Best Practices


I have seen widely opposing views of what President Trump has or hasnt accomplished in his first month or so on the job. There are views that he has accomplished a huge amount of important work, and other views that he has done nothing at all. I would submit that neither is really the case; rather, he has started some things that he needs to see to fruition in order to count them as accomplishments.

On the job, I have all too often seen people (including myself!) count things as done or tick the item off the to do list way too early in the process. Always keep in mind that it only counts when the project or activity is truly completed and has delivered the credits and expected return on investment. Here are some tips to maximize your delivery of successful projects across the finish line.

First, be sure to pick the right portfolio of projects; if you tackle too many at a time, or ones that are too difficult, you may not fully accomplish anything. If you decide to take on a difficult project which is crucial for your company or organization success, be sure to focus sufficient resources and attention on that one project and shed other work. You may want to pick a portfolio composed of some shorter-term, some medium-term and some longer-term projects in order to provide balance and allow some completion of goals on an annual basis.

Next, be sure to allocate the right resources to the projects in your chosen portfolio. Ensure there is a team or project leader who is accountable for the overall activity and that you and the leader are aligned on the project scope and deliverables. Also ensure alignment with the team leader on the resources and budget needed for the project and how the resources are to be obtained.

Ensure there is a plan in place for each project, with deliverables and milestones. You may want to adopt a stage-gate type of process with clear identification of what is needed to pass through each gate, as well as who the gatekeepers are. It is advisable to conduct a risk analysis at each stage of the project. In your role as the owner of the projects, be sure to monitor the status of each project with the accountable team leader. If the project is not proceeding according to plan, discuss what needs to change, which could include adjusting the project deliverables, the timetable or the resource allocation and quality.

Be sure to keep the project economics updated as needed, such as in the case of changes in the macroeconomic environment, the state of competition, changing project costs or credits, or newly understood project risks. Make sure that project economics are tested for different scenarios such as higher or lower product costs and pricing, higher or lower project costs, changing project timing, higher or lower market penetration, and any other key project variables.

Keep in mind that the project is not really finished until it has successfully delivered its target credits. For example, you may have completed the construction of a new manufacturing unit on budget and on time, but the plant is not successful until it has safely started up, delivered planned quantities of on-spec products, and customers have committed to buy at expected pricing. Similarly, a new system that you have installed is only successful when it is delivering its expected return, usually through wide adoption within the organization, increased efficiency, improved customer satisfaction and/or better decision making. Dont declare victory until it has been measurably delivered.

What are some of the factors that lead to project failure? In my experience, many projects or objectives fail to even take hold in the early stages due to lack of commitment and associated issues with resourcing and prioritization. The lesson here is to make sure you are not cluttering your portfolio with activities that you are not really committed to resourcing and prioritizing sufficiently. Other projects fail or get killed in the early stages due to higher costs or inability to deliver technical results, and that is fine, as you would rather understand these economic issues early on.

Some projects never get off the ground in my experience due to the wrong choice of project leader. If the project leader lacks certain skills or experience, you may be able to overcome this by surrounding the leader with team members who can fill in the gaps. However, if the project leader doesnt believe in the project objectives or if the organizational resistance to the project is very high, the project may be doomed from the onset.

Projects that fail in the late stages are particularly troublesome, as you will have poured significant resources into the project that could have been better utilized. You may end up disappointing customers, losing business, and may not meet your budget and financial commitments to the organization or shareholders. If you are in this position, be sure to look hard at how your stage-gate process may have failed. Things to look for are inadequate risk assessment, overly optimistic assumptions, cultural issues such as lack of openness, and inadequate gatekeeping (too narrow of a focus, lack of sufficient questioning, management pressure). If a new product launch has failed to deliver the expected credits, be sure to look into how you have incorporated sales and customer feedback into your product development process.

Efficiency projects are a special case in my experience. Sometimes managers will commit to efficiency projects but not follow through with the personnel cuts that justified the project in the first place. Be sure to hold managers accountable in such situations, or you will invest in many efficiency projects and never really get any measurable return. Also be watchful of projects that outsource certain activities such as manufacturing, customer service and distribution. If the outsourced service misses the mark, you may find yourself diverting even more resources to interacting with the service provider.

I hope some of these tips help you get those key projects across the finish line!

Sara Lefcourt of Lefcourt Consulting LLC specializes in helping companies to improve profits, reduce risk and step up their operations. Her experience includes many years in marketing, sales and procurement, first for Exxon and then at Infineum, where she was vice president, supply. Email her at or phone (908) 400-5210.

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