Setting up Successful Performance Improvement Initiatives

       By: Mike McIntyre
Posted: 2006-11-30 02:14:40
Most initiatives start to fail because they fail to start!One of the hardest things to do in many organisations is to set up a successful change initiative. This is because creating change is not seen as integral to the future success of the organisation. It is also because people often don't know how to do it.There are seven essentials to setting up a successful initiative:
1. Assign an accountable Sponsor
2. Identify a suitable Project Manager
3. Clearly articulate objectives and how they will be achieved
4. Get the buy in of the key stakeholders
5. Build a strong core team
6. Develop a realistic plan
7. Communicate the plan
Wherever there is a failed initiative you will find that one or more of these essentials (and sometimes all of them!) have been missed out.1. Assign an accountable SponsorThe wrong sponsor will guarantee failure.The right Sponsor will galvanise the leadership team's emotional and active commitment to the project. He or she owns the 'vision' and will be able to explain why the project is important, its priority relative to other initiatives, and what the future will look and feel like when the initiative delivers.The Sponsor should have clear accountability for achieving the outcomes, enabling the allocation of funds and resources, resolving business conflicts and authorising mid course corrections.If a Sponsor is assigned without the relevant experience or understanding of the sponsorship role, make sure there is an independent coach to guide them and elicit feedback on performanceThe relationship between the sponsor and the project manager determines how well an initiative will be set up.2. Identify a suitable Project ManagerDepending on your organisation, you may have lots of internal candidates for this role who have the right blend of skills and experience. On the other hand you may have little or no internal experience of managing change initiatives.The number one mistake that many organisations make is to appoint someone internally as "Project Manager" simply because they are available and they need or want to be involved. That person may have very little knowledge about how to successfully manage this type of project and in these circumstances the inevitable result is lots of pain and frustration for everyone involved.So make sure that the Project Manager has experience of this sort of initiative and has the skills to work with people at all levels. Alternatively ensure your inexperienced project manager is being coached or mentored by someone with the right experience.3. Clearly articulate objectives and how they will be achievedBeing able to communicate to people what it is you are trying to achieve and how you propose to do it is absolutely fundamental to getting their buy in. But you need to be able to do this in a very concise way.Many people make the mistake of trying to answer everyone's questions up front and end up writing a huge document that no one ever reads. The Project Manager's first deliverable should be a clear, concise Project Brief..The best way to gather the content is by discussion and review with the change sponsor. He or she will be the one with the vision of how things should be and why the changes are necessary.The Project Brief should contain all of the key information about the initiative:
- Project Outline & Alignment to strategy
- Project Objectives
- Method of approach
- Project Deliverables
- Project Scope
- Benefit Analysis
- Constraints
- Dependencies (Links with other systems or projects.)
- Critical Success factors
- Risks
- Outline Plan
- Project Team
The real challenge is to make it concise, so don't allow any more than three pages. This has to be a document that you can review face to face in less than half an hour with any of the stakeholders.4. Get the buy in of the key stakeholdersThe first step here is to identify the key stakeholders. Here's a possible list:
- The management team
- Managers of people who will be affected by the change
- Customers
- Suppliers
- Key influencers
The prerequisite is to ensure a reluctant or passive Sponsor is emotionally committed to the project and understands his or her role. Then the ones who must be convinced are the management team. The best way to get their buy in is to discuss the brief with each of them on a one to one basis and ensure their comments and concerns are reflected in the final brief.Generally speaking, the best way to do the briefing is in a 30 minute one to one meeting. Send them the brief and ask them to read it before the meeting (they probably won't but it is common courtesy). The meetings should focus on getting their feedback and listening to their concerns and objections. These concerns and objections must be addressed before they will fully buy in.If the brief needs to be reworked, that is fine. You then have an excuse to go back to the stakeholders and make sure they are now comfortable with the brief. By doing this, you greatly reduce the likelihood of people undermining you later on. The efforts then centre on approving the final brief and deciding who should brief the other stakeholders and when.5. Build a strong core teamAny significant change initiative will impact on a number of departments or functions and there will be plenty of people within those areas who will resist change until they believe it will benefit them. So you need to build a core team drawn from the impacted parts of the organisation. The team members must :
- Have in depth knowledge about how the organisation works today
- Be enthusiastic (or at least open minded) about change
- Be respected by their peers and managers
- Be able to lead by influence and example
- Be given the bandwidth to take on the project
From the characteristics above, it is obvious that these people are likely to be some of the best in the organisation and therefore probably already overloaded. A key part of the start up phase is to ensure that work is taken away from the team members so that they can put enough time and energy into the project.6. Develop a realistic planThere is a trite little saying that when you fail to plan you plan to fail. Unfortunately it is absolutely true.You will already be coming under severe pressure from managers to show progress. You must resist the temptation to short circuit the planning and just "crack on" with the work..While the Project Definition document is important, it is essentially an elaboration on the brief. What is absolutely vital is to have a realistic and robust project schedule. Here are some key pointers: Get the core team to develop the schedule with you in one or more planning workshops.Map the project network using a process mapping tool so that everyone can visualize the sequence. Avoid using MS Project initially.Put as much detail into the schedule as needed to be sure that you haven't missed anything.Use aggressive durations for each activity and then use project buffers to allow for the uncertainty in the project - this is something called Lean Project planning.Don't forget to allow for holidays!Build the communications work stream into the schedule7. Communicate the planYou need to get people's support, so they need to know what is going on and why it's important. As soon as you have approval from the sponsor and the key stakeholders, make sure you brief all the other interested parties.The briefing format will depend on who is being briefed. There is one golden rule though. Wherever possible make sure that key individuals are given a face to face briefing so you can answer their questions directly.People who are going to be directly involved should also have some sort of verbal briefing, probably as a group.Finally, the whole organisation needs to have a written briefing. Use emails, notice boards, newsletter, intranet site or even... a letter.Once you have a team and a robust plan that you have communicated to the organisation then, and only then, you are ready to start the work.
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