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Before we start I want to point I'm not going to be talking about in-depth project management or project office systems, I'm not talking about slippage, work breakdown structures or Gant charts or Scrum sessions or anything like that. What I am talking about is actually controlling what projects happen in your organisation and why that's probably a good idea. Still with me? Great, then let's explore!
The other day I was catching up with a client, let's call them Bob's Pies (note it's not called this & they don't make pies). I was talking with the owner (Bob) about what they were working on and how things were going. He told me they were so busy, they had this project happening and that project, improvements here and there and well I think it took him a good 45 minutes to run down the projects that were happening and even then he was sure he was missing some. The challenge and concern he had were that he didn't think they could get everything done on the projects and still meet deliveries. I asked how they lined up with the business objectives (one of my favourite questions!) and he confessed that he wasn't sure, not sure? well you see we haven't really sat down and documented or told people objectives this year, or really last year was the reply. No how do you know you are working on the right things asked.. we don't he said, so we need your help.
After a bit of time asking questions of everyone and scribbling notes I came to a horrifying realisation, Bob's Pies were working on 92 different projects of assorted sizes and nobody knew if they helped with what they needed to get done that year or not. There are only 56 people in the company! I broke the news to Bob and we both agreed that something needed to change.
The 1st thing we did was get the senior management team in a room to figure out what the key things we had to do that year were. There were some great debates and a few false starts but after a few hours we got it down to a manageable 3 things,
Great, so now we were clear on the area's we had to work in, now we had to get clear on what projects, if any fitted these buckets and then which ones to actually work on.
I like visual things, I like simple things and so Project Cards tick both of those boxes. I'm sure there are similar things around but this is something I developed a while back to wrangle a bunch of projects and help with the decision on where to spend resources 1st. here's how it works.
First, we put headers on the biggest wall we could find for each of the 3 buckets or objectives we had come up with.
Next, we put all 92 projects onto project cards completing each of the boxes for each project and it took a whiel I have to say but think about how you really want to evaluate your project and if you should do anything with it, there are certain basic questions you need to ask:
Once we had our 1st cut we started to put the cards on the wall against the objectives to achieve. We then grouped them again within the objectives based on the following:
Pretty quickly it became clear that there were 4 standouts that were going to be the biggest bang for the buck in terms of delivering against the goals. We also tagged another 3 that we could add in should any of the initial 4 get completed sooner than expected.
So now we had a project wall with projects on and the key information for each project on them all on display on the wall. It was time to bring in the teams and talk them through what we had done and why. Explaining the rationale behind the decision made it far easier for people to accept that their pet project or projects they were involved in where being paused or killed off, moreover, it ensured that everyone knew what the key priorities were and what things were happening to achieve those priorities.
We have kept the room set up as I've described it above but we have also added below each project card status updates, progress charts and celebrations for each of the stage milestones we set along the way of the projects. Anyone can come into the room and look at the projects and know how it's going. Everyone has a clear understanding if they are winning or losing the battle on those objectives and Bob, well Bob feels a lot more in control.
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