves and they like to show stories about them, to their friends and families. And it will also boost morale, because people like to see that they are being recognised. So, create a buzz, by promoting your project shamelessly, articulating a compelling vision, and getting people talking about your project. Be creative about the media you use to do this. There is so much available, as long as you respect confidentiality where necessary. When people see publicity about successes, it can enhance the sense that yours is a brilliant project.
Most people see careful planning and estimating as a worthy, but dull, discipline. I don’t. When you apply rigor to your planning and estimating process, you will increase levels the of confidence among your team and stakeholders. And when you engage them in testing the initial plans, you engage their commitment too.
And, of course, the more rigor you apply, the greater the likelihood that your out-turn will fall within your error margins. This will allow you to deliver on budget, on target and on time. Not only is this a good thing in itself, but if you don’t have to work so hard on keeping to budget and schedule during delivery, you will have more time to devote to making your project exceptional and building a brilliant project culture.
Plan into your project the sort of successes that will motivate team members and stakeholders. Build prototypes that people can play with and test out. This excites and energizes people, as well as being the foundation for valuable learning. Likewise, pilot projects and other tests can set you up to learn, and to fail quickly and safely. Any time you set up a form of test, the outcome is always, by definition, success. The objective of tests, pilots and prototypes is learning.
And don’t forget to build in plenty of milestones. Then use them as reason to celebrate as your project progresses. Success motivates your supporters and counters your critics. And of course, success creates momentum and the sense that yours is a brilliant project.
Foster a great spirit among your project team. Instil a sense of pride in what they are doing, a desire to work collaboratively and help one another, and a mutual respect that leads to openness and shared responsibility. To do this, build a team that will do justice to your brilliant project. And for this, you must pay attention to the four essentials of a project team:
Would your team pass the $2,000 dollar test? Part way through their induction and training, Zappos offers new recruits $2,000 to quit. The fact that 97% stay is a tribute to the engagement and commitment the business can create. I’m not suggesting you put $2,000 at stake, but if you were to offer team members a transfer to any other project, would they accept it? Or would they refer to stay with yours? If they prefer to stay, then you truly do have a brilliant project.
A great leader will not take the credit for a brilliant project. But without a doubt, no project can be great unless it is well led. Inspire and engage your team and pay attention to their needs for individual attention, a clear plan, a sense of team belonging, and first class communication. There is more on what it takes to be a brilliant project leader, in my book… Brilliant Project Leader.
As a project leader, your attitude can easily dictate the culture of your project, flipping it from good to great or from great to grim, in the blink of an eye. Choose your attitudes with care and watch them infect your team colleagues. Here are some examples of brilliant attitudes for a project leader to display:
One of the things people most enjoy about project work is the opportunity to innovate and think creatively. Despite the risk and additional cost, actively encourage this. And then teach team members how to properly evaluate their ideas. Remember, that in your role as a manager, it is not to stop people form making mistakes and failing. It is to ensure that they don’t make the wrong mistakes, and that the ones they do make are constructive opportunities to learn.
If you think that sounds strange, ask yourself this: ‘what have been the times you have learned the most?’ I’m prepared to bet that some of your answers refer back to mistakes you made.We learn more from mistakes. Are you giving your #project team enough chances to fail? Click To Tweet
Project plans are great, but the universe won’t respect them.#Project plans are great, but the universe won't respect them. Click To Tweet
If you build into your plans the chance to innovate, you may choose to change them yourself. So adopt processes that allow managed and controlled change, which can be evaluated robustly and accountably, before it is adopted. Flexibility is the only rational response to the reality of projects. The reason we build plans is so we know when we need to adapt!
A truly brilliant project is one where everyone comes away feeling they are better people than before. Projects should be a chance to learn, develop and strengthen your professional resumé. Giving and receiving feedback, and allowing time for group and individual reflection is the best way to ensure that everyone learns from your project and can take that learning forward.
The chance to learn one last time, at the end of your project, is your last chance to make your project truly brilliant.Don’t do a lessons learned review to create paperwork – no matter how valuable that may be in your organization. It’s just an added benefit. The value of the lessons learned review is the reflection time for the people concerned. The way we develop from smart people who know the basics, to wise professionals with good judgment, is through considering the choices we made, the actions we took, and the consequences that followed.
I doubt I’d be the first project manager to assert the primacy of good communication as a project discipline. But it is hard to over stress this. Create a culture among your team members that encourages them to communicate well with one another and to take responsibility for it. Ideally everyone will want to take care of each other, and disputes and conflicts will get resolved within the team quickly, before they escalate.
Encourage this to spin out into the way your team communicates with other stakeholders. The better informed your stakeholders feel, the less resistance you will get. And the resistance you do need to deal with will be more focused on the facts, and less based on fears, misperceptions or simply frustration.
It is worth acknowledging Tom Peters’ concept of a Wow! Project. He wrote about it in his 1999 book, ‘The Project 50‘ (US, UK). In this, his version of a brilliant project is one that is beautiful, impactful, revolutionary, and has raving fans. It is one that makes peopke say ‘Wow!’
My final behaviour that will allow you, as project leader, to create a brilliant project is this… Cheer each other on. Acknowledge, reward, and celebrate every success. Catch people doing things well or inventing something new. Use Eureka moments, project delivery and milestones as your excuses to recognize contributions, and celebrate success. Brilliant projects are fun, so take opportunities to lighten the mood and enjoy your work, every day. And, when your project comes to an end, don’t let it fizzle out. Use the end of your project as one last chance to celebrate your collective achievement, so your team can go onto their next projects with a sense of confidence that will raise their performance even higher, and lead to even more success.
The real mark of a brilliant project is the legacy it leaves behind it. And a brilliant project team, who go on to create and deliver their own brilliant projects is a real tangible legacy you can be proud of. When I look at some of the people who worked on my project teams, I see my own lasting legacy. And I am far more proud of them, than I am of anything i have ever achieved myself.
Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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