4 Tips for Delivering the Desired Business Results  

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When I started as a project manager, the focus of my attention was on the mechanics of project management. This involved becoming very involved in work plans, risk/issue trackers, status reports, progress metrics and all those artifacts that form the means by which one manages a project.

What I realized after a number of years (as well as after a few hard learning experiences) was that while the mechanics of project management are important, they are merely enablers for the core activities that truly create a successful project.

I needed to think more about the successful direct and indirect business outcomes that could be created from a project. The attainment of successful business outcomes was what my stakeholders were really looking for, not necessarily the most impressive work plan or status report. This shift in focus become one of the turning points in my project management career.

So how does a project manager, in particular one early in his or her career, make the transition from executing the linear mechanics of project management to producing desired business outcomes? Well, they need to acquire the skills and behaviors that enable business success from projects— hopefully without harmful learning experiences along the way.

Here are four tips for making this transition.

1. Don’t Be Afraid of Business Processes

When I was a relatively new project manager, I spent a lot of time at my desk. This desk time was occupied with working on project management artifacts that if created perfectly would, in my mind, automatically lead to a successful project.   

A senior project manager noticed this and encouraged me to spend a fixed amount of time creating project management artifacts, with the remainder of my workweek interacting with stakeholders in the business areas. In fact, this senior project manager arranged for me to work for a few days with some of the employees that were actually executing the business processes that were to be impacted by my project. Those few days of immersion were a great learning experience that it completely changed my outlook on how to run the project.

Today, I still employ the same technique for both myself as well as fellow project managers and team members. Whether it’s working in a retail outlet helping to stock shelves, processing billing exceptions in a call center or spending time in an airliner simulator, the immersion experience is essential to understanding what makes for successful business outcomes from projects.

2.  Define Business Success Criteria

Very early in my career, I took what my stakeholders initially shared with me as business success criteria without any subsequent qualification. No surprise that some of the success criteria entailed—“just make it easy to use,” “finish testing by the end of the year” or “do whatever the senior vice president says”—didn’t really indicate a clear path to business success. 

As I grew as a project manager, I began to spend more time in the beginning of projects articulating in detail with stakeholders clear criteria for business success. This involved not only understanding current processes by immersion, but also challenging stakeholders on the methods we would use to objectively measure business success. If something cannot be objectively measured, it would be difficult to determine the success of the project.

I also allocated time in the project to build and execute the processes to measure success. By doing so, I had the capacity to create evidence of how the project benefited the business.  

3. Understand Your Industry

In my first few years as a project manager at an insurance company, I took every course on project management I could find (this pre-dated the creation of PMP certification). While I became adept at the mechanics of project management, I had no real foundation of business knowledge for the projects I was leading. 

On a recommendation of a senior project manager, I took a course on the principles of the insurance business. This course covered the terminology, core business processes and emerging industry trends. I left the course wondering how all of this was going to apply to running projects.

Within two weeks of taking this course, my supervisor passed along a compliment from my stakeholders how much more effective and efficient I was in running their project. This newfound productivity came from the ability to more easily understand the challenges that the project was intended to address. Little did I know that the industry training was a form of business process immersion.

4.  Get Comfortable With ‘Design Thinking’    

The concept of “design thinking” originated with companies finding out that while project managers thought they were achieving the desired delivery success criteria of being on time and budget, they were not really producing the desired level of business success from projects. These companies began to explore ways of changing the approach in determining business success for a project. 

Design thinking gives project managers several approaches to fully qualify the path to business success by techniques such as charting a customer journey, business process brainstorming, business case creation and creative reframing.

All of this opened my mind to going beyond the traditional boundaries of a project to ensure I was going to both define and execute to true business success.

I sometimes long for the days when I ran smaller, simpler and shorter projects whose goal was typically to finish on time and budget. I could afford to relax a bit and strive to achieve a high professional standard in the mechanics of running a project.

But as our projects become larger, more complex and longer in duration, we as project managers have to delegate some of these activities to other people, so we can get on with the business at hand of producing successful business results from projects.

These four things helped me make the transition to achieving business results on projects. What are some of the things that allow you to do the same? 

Posted by Kevin Korterud on: December 26, 2015 08:31 PM | Permalink

Comments (15)

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This is something we can relate to as well, particularly the point where you speak about Business Acumen for project managers. What we are trying to do is to enable Entrepreneurial skills for Project managers, so that they have the right mind set in achieving the project results

Hi all...glad you liked the article. Kiran...your comment was I think a great addendum to what I wrote.

Project Managers don't have to be the process experts on a project....that's what Business Analyst roles are for...but they should understand what "good" looks like....

Good article ! PMs need not necessarily be OpEx resources. I'm with You Mr.Kevin ! Each project we undertake stays pretty unique and divulge across segments. If we perform within an "undertaking" framework, we're surely "under-staking" as to value addition. BAs there to help PMs anyway.

Have a wonderful Year Ahead !

Excellent article Kevin, these types of lessons learned are always of great value. I echo your comments about design thinking. It was a real eye opener for me as well.

The best part of your article is your path to these realizations and how you leveraged them to the next thing. Keep up the great work and see you next year!

Hi all..happy 2016! Thanks for the great comments...they gave me a few ideas for the next blog...!!

@Kevin

Happy 2016 to you, keep up the posts. Very insightful!

"Don't be afraid" - Excellent thing. Yes we must believe and support our idea to get the belief and support from others

good discussion...tks for sharing!

The phrase "longer in duration" is interesting in light of the many discussions we see on the site around Agile delivery of business value quicker.

ps...I have an insurance policy that protects me from injuries caused by reading too many articles about the PM profession!....just kidding..... I enjoyed this post!


....Al

Kevin, great post! Design Thinking is definitely important in current projects. I also use requirements engineering and systems engineering integrated with project management processes with good results.

Excellent article - I recommend that every young PM should read this!
As a value management professional, I share and agree on all Your points!
Furthermore, I would encourage organizations to add a touch of more Value management concern in their project processes, either as formal deliverables or a supporting team that can be consulted for a project-independent quality check and guidance. You were lucky to have some good leaders and mentors, but at the end of the day, project management is still as much a science as an art, and many of your lessons learnt can be used to improve and mature those "project mechanics"



Excellent article Kevin - thanks for sharing.

Thank you Cameron McGaughy, Marian Haus, Lynda Bourne, Lung-Hung Chou, Bernadine Douglas, Kevin Korterud, Conrado Morlan, Peter Tarhanidis, Mario Trentim, Jen Skrabak, David Wakeman, Vivek Prakash, Christian Bisson, Rebecca Braglio, Cyndee Miller, Shobhna Raghupathy, Rex Holmlin, Roberto Toledo, Wanda Curlee for a nice article. You introduced me to the concept of Design Thinking and how it can aid in clarifying project succcess criteria.

Good article.i as project manager enjoyed the article.thanks

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