When you want to be organized on a project: let’s talk objectives

Last time, we focused on 3 things to do to keep on track when managing projects.

Let’s start with part of the first step: thinking through the objectives. I can’t tell you how often a project gets started with an idea….an even a great idea…and then no one thinks beyond the idea. One of the first questions should be: “What are we trying to achieve?”

I had one senior executive tell me once that he wasn’t quite sure what he wanted to achieve but he read about this idea in Harvard Business Review and felt we should just implement it. Ok. Managing a al HBR may not be the best way to go. HBR is full of great ideas, good models and excellent case studies but is your company the same as the example? What nuances exist in the culture, the performance system, the customers, the leaders? But, I digress…

Knowing what you are trying to achieve is the barometer that everything gets measured against. When you get stuck on whether something should be done or whether the work that is preventing you from reaching a milestone is mission critical, you can ask yourself…does this meet our objective? Simple yes and no answers will help you determine your direction.

Another step I see left out often is the actual measurement to see if we met our objectives. The sole objective CANNOT be: we completed the project, we implemented the system on time. Sure, that is inherent in any project but what was the project supposed to achieve? Less time on something, more engagement of people, more efficiency through automation, less customer wait time, increased customer retention?

Whatever it was, noting these objectives at the front and measuring on the back end is important to see if you made a difference. A difference from a time and money perspective but also for human fulfillment. We all want to have purpose and make a difference. It is an important part of what drives us, what lights us up and what keeps us engaged at work.

It is very easy to skip this step because we have crossed the project off of our long list. But, measuring the outcome matters to the business and to the project team.

When you want to be organized on a project

We all do project work even at the highest levels. A business transformation, a key account pursuit, a merger, an acquisition, a new product launch, a technology roadmap…all of these are projects at their core and involve execution after the strategy is decided.

It’s in the execution where I have experienced many miscommunications and missteps. Execution takes a lot of work to get right and requires a detailed brain at times or at least an organized brain. I do not consider myself detail-oriented but many people have referred to me as organized and logical. Perhaps.

But, the reason I appear organized is because I do follow three steps:

  1. Take time to think about the objectives, what needs to be done, who should do it and by when
  2. Write it all down (including objectives!!)
  3. Share it with the team and meet on it regularly

Some of you may be rolling your eyes and thinking…that’s it?! Yes. This seems so simple and it can be. But, as I have learned over my career, despite what my college English professor says, simple and easy do NOT mean the same thing.

It is simple and yet so many people don’t follow these three steps on project work. Without thinking and documenting, you float from one week to the next hoping and assuming everyone knows what to do and work will get done.

I have been a part of these projects throughout my entire career in HR especially. One in particular stands out to me. My manager was leading a very strategic project sponsored by the CEO of the business but he never believed in thinking about and documenting the project to ensure we all understood objectives, the work, and who was responsible for what.

He only had verbal conversations with each team member separately, never together, and forwarded random emails from senior leaders throwing in their two cents on the project. With these disjointed bits, everyone was supposed to know what to do and by when and be successful. Impossible.

I managed up in this situation and told him that I would lean in and document and lead the team in project meetings. He agreed and we had tons more clarity on the work and started to produce.

Sometimes, people believe documenting and holding status meetings take too much time. They think project plans are too complicated and don’t add value. “Just go do it.” In fact, without documentation and status meetings, it will take more time, create more frustration and lead to disaster, not success.

When you are told to start looking

It happens sometimes. You think you are doing a good job and your manager calls you in to have a chat. Your are told to start looking for another job. This can happen for many reasons and most of them have nothing to do with you personally.
The primary reasons could be a change in leadership, a change in priorities or scope of work, a cut of expenditures or downsizing, and note that people are the highest expense of any company, efficiency measures that reduce the layers of people or the dependence on people. Whatever the reason, these things happen and most of us have been faced with this type of situation.
Twice in my life I was let go without any warning. Once, I was downsized because the company grew too fast in the dot com era and did not have a solid business plan in place – a great business lesson for me and fodder for a future blog post. Another time I was fired due to the organization not having enough of the right work for me to do. This was after only 10 weeks. I was devastated. I had never been fired before in my life. In hindsight, that was not a good fit and they did me a huge favor.
It feels terrible to lose your job. But, when you are given a courtesy heads-up to start looking, consider that a gift. Take this advice seriously and start your job search in earnest. Don’t wallow or think your manager could be mistaken. If your manager gave you enough courtesy to tell you, ask them for their advice or assistance. Start reaching out to everyone you know, get your resume updated immediately, and look for jobs while networking. Attend industry events…lots are free. Get on LinkedIn to research companies and make connections. But, if you are going to reach out to someone you don’t know, be honest in why you are reaching out. A request with zero note or context often leads to a No from the person. I know I have done that myself in many situations. However, if you tell me who you are and what your strategy is, I will agree to the connection.
Even if you don’t land a job before you are let go, take whatever window you have and get a heads start. Being proactive in a job search is the healthiest step you can take.
Or, if you are fortunate to take a break, spend this time to think about what you really want as your next step. In these two times I lost my job, I mildly regret not taking time to figure out what I wanted to do. I let panic set in and I moved into immediate job search mode to find the next position similar to what I had.
Sometimes, these can be good things, and if we have some savings in the bank, it can be the perfect time to take stock and reflect on what we want. More on that later….