Project Management

Are You Managing For The Right Outcomes?

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by Dave Wakeman

Last month I wrote about measuring your project’s ROI. Part of that discussion included the idea that in the end, your projects need to be measured according to the outcomes they produce and not the actions that are taken.

So I wanted to take a few minutes to go back over the concept of outcomes and how outcomes, execution and strategy play together to deliver successful projects.

1. Outcomes are all that matter: Every project has deliverables and actions that are meant to drive the project forward and give stakeholders an understanding of where things are and what is happening. The fact is, things like schedules, a work breakdown structure and risk assessments are just tactics that are meant to move your project closer to its end goal: the outcome!

In every project the only relevant measurements of success are the outcomes. Outcomes mean things like a fully functioning product or service, a project delivered on time and schedule, and one that meets the goals of the client and stakeholders.

So try to frame your project conversations in terms of the outcomes and the tasks important to those outcomes. Instead of an activity, think about how these activities play into timelines and budgets or into the overall success of the project.

2. Outcomes aren’t always obvious to everyone: It can be very easy to take a black-and-white view on outcomes. But the truth is that depending on where you are in a project and the role you play, the outcomes may not always be obvious to you.

Why? It’s pretty simple, really. In any situation, we spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on the actions and activities that are most important to us. So when we look at projects, it can be easy to just think about the tasks we need to do to clear out our schedule or to move onto the next task on our checklist.

Most of this isn’t intentional, so you may have to spend some time relating to team members how activities play into the desired outcomes or even spending time communicating the vision of how the project will play out in the organization.

3. Always be prepared to change: We spend a lot of time talking about risks and change in projects, but I think that in many instances these two skills aren’t applied with as much success and consistency as desired.

But the process of implementing your strategy and optimizing execution comes with the basic jumping-off point of needing to understand, prepare for and embrace change as a constant within all projects.

To better prepare yourself for change, develop this mindset: you are going to communicate consistently with your stakeholders and proactively manage where your project stays within the marketplace, the desired outcomes that the project will produce, and changes in the circumstances of resources and other internal factors.

The simplest way to think about a project is as a set of activities that can be checked off on the way to completion. In fact, a lot of projects are managed that way.

But to be the best project manager and a partner to your organization’s success, you have to make the effort to keep strategy top of mind while executing for the right outcomes. I think these three tips will get you started.

What do you think? 

By the way, I write a weekly newsletter that focuses on strategy, value, and performance. If you enjoyed this piece, you will really enjoy the weekly newsletter. Make sure you never miss it! Sign up here or send me an email at dave@davewakeman.com! 

Posted by David Wakeman on: December 08, 2015 09:33 AM | Permalink

Comments (23)

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I disagree with your #1 point "Outcomes are all that matter". The journey is often more important than arriving at the destination. Lessons are learned and relationships are built and grown. And if company or personal values are compromised to achieve outcomes, there is long term loss. However, I will agree that "Outcomes are usually all that are remembered". That's why the project recap (I dislike "post-mortem) or retrospective are so important.

Thanks David, that was a well thought out article. I see what John means, however, I'd posit that he's driving at a different point. From the perspective of a project being successful or unsuccessful, outcomes are what matter, including the outcome of what did we learn from a failed project. I've found myself turning to Coca-Cola's New Coke release recently, however, it is an excellent example of how outcomes really are what count.

New Coke, was its self a failure, however, the New Coke project was successful, in that it helped Coca-Cola recapture market dominance. It actually points to your third point about change. The company was able to pivot when their new product failed and capitalize on consumer loyalty in a way that brought Coca-Cola Classic in as a dominant force in the soft-drink industry.

The company was focused on outcomes, rather than on their execution of a specific strategy, which allowed for a change in strategy. That change provided the company with their needed outcome.

I'd agree that how you get there is important, however, outcomes really do include the fallout of choices to compromise values or ethics, and cannot be honestly considered as distinct from the project results.

I think honesty and a circumspect approach might be a good fourth point.

From my experience, I would say that Tactics are as important as outcomes because without proper tactics in place, there will be no proper outcome.

I have to agree with John's comment (the first comment)! The process of how one gets to the end is just as important as the end.

My two cents are, outcomes are great. For a PM, yes they are all that matter. But that glosses over WHY outcomes are all that matter. If you use the "five why's" on this assumption you quickly realize that isn't the primary for the organization. The organization cares about the value which is supported by the outcomes. It is the value we seek before the outcomes are even defined and it's the value we measure against to decide if the outcomes were satisfied.

Ha! Well if I have your endorsement Rami, I may just run for president. If trump can do it...

Go for it and I will be your biggest supporter.

ROI & Outcome mostly stay mutually independent. This means that, 100 % ingenuity is rather like an oasis. Howsoever shrewd our mechanism might be, there always a fine line mostly invisible or manageable. As Rami advocated, its more of a tactical touch than stats that adds value.

Exactly, thanks Ramesh.

Can you kindly ellaborate on how the ROI fits into the equation here ? Do you mean Rate of Investment ?

Typically ROI stands for Return on Investment. Our perspective as it resonates is we can't afford to measure every outcome in money language. At times it might be an add value to strategic tactics like out performing though at a lower return on investment. "Milinda Gates Foundation "expecting what in return diversifying millions of $ for the social upliftment? Is this measure failing to add value to MS? This is what we mean by tactics that stay more philanthropic than pure business. This is my understanding my friend Rami. Not sure, how impactful my way of looking at strategically tactful initiatives.
Thanks many to be on the same page :)

@Ramesh

Agreed, ROI = Return on Investment.

Converting everything to dollars does not always truly value the gains in philanthropic activities caused by well meaning individuals.

On the other side, the world runs on money. Milinda Gates has a small advantage of access to the richest (second?) man in the world. What they choose to do with that, is a discussion of value, not dollars.

In other situations, dollars aren't necessarily required to create value.

What are your thoughts?

@Ramesh,

Thanks a lot - It is crystal clear now and yes we are definitely on the same page and even same linne.
I meant by ROI: Return on Investment. Rate was a typo.

@ Steven

Thanks many to vouch my perspective (atleast in part:) None denies the "myth" the "world runs on money". Since we are trying to comprehend on possible facets of 'outcomes' from investment outlay perspective, it's our effort to contribute to one's fuller instinct. I'm also glad reading your insight' $ not a prerogative to add value' (but an option.) IMHO, there's nothing like the richest or ultimate. Every dam thing is a subject of "CHANGE". Today's strategy might prove a liability tomorrow, and tomorrow's likely liability might look like add value today. "CHANGE IS THE ONLY CONSTANT" in this materialistic world. Looks rhythmic but a fact, I believe.


@ Rami: Thanks many for encouraging vibes. Afterall, typos are part of our digital life :)

Thanks again my friend !

@Ramesh: You are most welcome and it is my pleasure. We learn from Knowledge sharing and each others opinion. Best of luck to you always.

@ Ramesh

I love how you put that. Change is the only constant, rhythmic but factual. Great points.

It's hard to argue with that logic. At times it seems pessimistic, but the line between realism and pessimism is as clear as the line between ethics and the law. It's a moving target.

I saw a video recently. It shows a child, maybe 5 years old, in a wealthy family. He receives the "wrong" video game and proceeds to loose it on his parents. Then the video cuts to a room full of what appears to be very hard off people, they are opening shoe boxes. Inside there is tooth brushes and trinkets and other items. The excitement and sheer commotion behind this. The happiness on their faces.

More people need to understand perspective, outside of their "bubble" and realize a little could go a long way. How many shoe boxes could be bought from that video game? Probably 5? Maybe 10?

Thank you very much for all of the comments.

I'm glad this started a good debate among everyone.

To be clear about this thing, the outcomes really need to determine the tactics. In too many instances, we find ourselves looking at each project through the lens of the activities that we want to take as opposed to the outcomes that need to be achieved. This is partly a challenge that is raised because sponsors don't often give PMs enough latitude in their decision making, but it is a challenge all the same.

@David: I tend to agree with you on this especially that the PM is assigned following signing the Project Charter and this is why I rasied a similar question in the discussion about the add value of involving PM's during the evaluation stage prior to initiation.

I'm not so clear on "Outcomes are all that matter", do you distinguish Contract and Outcomes?

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