The 7 steps for successful projects – What?


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Charles Patton examines how in order to launch a project and create a sense of urgency organizations must describe the results that are expected to be achieved: this is the “WHAT”. Answering the question WHAT does not describe the journey, rather it’s the destination. It’s “knowing where you are going “and this is a critical step to achieving buy in.

october2014_thumbThis article is reprinted with permission from the October issue of PSX: The Exchange for People Strategy, an eMagazine that brings you cutting edge views and perspectives on all things related to people strategy.

This is the second in a series of articles that will assist you in successfully utilizing Grahall’s On-Line solutions. These solution “Roadmaps” are designed to give you a foundation for undertaking major Human Capital projects on your own or providing you with a comprehensive overview that can be used as a tool to evaluate and measure the progress of your work partner if you have decided to outsource phases of the project.

As the title implies, years of consulting experience with public institutions and private corporations of all sizes and industries has led us to discover a pattern and order to successful implementation of Human Capital projects. Like the “7 Habits of Highly Successful People” we have found that there is a general formula that works. And just like a cooking recipe, the order of activities is important! Omitting seemingly unimportant process steps can be disastrous. For example: in some cooking recipes there is a “resting” step: a point in the process where you are expected to do apparently nothing! Just let the bread rise; the Jello set, the cake cool before applying the icing. You get the point. Hurrying past even the do nothing steps actually causes failure.

I encourage you to examine some of the Grahall On-Line solutions. You will find that each item addresses at least one of the seven steps to successful projects – the ability to answer Why?, What?, Where?, How?, When? By Whom? For Whom?. This seemingly obvious check list should be applied liberally and often.

The answer to the question “WHY” you are undertaking a project fundamentally identifies the motivation to do the project. We discussed that in some detail in last month’s PSX. You can access that article here Now that you (or your organization) is beyond the struggle to provide answers to the broad WHY? question, and there is evidence of agreement, commitment and/or confidence within the organization that the project is necessary, we are ready to move forward with Step Two…

This month we examine the question of WHAT. “WHAT” describes the end results you expect to achieve. It is not a list of the separate activities undertaken along the way. WHAT is not the journey, it’s the destination. Some refer to this as the “knowing where you are going” step to describe the destination, the end result.

Re-State the starting point: Begin with describing, where you are now (the starting point). This simple acknowledgement demonstrates that you understand the resources likely required to achieve your objective. At Grahall we describe this as the capabilities assessment which is a part of every project. Doing and sharing the results of this assessment gives your stakeholders a reference point to understand a project’s progress and builds confidence that you know WHAT you are doing.

Include the Expected Stats: It is very important to communicate in as much detail as possible the expected results. If the relative data is not yet available, acknowledge that further study is needed and more information will be forthcoming. There are potential pitfalls in avoiding or omitting the specifics…

In order to launch a project and create a sense of urgency organizations may make an announcement about the project including a vague description of the expected end result. For example, increase sales, cut costs, grow membership: while these results might give some sense of the project’s focus and general direction, they do not provide effective progress measurement tools which are essential to success.

Stakeholders will only accept a vague description of WHAT you expect to accomplish for a short period of time. In fact, lack of specificity might be seen by some stakeholders as evidence that as project leader you do not know what you are doing or where you are going. Lack of specificity can erode confidence in leadership and support for the project right out of the gate, dooming the project before it begins.

Some project leaders are tempted to omit details about WHAT they expect to accomplish. Perhaps they consider the open-ended as leaving one open to greater chance of opportunity. Avoid falling into this trap. As Yogi Barra famously said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else”. It is near impossible to generate support, enthusiasm, and a sense of urgency for a vague destination.

Communication: Again, last month I discussed the motivation phase for a project in addressing the WHY question. If you read my first article on the “7 Steps for Successful Projects” you may have noticed a pattern emerging. In addition to the diagnostic, analysis, planning, and decision making activities that are inherent in any project it is critical that you communicate with your project stakeholders.

In this article I’ve addressed the need to communicate the details of the WHAT you expect to accomplish with the project. As most meaningful projects don’t get approved without some sense of the HOW being described, next month, I will address the HOW question – what activities need to be undertaken to accomplish the desired result.

Charles Patton can be reached at

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