It is hard enough to get a project team to focus on delivery of value when we are initiating a project, but it is all that much tougher to remain focused on this prize as the project plays out. I would argue that the main reason for this is that the tools we use to manage projects tend to divert our focus.
It is easy to frame a project in terms of cost and schedule – these are two dimensions that we are all familiar with, and the traditional emphasis of these on projects reinforces these short-sighted habits. While these are important, they really pale in significance to the critical dimension of delivered value. Yes, we want to complete the project and not lose our shirts doing so, but if we haven’t made the stakeholders’ world better in some way, if we have not delivered value, we have not done our job.
In working with project teams, setting expectations for this value to be delivered can be one of the most difficult things we do. We need to do to so as clearly and precisely as possible, which unfortunately requires more thinking and collaboration than most teams are accustomed to at this early stage. The weaker we are at doing this, the easier it is to fall astray as the project progresses, and more importantly, the easier it is to artificially declare success at the end of the day: “I managed to spend your money in the time allotted!”
Whether we do a good job or not in envisioning the project and the value to be delivered, we need to be careful to remain focused on this throughout the lifecycle. Unfortunately, producing documents by completing templates and updating the Gantt chart with progress reports tends to emphasize monitoring things in those monetary and temporal terms. Even though the rigorous tracking of well structured project schedules with Earned Value analysis has nothing to do with delivering value: it would be more aptly named Spend Budget analysis, as an entire project can progress very well by these standard reports, but fail to provide any value.
We need to define value up front, to be sure, but we also need to remember that whenever we are thinking about progress, usually in terms of cost and time, we need to continue to ask ourselves: are we making progress towards our goal of providing value?
This is true for all of the activities we originally envisioned when we put our original schedule together, but it also remains important when we address change. Indeed, this becomes an important differentiator that allows us to manage change effectively: if a proposed change does nothing to maintain or improve the value delivered to the stakeholders, we have a strong argument for not including it in the project.
This alone is more than enough reason to invest the time to set expectations about delivered value on a project. The cost of the effort to do so will usually be more than made up if we can leverage it to reject a single proposed change that would otherwise cost us our shirts. – JB