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Project Delivery: No Heroes Wanted

Microsoft  Dynamics AX Project Management

Anyone that flies with any frequency will likely have looked to the left when entering a plane and seen the captain and co-pilot working their way through a pre-flight routine checklist.  Builders, doctors, and many others have built and now follow checklists as well.  This certainly wasn’t always the case though.  These checklists were only put in place following tragedy, and even then they needed to get past a lot of professional egos to get established.

While, most professional services businesses are not dealing with life and death, the use of checklists and repeatable processes will contribute greatly toward increased project success rates.

Checklists aren’t complex.  They are designed to prevent simple, but critical errors, from being overlooked.  Do you follow standard practices, or do you sometimes reinvent processes with each project?  Do you forget critical communication steps with your customers, or poorly hand off tasks from one member of your project team to another?  Do you hold regular meetings just to catch up on communications that might be missed?  Are you regularly surprised by the stupidity of some of the simple mistakes your team makes?  Checklists may help.

In the past decade, service companies have taken significant steps and have become far more disciplined in how projects are delivered.  Customer demands have increased, technology has become more reliable, and industry leadership has matured.  The best companies now deliver to expectations, and deliver on time and on budget.  They aren’t only delivering a vision; they are delivering real value to their customers.

One of the traits I have seen with the growing and profitable companies I am working with is a focus on repeatable processes.  These companies don’t just talk about best practices, they use checklists to ensure consistent execution.  Experience has taught them what works, and rather than reinvent processes each time, they have refined and defined them.

Adapting to checklists as an organization is no easy task.  The aviation industry only adapted them following a crash.  It requires a major shift for many companies.

Numerous companies I work with that have moved to more repeatable processes have had to make some tough decisions.   There were individuals in their organizations that, while incredibly smart, just couldn’t adjust to their checklist ways.  They would do a great job delivering 90% of a customer needs, but their lack of discipline left holes in the solution.  Not only did this result in dissatisfied customers, it cost the organization money to make it right.  Recognizing they needed 100% commitment to their disciplined approach, they needed to make some staffing changes where people would adapt.   They are not willing to “wing it” regardless of how brilliant someone is.

Hiring in these companies is also done carefully.  As one organization puts it, “there is no room for heroes on our team”.  They don’t reward firefighting, they reward fire prevention.  Expectation that checklists will be followed, and followed up on, is a condition of employment.

This focus on repeatable processes doesn’t prevent them from being some of the most innovative I have worked with.  Actually, the opposite is the case.  They stay on top of the latest trends, and encourage new ideas.  Their discipline is what allows them to do this.  Rather than constantly moving from crisis to crisis, their business has a rhythm that allows them to plan and commit to internal projects.  These are also tremendous environments in which careers are able to develop which is proven out by their high employee retention rates.

Checklists, and best practices in general, have been slow to catch on in professional services with the exception of where they are required by law.  Everyone will agree they are a good idea, although you will find some who believe following standard procedures should only apply to other people.  The rapid growth of services capabilities has driven a culture constantly willing to stretch and try something new.  This makes it critical that we do all we can to avoid repeating mistakes.

Are you doing all you can in your organization to avoid repeating your mistakes? 

If you are interested in reading more about the development of checklists in aviation, healthcare and other industries, I would encourage you to read “The CheckList Manifesto: How to Get Things Right” by Atul Gawande.

About the Author

John Matterson (Guest Blogger)

John Matterson (Guest Blogger)

Leader, Coach, Trainer, Speaker

Career Experience:
- Building powerful cross functional teams.
- Training and coaching for sales and operational excellence.
- Revenue growth in challenging times.
- Go-to-market strategies: industry solutions, and new ventures.>
- Organizational restructuring for optimal performance.
- Corporate cultures fostered for teamwork, excellence and brand pride.

Leadership roles from back office to sales, in large and small companies, in IT and in industry, in Europe, North America and Asia.

Working with companies on go to market strategies, sales training, team building and coaching.

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