Project Management Success Factors Part 3
When managing projects, if the core or underlying business problem is not clearly articulated and understood, the right solution can be delivered for the wrong problem. Identifying the real need as part of project planning helps project managers ensure that their project delivers maximum value to their customers.
Here are the steps to aligning the project to the business vision
- Have the sponsor articulate the business vision, strategic direction and the business objectives. (See www.certmag.com/articles/templates/cmag_webonly.asp?articleid=833&zoneid=41.)
- Document the project vision. The project vision describes at a high level what the project will accomplish, what it will produce and its importance in meeting business objectives. It also describes the end result or product, and how it aligns with the business vision. This product might be new software, a new office building, a new medical device or an implementation of a new regulation—any project deliverable.
- Link the project vision to the business vision. One way to accomplish this alignment is to understand the strategic direction of the organization in terms of external opportunities or threats. Consider the ways in which the project is using the organization’s internal strengths to seize external opportunities or is compensating for its internal weaknesses in order to ward off external threats.
- Describe the business need in terms of business problems or lost opportunities.
- Describe the business pain as a consequence of the problem or lost opportunity.
A simple format for articulating the business need is to state it as the problem or opportunity, resulting in the business pain. Let’s take each component separately.
The way to get at the real business need is by asking questions, such as:
- What is the business problem?
- What are the limitations of the current situation?
- What are the causes of these limitations?
- What does the business want to do that it can’t do today?
- Are there processes that are inefficient or time-consuming to complete?
- Is there information that is not available today that would help make better business decisions?
- Does the organization need to comply with new regulations?
- Is the competition offering a new product or service?
- Does the organization itself want to offer a new product or service to remain ahead of its competition?
Let’s use the example of late reports. If I were to say that reports are usually late, for example, I’m stating a business problem. Knowing this problem, the organization might ask itself whether or not they want to undertake a project to make more timely reports. However, without understanding the business pain, such a determination is difficult.
Stating the business pain provides the reason the project is required. For example, if you were to add that reports were usually late, resulting in missed deadlines, angry customers and frustrated staff, the organization might be tempted to begin the project. Even more useful is to align the business pain with business vision and objectives. If the organization had stated objectives to reduce customer complaints, reduce expenses and retain staff, it might well undertake the project.
However, you don’t know how bad the pain is. How much money is the organization willing to spend to fix the problem? It is not until you quantify the pain that this question can be answered. If you said that reports were late each Monday, resulting in missed deadlines and the associated costs of $100,000 per year, angry customers (complaints have increased 25 percent this year) and frustrated staff (turnover has increased by 10 percent this year), we have an understanding of the extent of the business pain. If the estimated project cost is $300,000, we may or may not want to complete it. In either case, the organization has the needed information with which to make the decision.
Regardless of the project cost or benefit, if the business problem/opportunity and associated pain are not linked to the organization’s vision and strategic direction, executive support will be difficult to maintain. Typically such efforts arise because a manager or some specific group can convince the project manager to undertake a pet project. While these may have initial enthusiasm and support, it is usually weakened as the company’s higher-priority projects surface. Project managers on such efforts often complain that priorities have changed, that business experts are no longer available and that their resources have shifted to other now higher priorities.
As the project gets underway, ensure that all components are tied directly to both the project and business vision, as articulated by the sponsor. By aligning the business problem and pain to the organization’s vision, not only in the initial project definition, but also during execution, control and closing of the project, it is more likely that support will be maintained. Some of the important areas related to this alignment are:
- The reporting and tracking of risks and issues.
- The definition of product requirements.
- Changes to the scope.
- Project close, including major objectives and milestones accomplished.
- Lessons learned.
Aligning the business need to the organization’s vision and strategic direction helps ensure that the project provides a solution that is truly essential to the organization’s growth.
Elizabeth Larson and Richard Larson, co-principals of Edina-based Watermark Learning, have more than 25 years each of experience in business, project management, business analysis and training/consulting. They have presented numerous workshops, seminars and presentations on project management, requirements analysis and related subjects.