I’m often asked for my thoughts on delivering projects successfully – after all, I’ve had a lot of experience in this area over the years. I’ve been lucky enough to work on some fascinating projects in a broad range of industries and sectors, with clients who have all brought their own unique requirements to the table. Addressing the needs of all the various stakeholders, exceeding their expectations, and making sure that everyone actually enjoys the process of delivering the project together is always a big challenge, but it’s one that I thrive on.
Here are just a few thoughts on some of the things that – when they’re done right – have made my job a little more straightforward over the years.
It never pays to rush the discovery period – and it’s always worth nailing the scope
It’s a natural instinct – the client, the project manager and their delivery team just want to get started. You have an initial kick off meeting, you get a rough idea of what everyone wants to achieve and then give your team the go-ahead to get stuck in straight away with the nitty gritty of delivering the project.
In my experience, it’s an approach that usually backfires. It’s completely understandable that in those first meetings, the focus is very much on what’s going to be delivered, and when. The client wants to know what they’re getting, and when it’s happening. But I’ve found that it really pays off to spend more time with the whole team – both on the client side and on the project delivery side, defining not just what that end goal is, but also breaking down in detail the full scope of the project.
It’s so much more productive to spend time early on discovering exactly what everyone expects from the project – at every stage – before launching into a headlong rush for that final deliverable. Use this time to understand fully what those objectives are – and what they aren’t – and try, if possible, to minimise the chances of any surprises popping up at any point in the process.
Truly understand what everyone who has a stake in the project really wants (and what they can do about it)
Again, this is an area where it’s easy to rush, and to assume that you know what everyone wants to achieve through the project you’re working on. But I’ve found that it is always well worth doing a thorough analysis of all the stakeholders in any project, listening to them and asking them questions that will reveal not just what they want and need, but also what their ability to influence the outcome of the project is.
Some people will demand a lot, but have a limited ability to actually influence the overall success or failure of the project. Others – a chief executive for example – may only have a limited input in terms of their actual time on the project, but their influence and power over it could be substantially higher. Learn early on who wants what from the project you’re working on – but more importantly, learn who is in a position to be able to help you to deliver the project to the satisfaction of the majority of the stakeholders involved.
Keep communicating – but only when necessary
This feeds nicely into my final piece of advice, which is around the need for clear, consistent and effective communication. Understanding who is in position of power – in terms of influence over your project – is crucial if you’re going to communicate effectively throughout the project’s life. Anyone who has forgotten to copy someone influential into an email during a project (or, conversely, invited someone who is a senior, strategic thinker to an operational meeting they don’t need to attend), will understand just how important targeted, relevant communication is.
Clearly, this has to run in all directions – your own project delivery team needs to be crystal clear on the overall objectives of the project plan and also, most importantly, on their own individual roles.
As the project moves on, they need to keep a clear record of how things are progressing, and make sure that they are sharing relevant information only with the people who really need to see it. And again, I’d reiterate the need to always check yourself before you book a meeting or send an email. If you don’t schedule it, or you don’t send it, will anyone care? If not, don’t waste any more time – it’s essential that you make sure that every single meeting or call or email has value for all sides. So, be clear about what you want to achieve in any interaction, limit the time allotted to it and record the actions and outcomes that come from it.
Finally, keep talking to the client – before, during and after the project has been delivered. If the project itself hasn’t been delivered to their expectations (and even if it has), it’s crucial that you listen to what they have to say about their experience. Take the feedback on board, and use it to deliver the next project to an even higher standard.