By Janet M. Shlaes, Ph.D.
Have you ever been responsible for taking a new complex project from inception to completion when time is scarce, you are already responsible for multiple projects and your new project is considered high priority and urgent? If you are like most people, your anxiety level increased after reading the prior sentence. In addition, you might be feeling the urge to speed up to fulfill the challenge of your additional responsibility. Paradoxically, this is the exact opposite of what is called for. When you experience the pressure to speed up, what is actually called for is patience and intentionally slowing down to optimally address six interconnected project stages.
You know the importance of having a realistically challenging project plan that includes detailed aspects of essential elements, a viable budget, a strategic plan with accountabilities, a timeline with execution deadlines, a means to review/assess progress and a system of incorporating project adjustment strategies. What you may not realize is that none of the above is possible without the generation of an engaging relevant vision. Your clearly articulated vision serves as your “true-north” throughout your entire project, a grounding place to return to when things inevitably go off-track. Many projects ultimately fail due to the lack of a clearly articulated vision with specific outcome goals. If you don’t know what success will look like then it’s easy to fall into what I refer to as “hamster wheel syndrome,” the illusion of forward momentum.
A comprehensive project scope statement outlines your project’s deliverables and identifies constraints, assumptions and key success factors inherent in your project. A well-designed project scope statement clearly defines the boundaries of your project. Without this type of statement, projects often succumb to what is referred to as “scope-creep” - uncontrolled changes or project growth in your project’s scope at any point after its inception.
Every project requires a combination of financial and human resources to take it from inception to completion. Although many resource situations fall short of optimal, distinguishing between what is optimal and essential serves to ensure projects are set up for success, rather than failure. Not asking for essential resources while projects are in the planning stages often results in preventable challenges and setbacks. Failure to adequately specify what is needed before your project is in motion can impede progress or sabotage the entire project.
A strategic plan is your road map for your vision journey, highlighting what is coming down the road next and detailing specific routes for getting you and your team to your goal. It details the specifics for eliminating the gap between your vision and your current state of reality. Ideal strategic plans identify, build on and expand existing team and organizational strengths. Stages 1-3 detail “the what.” Your strategic plan details “the how,” specifically the phases, tactics and actions needed to reach your desired results.
The execution stage determines the success or failure of your project. The best strategies on paper need to be put into action in order to deliver your project on time and within budget, while also supporting the integrity of your original vision. Projects often stall during this stage due to a lack of clarity regarding accountability - specifically, who does what by when - along with a failure to integrate a review process into your implementation tactics.
If you do not include a dedicated ongoing review, assessment and adjustment stage, your team may wind up executing tactics that are no longer relevant in a changing economic and organizational landscape. When this occurs, precious resources – financial and human – are unproductively utilized and depleted. Factoring regular time into your strategic plan for review, evaluation and adjustment helps ensure reaching your outcome goals on time and within or under budget. This type of review requires stepping back to obtain valuable data regarding your project’s scope, process and progress. Staying on track is rarely a linear process. In reality, it’s a process of forward movement, review, intentional assessment and timely adjustment.
Patience and Productivity
Stages 1-4 and 6 require taking a meta-perspective and intentionally slowing down in service of future acceleration. The attribute of patience is directly related to acceleration and productivity. It’s critical for generating a clear, realistic and ambitious set of project goals, a viable strategy and optimal resources for desired results. Patience requires structuring regular time to evaluate project relevance, focus, team engagement / motivation and adherence to critical tracking deadlines. Patience can be challenging when your project team is pressured to produce immediate results. When your team is intensely feeling the pressure to speed up, that is precisely the time to step back, review, assess, and adjust your project vision, goals and process. Utilizing patience at this time will ensure your project remains cohesive, relevant and on track.
Where could embodying the quality of patience empower you and your team to slow down in service of strategically accelerating optimal results?
Dr. Janet Shlaes has over 20 years of transformational results in the organizational, leadership, career and life-design realms. In addition to holding a variety of leadership positions in the financial and non-profit arenas, Janet creates and facilitates customized programs, trainings, seminars and retreats focusing on organizational, change management, life-design and leadership development for corporate and non-profit arenas. Janet’s credentials include an MA and Ph.D. from Northwestern University and an MBA in Finance from Loyola University of Chicago. Janet is a Licensed Psychologist, Certified Structural Consultant, Creating Your Life Trainer, NLP Master Level Practitioner and Modeler, Mindfulness Meditation Stress-Reduction Trainer, and is certified in Positive Psychology, Eriksonian Hypnosis and Knowledge Management. http://transformationalcommunication.blogspot.com/