Witnessing so many unsuccessful projects these days, I keep asking myself why execution continues to fall through the cracks while organizations apparently grow in project management maturity.
If organizations are more mature in project planning, why aren’t we reaping better results? It’s easy to see we have an execution gap.
I think this is because some project managers are so immersed in the minutia of best practices that they don’t understand the big picture.
They don’t understand that project management processes, tools and techniques are only a means to an end. The final goal of every project is to jointly create value by engaging stakeholders to build a unique result under constraints (scope, time, cost and more). In other words, a successful project delivers benefits and satisfies stakeholders.
Execution demands proactivity. Project managers should embrace change, keeping their eyes wide open to take their project plans out of the paper. Making things happen is easier when you have a good plan, but it still demands a lot of energy and motivation.
Practitioners sometimes put their well-crafted, detailed plans on a pedestal as trophies of great project management. In fact, planning is only half, or less, of the way to the finish line.
To paraphrase the boxer Mike Tyson, “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” The real world is volatile and complex; missing and incomplete information is the norm. Will your plan survive the challenge? It depends on how well you execute. As many in the military learn, strategic, tactical and operational plans need to be executed with maximum agility. Adjustments, adaptations and unexpected decisions must be made along the road to project completion.
To execute well, you need clear goals, resilience, flexibility and a high degree of “alertness.” The OODA loop, created by John Boyd, revolutionizes goal-centered execution by adding flexibility and velocity in the decision-making process. Here are the four steps.
Figure 1- OODA loop (Source: Defense and the National Interest)
- Observe. Collect current information from as many sources as practically possible: Keep in touch with stakeholders, collect project data, and gather information about context and environmental factors. Alertness is critical to project execution.
- Orient. Analyze information and use it to update your current reality. Monitor and control, including looking for variances’ causes, forecasting and re-planning.
- Decide. Determine a course of action, updating the project plan on the fly using an effective integrated change control.
- Act. Follow through on your decision, observing the results of your actions. Assess whether you achieved the results you intended, and review and revise your initial decision as necessary. Then, move on to another decision.
Next time you start execution on your project, put the OODA loop to work for you. It will guide you through the project plan as a series of linked decisions to help you make sense of the environment, update the plan and observe results.
If you have any comments—or perhaps a negative or positive story about execution—please share below. Thanks!