The 7 Steps to Successful Projects


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patton #1Charles Patton’s September article for PSX: People Strategy Exchange examines how thoroughly explaining why a project is being undertaken instills a sense of confidence that the decision to proceed was thoughtful, priorities were considered, fits for the organization, a plan is in place, the time, effort and expense costs have been considered and the cost: benefit ratio points to a successful outcome. All these are necessary to successful outcomes.

This is the first in a series of articles that will assist you in successfully utilizing Grahall’s On-Line solutions  for successful projects.

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 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, or the cake cool before applying the icing. You get the point. Hurrying past even the “do nothing” step can result in failure.

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.

I encourage you to examine some of the Grahall On-Line solutions such as our People Strategy Tool Kit or our Executive Total Rewards Tool Kit . You will find that each item addresses at least one of the seven steps required for 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.

Let’s begin with WHY?

Why are you about to take action or inaction? This is the first step that needs to be addressed.

WHY? This favorite and sometimes frustrating question asked by children is often overlooked in the fast paced, compliant, authoritative world of adults. The answer is assumed to be obvious: Because the “authority” demands it be done. And because the “authority” is presumed to be more knowledgeable and intelligent, able to examine the possibilities, and make decisions, the command for action should not be questioned. ‘Just do it’ becomes the mantra. It is important to note that often the “authority” is not known. The “authority” may have been a rumor that emerged from a committee meeting. Can you see where the seeds of failure have been planted?patton #3

There are some organizations that are purposefully structured to operate in a command and control fashion where explaining why is not required and not expected. It is widely known that the culture of the organization is to act first, ask questions later – maybe. The military is perceived as this type of organization. Interestingly, even at this type of organization the WHY question is answered at the highest levels of the organization, often in excruciating detail. The rationale is just simply not communicated once the decision has been made. It is sufficient merely to identify who is requesting the action.

For organizations with this culture the response to the WHY? Question is quick, easy, and justification enough: “Because the authority said so.”

However, most organizations have stakeholders identified as managers, customers, employees, shareholders, and suppliers who behave much more predictably if they are given the WHY? rationale. From a Human Capital perspective there are several other reasons at the outset of a project to determine the WHY? rationale. The response to the WHY? question properly describes the results expected to be achieved by this action and how those results impact the overall mission of the organization AND the impact on individuals.

Taking the initiative to thoroughly explain why a project is being undertaken instills a sense of confidence that the decision to proceed was thoughtful, other and priorities were considered, it is a ‘fit’ for our organization, a plan is in place, the time, effort and expense costs have been considered and the cost: benefit ratio points to a successful outcome. Of course, this information should be communicated. But you might be surprised at how often this information resides only in the mind of the project proponent or decision maker. He/She knows the whole story, but most others do not. Letting the information leak out gradually or only providing it upon request creates distrust.

In addition to the elements described above, a complete answer to the WHY? question will be responsive to: Why now? Why here? Why me?

The clear cut ability to provide this business case is in itself an indicator that the project can and likely will be successful. On the other hand, if significant disagreement develops in this stage of the project, then you will know early on where there are obstacles to success. The next step becomes an assessment of whether the obstacles can be overcome so the project does not crash and fail.

If you (or your organization) is struggling to provide answers to the broad WHY? question, this is evidence of a lack of agreement (or commitment or confidence) within the organization that the project is necessary.

Grahall On-Line solutions content can assist you with accurately determining whether your organization has the capacity, capability, and commitment to proceed. Grahall Online Solutions can be accessed below for:

Board Governance

Executive Total Rewards

People Strategy 

Charles Patton can be reached at

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