Justifying and Prioritizing Projects

To provide context, let’s define a “project” as it relates to this post: A project is a complex issue, with a defined set of goals, that requires a leader to influence/motivate many others, implement strategy, inspect, and ensure execution.

The vision for an organization is one big project that cascades into other projects and supporting goals, which also have cascading projects that are nested all the way down. The importance of justification and prioritization is critical at every level.

All projects (starting with the highest level vision) must be justified; Similar to culture, they should not just “happen” and there should be some guiding principles/values in place.

Here are some tips on justifying projects:

  1. Challenge, challenge, challenge; The leader should vigorously challenge their own projects/vision during the planning process. The higher level the leader is, the less likely they are to be challenged by others, therefore know that it is appropriate to be hard on yourself when planning. Then ask your peer group to beat you up a bit more; which is all about crisp justification for something that is about to be your obsession for a period of time, and that will impact many (if not all) others in the organization.
  2. When assisting others in justifying their projects: Ensure they have gone through the exercise above by having them answer the following questions:
    1. Why in the heck should we do this?
    2. Is it supported by our overall vision?
    3. What will our measurable(s) be?
    4. If successful, will the results be material?
    5. What happens if the project fails? This should be the last question because the answer(s) will validate importance/justification

In regards to prioritizing projects:

  1. Stack/rank by measurable and the impact of outcomes
  2. No one should have more than 3-5 direct projects at any given time; any excess should be kicked down the list or deleted (if they are important they will resurface)
  3. If there are too many projects for the leaders who are available to manage them, change an input. Either the team/investment needs to grow, or the priorities need to shrink to a manageable level. The key is in justifying the projects first; if there really are more than the team can handle and they have all been justified, grow the team and invest in people and resources at a higher rate.

Hope is not a good strategy

The things that we find ourselves hoping for, are exactly those that we need to break down into actionable projects with the appropriate accountability/inspection points. We have to be intentional about our success, while being able to predict failures and act in advance to avoid them.

Today is the day. Dive into your areas of hope; break them down, and turn hope into the highest probability of success. Once that corner is turned, stress is minimized and confidence replaces hope.

Wildly successful teams are stacked with different personalities; they are mature enough to purposefully position that way, and they go the extra mile to effectively communicate with one another.

This is true at every level of the organization. We each have a personality type that is better suited for a certain role. The most successful leaders realize this and are purposeful in how they organize their team. An Executive Team with all the same personality types will fail to capitalize on all the opportunities to grow and deliver the expected results. The same goes for departmental teams; if everyone is the same, working together takes no effort, but failure is likely just around the corner.

Below is a snapshot of a behavioral analysis for MCCi’s Management Team (I have redacted all the initials other than mine). This is just one snapshot of a report that we are able to view – there are many others for each person’s personality, their decision making style, communication style, etc.

Understanding personalities and conforming to them is a leadership responsibility. As leaders, we should not expect others to conform to our personalities.

Many organizations have started personality testing prospective hires to make sure they have role alignment, which is the first step in building a successful team. The next step is to analyze existing teams and go through the exercise of understanding (which is the same thing as respecting) one another; there is much more relationship building and alignment work to do after joining forces.

 

Big changes require great plans, and great plans require even better audits

Things never go as planned with large projects/big changes. If the proper inspection cadence is not set as part of rolling out the plan, then it is futile to be frustrated by a lack of execution. I have accepted that where people (and even the best people) are required, certain things will not start, be done as intended, be finished, etc., without proper follow-up by the leader…….and that with more people, the chance of miss-alignment is magnified.

For the project to be worth starting, the leader of the project must be willing to do what is required for success and put in the inspection points at the onset. Similar to a meeting being unproductive with out a leader, agenda, and set duration, so is a plan that does not include an audit process.

 

Never “send” a client or prospective client to another department, or have them do what you can easily do for them.

As a consumer, have you ever thought… “Did they really just tell me to call someone else”, or “Did they really just make me fill out that form when they have my information right in front of them-don’t they want my business?”.

As organizations grow and become more complex, communication and systems are key in regards to retaining the ability to consistently delight clients, and delighting clients is the only way to grow. In my experience, communication is routinely the problem/solution. Yes, systems are key for long-term sustainability, but the human communication element can fix or break any system. Here are some simple examples:

Bad Client Communication:

  1. “You will need to contact our X Department”
  2. “We need you to fill out this application”

Good Client Communication:

  1. “I am going to go ahead and connect you with support by submitting a ticket on your behalf, so stick with me here.  Before I hit submit and give our support team a separate heads up, can you confirm for me that I have captured the issue correctly?”
  2. “I have all of your info right here, so let me fill that out in an effort to save you time. I will then have you verify/complete the form and we can get everything going asap”

This likely seems like common sense to those who innately focus on delighting clients.  However, it is easy for growing organizations to make the mistake of assuming every team member (especially newer team members) understand the commitment to delighting customers; it is something that must be ingrained in our culture, which means it has to be very apparent in the behavior of every person and department in the organization.

It is all about leaving the client/prospective client with positive closure every step of the way. And in those times when the answer is not apparent, recognizing that those are the times to shine as a true partner rather than just a vendor; these are the times that we get to dig in and seize the opportunity to show others the extent of our commitment to serve. I routinely reflect on how strong of a characteristic it is to genuinely CARE; it beats just about any strategy.

“If you want something you’ve never had you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.” – unknown or maybe Thomas Jefferson

My wife and I were visiting Asheville, NC this past weekend and walked by a local shop that had this quote in their window.  I did check the source and while it is listed as unknown, some believe it came from Thomas Jefferson.

I normally post original thoughts only, but this really struck a chord and I wanted to share. As leaders we are constantly trying to develop other leaders and the ability to grasp this concept and be motivated by it is something we must see in them.  Most “good” performers need to know something has been done before and then have to be motivated to achieve the same or better results; it requires good leadership to lead good performers and we need this foundation in our organizations. But how do we find and develop other leaders who will innovate and create tremendous growth for all stakeholders?

When striving for consistent exponential growth, we must find (or develop) team members that have the capability and desire to be entrepreneurial, which is what this quote is all about.

 

Leaders who put their employees first, will likely be put first by their employees.

This quote is an original from one of my greatest mentors (Lawton Langford).  He has impacted me in so many positive ways, and I am thankful that what he has focused on most has been leadership development.

Decision making is easy if the focus is on what is best for you, your department, your business, your family, etc., without considering and highly valuing the impact on other people, organizations, and/or things. The harder, yet more rewarding route is the leadership track which consists of being self-aware, thoughtful, long-term growth oriented, committed to fostering a great culture, and prioritizing the well being and growth of others.   We all place a high value on trust, being included, and being cared for; The only way for these to be characteristics of an organization’s culture is for leaders to put their people first.  If our actions are aligned with this concept, the actions of our team will be aligned with doing all that is required for continuous success.

The opening of a leader’s eulogy

  • He cared
  • He helped others grow
  • He was self-aware
  • He was a good student and a good teacher
  • He made a big impact on people and things
  • He was decisive
  • He was fair
  • He was responsible
  • He knew the importance of having a great culture
  • He did what he said he would
  • His passion motivated others
  • He pushed himself and others to improve everyday
  • He held others accountable
  • He set clear expectations for what success looked like
  • He always did the right thing
  • He never made excuses
  • If something had never had been done before, he dug in and became a pioneer
  • He was respectful
  • He was able to see things from others’ point of view
  • He worked hard
  • He led by example

 

It is important to pause, relax, and thank the leaders around you….

No leader has success without the loyalty, drive, ingenuity, and tenacity of the other leaders on their team. The role of a “leader of leaders” is to mentor/motivate, challenge, and hold them accountable, but we must not forget to routinely let them know how much they are appreciated. Similarly, we should show appreciation to those who lead us as well. Just think of when someone you lead, or someone who leads you, takes the time to ask how things are going and/or proactively lets you know how much you are appreciated. How does that make you feel?

While it is so easy to do, we must fight against the tendency to assume other leaders are not in need of positive feedback. The one on one sharing of the appreciation we have for other leaders in our lives is something they are more than deserving of, and it is a necessity in creating/maintaining a great culture and ever-lasting relationships.

For any MCCi folks reading the post and for those who have led me……… Thank you! Saying it here is not good enough; I know I can do a better job of putting this in practice and will be holding myself accountable to act.

Age old lesson learned from a 1st grader’s teacher…..

This morning my oldest daughter (Eloise) asked me to sign her binder to confirm that she had done her homework, and her reading assignment last night.   She had done both so I signed it and she was all set.   As I was getting ready to head into the office, my wife told me that the day before Eloise had forgotten to get her binder signed and as a result only received 1 “pom pom” which is indicative of how well they do on any given day.  It was the first time Eloise had not received the highest mark (2 pom poms) and she was devastated.  After learning this, it made total sense in regards to how eager she was to have someone sign off this morning (her mom has always done this and she was not awake yet).

My biggest takeaway as it relates to adults and the professional world is that all organizations need awesome 1st grade teacher types (Like Mrs. Dunn in Eloise’s case) as part of their management/leadership teams. The result of setting clear expectations, inspecting results, and holding people accountable is that all are given the chance to reach their own optimal success level.  Everyone needs guidance and accountability.   While it may not be a daily focus like it is in 1st grade, the best business leaders know the importance of this same concept and it can surely be exemplified by doing a review of what the best-in-class organizations are doing.

Failure to practice the same concepts as grownups is simply a failure to lead.