Plan For Performance

Project Management

“Plan for Performance” is the next critical pillar that supports the “Project Performance Bridge.”  When combined with the first pillar of “Clearly Define Success,” the project team is well on its way to building a solid bridge toward effective performance and customer satisfaction.

High performing project managers have the ability to help the project team translate the PSP into goals, metrics and integrated baselines that effectively induce team performance.

This section discusses the second pillar of the bridge (“Plan for Performance”) by illustrating the importance of setting goals and metrics and integrating project baselines with the vision and PSP.

Goals and metrics are the project equivalent of a scoreboard in an athletic event.  Many people enjoy athletics.  Basketball makes a good illustration.  For some reason, running up and down the court and putting a ball through a rim positioned ten feet from the floor is exhilarating.

Many of us have spent time playing basketball with a group of men or women in early morning exercise sessions, in which the score really doesn’t matter.  In these kinds of games all that matters is that we exercise and have fun.

However when these same men or women find themselves in evening or corporate leagues the score matters.  The minute the scoreboard is turned on and the horn sounds the whole scenario changes.  Every one of these men/women becomes more focused, intense, driven and desirous to win.  Sometimes we marvel at the difference between the two environments.  The only real difference is the scoreboard!  Yet the difference in performance is significant.

Good project managers understand this concept.  They know that helping the team create PSP focused goals and metrics will become the project scoreboard against which their performance will be measured.  When people have a scoreboard tracking their progress, their performance improves.  It is simply human nature.

There are many tools that can assist teams in setting goals and objectives and that can serve as scoreboards.  The best of these are the prioritized PSP, combined with the simple concept of a “project dashboard.”  A dashboard is a project manager’s version of a scoreboard.  In fact, every project should have goals and metrics driven by PSP, with the results displayed on a dashboard.

As teams develop, goal statements must be clear, focused, measurable and achievable – and they should cause the team to stretch.  Metrics should support goal achievement and provide a method of measuring performance.

Figure 4-7 on the next page illustrates possible goal and metric development for the “Time” PSP of the IT Speed to Market sample we have been tracking.

Using this information, a project dashboard can be developed to track Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).  An example of this is shown in Figure 4-8 on the following page.

Dashboards can become much more complex than this, depending on the needs of the project.  There are excellent companies developing software and dashboards that use extensive graphics, pie charts and tracking mechanisms to provide necessary information.  No matter the complexity of the display, we believe a project dashboard is a simple concept that can produce powerful dividends.

As we mentioned earlier, higher priority PSP may need more extensive metrics for proper control, while PSP that are flexible may require fewer metrics to provide effective control.

We can also see that there are fewer metrics regulating the performance of quality and cost than there are regulating time.  Thus, in planning this particular project, we are attempting to more tightly control and meet the customer’s desire for speed to market, yet we are providing some flexibility to the project team in meeting some of the other success parameters.

The diagrams we have constructed above are very simplistic.  However, the beauty of planning tools such as these (especially dashboards) is that they are scalable and flexible enough that they can meet the needs of any project team, large or small. While these are nice tools, they are only useful if all stakeholders buy in.  Project managers must work diligently with the customer and other stakeholders to ensure they have the right dashboards in place before the project begins.  Once they are approved, the team then has precise direction regarding what is important to the customer and the success of the project.  They understand what it takes to create value for the customer and can define activities and continue building a plan that is truly performance based.

As part of putting the project dashboard in place, project teams must integrate this important information into their project baselines.  Translating project vision, PSP, goals and metrics into baselines that stimulate performance is truly an art that requires an outcome oriented mindset.  Performance baselines must be focused in a manner that will allow goals and PSP, and ultimately customer satisfaction, to be achieved.

Project baselines are the basic models or plans the team intends to use to guide project execution.  There may be many baselines associated with a given project.  Most projects have scope, schedule, cost, quality, resource, and risk baselines.  The scope baseline is usually called a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) which is a deliverable-oriented breakdown of project activities.  The schedule baseline is the network diagram and/or Gantt chart that delineates project activities, durations and relationships.  The cost baseline models budgeted and time-phased project costs.  The quality baseline outlines the standards, codes or quality specifications that must be met on the project.

The resource baseline is a model of all resources (including their costs, availability and timing) that will be used on the project.  Finally, the risk baseline is the team’s risk management plan.

As we know from basic project planning practices, the scope baseline, or WBS, is the cornerstone of project management.  Project managers must know what they are delivering before they can integrate the rest of the baseline plans.  The WBS is a tool that assists project teams in breaking down an entire project into realistic, achievable and success focused activities that lead to project deliverables.  One might say the creation of a WBS is an exercise in understanding what it takes for a project team to execute, provide deliverables and meet project vision.

If project teams can look at each activity in the WBS and try to understand how they relate back to the vision, they will then be able to assign appropriate activities, resources, durations, costs, quality parameters and risk response strategies to facilitate successful outcomes.  In this way, the team is truly integrating the project baselines with each other and with vision, PSP, goals and metrics.  The key is focusing planning efforts on actions that produce customer satisfaction.

As an example, let’s refer back to our project dashboard example in the previous section.  In this example Speed to Market is the vision and Time is the most important success parameter.  Assume that as we are building our WBS and schedule baseline, we come across an activity that we believe is on the critical path.  We know that any delays to this particular activity will delay the overall project.  Furthermore, we find that the person we plan to hold accountable for this activity does not have a particular skill that will enable him to complete this activity within the time we have allotted.  In fact, it will take this person twice the time we plan to allocate.

How do we “Plan for Performance” in this instance?  Our clearly defined and most important goal in the project is to “Have the product on the shelves prior to competitors and ready for holiday sales NLT 11/1/05.” Do we allow this team member to flounder and feel the stress of not meeting project goals and metrics?  Or, can we look at better ways of performing this activity?

There are many options available.  One might be training the assigned team member to improve their personal abilities and performance.  Another might be to reassign this team member to another activity in which they can produce success and bring in someone else with the skills to accomplish this task in the allotted time.  A third option might be to reduce the duration of other activities along the critical path to provide extra time for this team member to perform.  A final option may be to take a team approach and assign one or two more employees to assist this person in their responsibilities.

Interestingly, each of these options might work, depending on the situation.  The key to performance-based planning is looking ahead enough to create an environment, choose the option, and build a plan that allows the team and its members to successfully meet performance requirements.  Once this is done, we can integrate the solutions with the rest of the baselines and execute accordingly.  If we focus on vision and success in our planning, execution and performance follows naturally, leading us to the final pillar of the project performance bridge, “Perform.”

As an example of how good planning leads to performance, we had the opportunity over the past year to work on a highly technical project in which the team truly understood how important the Project Performance Bridge really was.  This understanding led to some wonderful up-front planning based on their abilities to “Clearly Define Success” early in the project.  The team worked well together to create a performance-based project plan, and the creation of this plan was the key to their success.

In their plan, they developed an in-depth understanding of the success criteria, the objectives, the metrics, the deliverables, the activities and the risks involved in executing the project in order to completely satisfy the customer.  They took the opportunity to look at solutions to problems they had addressed in previous projects and incorporated appropriate lessons learned in their plan.  They also looked at how they might minimize potential risks to the project and the customer.

They spent time reviewing project activities and ensuring the right resources were available to guarantee high-performance.  They looked at the success criteria and saw where they might have some flexibility so they could focus their efforts and improve their performance in other critical areas.  They made specific assignments as they built the “Plan for Performance” pillar to help in measurement and control efforts.   Finally, they ensured appropriate buy-in to the plan by all stakeholders.  In short, they truly integrated their project baselines.

Some might think that this type of planning takes too much time.  They don’t want the project to be paralyzed by over- analysis.  We agree that project teams need to move to the “Perform” stage at the right time.   However, the right plan must be in place in order to perform properly and efficiently.

As an interesting look back at this project, placing the first two pillars of the Project Performance Bridge did not take a lot of time.  Yet the performance-based plan saved critical time during the “Perform” stage.

Upon completion of the plan, all stakeholders on this project were in agreement that execution would be simple if they followed their performance-based plan.

As the team prepared for the execution phase of this project, they realized that their planning efforts had already constructed two very solid pillars of the “Project Performance Bridge.”  They had “Clearly Defined Success” and “Planned for Performance.”

Although the plan was one of the best they had ever created, the team fully understood that to cross the final span to “customer satisfaction” they actually had to perform the activities they had planned.  They understood that excellent performance was critical to their total success.

With this in mind, they set out to build the “Perform” pillar of the bridge and reach the ultimate goal of customer satisfaction.  The next section of this book illustrates many of the things project teams must do to perform and satisfy the customer.

From “The Art of Project Management” book

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