Every Success Plan has a secret sauce that turns it from just a plan on paper to something a team can actually execute and deliver successfully.
Success Plan = Realistic Scope + Right Skilled Resources + Achievable Timeline
Let’s look at each element in the formula individually.
The first element is a realistic scope. What does that mean? It means that the team involved in determining the delivery requirements would need to evaluate the requirements solve the high value problems reviewed in the sales cycle. Then, they would provide a best practice recommendation on the best approach to delivering the high value outcomes by assessing current state and what is a reasonable and realistic scope. It is fairly common for customer teams to request the entire “Kitchen Sink” into their initial requirements and deliverables. They can also provide an unachievable delivery date. I recommend taking the time to conduct some due diligence to assess the following:
1. Are we in alignment on the high value pain points?
2. Which ones are critical to the businesses and or have a compelling event?
3. What impacts costs, revenue or time related to their business requirements?
4. What are the right resources to execute successfully on this project?
5. Can we define the scope and deliverables into smaller chunks with shorter time frames?
6. Can we prioritize the deliverables (goals and objectives) in order to deliver in phases?
7. Do we need to adjust order of delivery based on internal resources available to execute?
By answering these questions, it will enable the team to consider a more realistic scope and develop a phased approach with shorter time frames to ensure delivery over time of value to the business.
The second element is to assign the right skilled resources to the project. This means that you don’t look for who is available and has time and thereby ask the new intern or new employee to execute and deliver on an important project that will impact the customer's success in the first 30-60 days. I recommend that you review the requirements, deliverables and expertise required to deliver each area of the project and look for resources that have the skills and experience. At that point, you can work with the management team to free up key resources for shorter periods of time to help deliver the expertise required to ensure success. This is one of the top reasons that projects fail. Many companies use available resources and not the RIGHT resources with the abilities to deliver the quality and excellence required for the project to achieve success.
With a realistic scope and the application of the right skilled we are two–thirds of the way to ensuring successful implementations. Now let’s explore various considerations in determining an achievable timeline.
I love the story one of my customer's recently shared with me. They were attempting a worldwide CPM (Corporate Performance Management) implementation and roll out that they estimated to take over 18 months. This was going to include full functionality support of all of their current processes, collaboration and reporting requirements. During the design session, it was discovered that there were vast differences worldwide with their standard practices. Those differences required some internal consideration in their system design and internal processes to achieve their long-term goals of having worldwide visibility of the information. As a result, they considered putting the entire project on hold. Fortunately, one of their very timid team members asked the question, "Is a full worldwide rollout the only option or, could we focus on North America—which we could implement in the next 4 months pretty easily and then bring on the other entities one at a time?"
Every project has an opportunity to succeed if we can start with what we know we can make happen and prove the impact to the organization in a controlled manner. The best part of this example is taking the timeline from 18 months to 4 months while delivering high value outcomes. The timeline is one of the most important elements in creating a successful and achievable project plan.
One of the most common statements customer's make to me during a Discover or Scoping session is "I have to have this project live in 30 days." My response is "Let's talk about what you need to accomplish in this project in order for your organization to realize a few high value outcomes and deem the project a success. What needs to be delivered?" Notoriously, they go into a dissertation on everything that has to be included in the project, which becomes a scope definition that cannot realistically be completed in 30 days. If what is really needed is outside a 30 day time window, then it is best to provide the customer with your recommended timeline that will ensure the highest level of success and value for them.
To achieve a proper Success Plan, I recommend the following steps:
Agree on the key pain points or problems the project is resolving.
Define the project goals, objectives and key deliverables (high value outcomes) to solving these problems.
Define the detailed tasks required along each stage of the implementation methodology.
Review the tasks with the entire team assigned to the project and apply realistic durations to each task. Look at the calendar and take into consideration holidays, company events, PTO and other assignments.
This "First Pass" should allow some slack time to take project risks into account.
What happens if the project timeline comes out too far off of the expected plan? I recommend the next set of steps:
Once you have a well thought out plan, you can begin working backwards. If you intended the plan to be complete by June 30th and the plan shows August 30th, then do a second run through on the details and see if you created unnecessary slack or over estimated some task durations.
The other option is to look at whether you can complete tasks in parallel and utilize multiple resources in order to get more work done in a shorter period of time. This can condense your timeline tremendously.
Once you have gone through these processes, if your timeline is still not where you need it to be, (in this case, end of June), you have two options:
a) You present your case to management that this is the best plan with the right scope, resources and realistic timeline to ensure success and they should consider a new milestone date.
b) Reduce your scope in order to maintain a realistic timeline that you are confident you can deliver on.
Always remember the key to presenting your Success Plan to the customer management team is to ensure that what you have defined and presented, can be delivered and will produce some high value. The key to winning their confidence is to deliver what you promise. Make it a realistic plan that you are confident your team can deliver.
I hope this discussion on a best practice approach to creating a project success plan has been helpful. The planning stage of any project is critical to success. I would welcome any additional best practices you have determined are important to project success.
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Jackie A. Golden