In order to maximize success, companies should approach large scale efforts with a level of discipline and set of practices that aren’t always top of mind or needed in their day-to-day operations.
At some point during periods of growth, companies often have one or more large and complex strategic initiatives underway, or at least being considered. Entering a new market, commercializing a new product, migrating to a new technology, integrating a significant acquisition – these are just a few examples of undertakings that can propel businesses forward or backward depending on how well they are implemented.
In order to maximize success, companies should approach large scale efforts with a level of discipline and set of practices that aren’t always top of mind or needed in their day-to-day operations. The practices outlined below help ensure that greater focus, stronger oversight and increased attention is given to the factors that can drive the success or failure of a large scale initiative.
Define the Scope
Develop a clear, concise charter for the initiative.
A well-defined charter identifies the scope, objectives, boundaries and measures of success for an effort. This helps to build clarity and alignment from the start and can be used throughout to avoid “scope creep” and project drift.
Organize Your People
Appoint an executive champion.
In this role, an executive will serve as the advocate for the strategic initiative at the leadership level, helping to remove barriers and address resource needs and other challenges. He or she will be a critical spokesperson, building and maintaining executive-level and organization-wide support for the effort.
Assign a full-time project manager.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told by executives that they wish they’d assigned a full-time project manager at the start of a major initiative. Someone who will worry about the project every day (sometimes every hour, in a productive way) and be in charge of holding others accountable along the way. The project manager is the critical point person who drives the project plan, engages appropriate parties and communicates relentlessly to keep stakeholders on the same page.
Too often companies misallocate resources by spreading key employees across too many projects. With large scale initiatives, you have to think differently.
Establish appropriate governance.
This should include a Steering Committee of key leaders (and sometimes external experts) that meets regularly to review progress and provide direction. This also includes reporting on key milestones in the project plan, costs being incurred and resolution of open issues.
Allocate appropriate resources.
Large-scale strategic initiatives typically require dedicated resources to pull them off. Too often companies misallocate resources by spreading key employees across too many projects. With large scale initiatives, you have to think differently. Who are the BEST resources that should be assigned to this effort? How do we make sure they can focus 100% of their attention on it? How can we “stack the deck” for success?
Work to Mitigate Risk
Approach in stages to mitigate risk.
Large, complex initiatives should be broken into stages that will eventually deliver the overall results you seek. Each stage or phase should have deliverables attached to it, including questions to be answered, analysis to be completed, etc. These stages and deliverables are critical to mitigating risk as they provide interim points where progress and learnings can be evaluated.
Pay equal attention to communications and change management.
The process of change starts before, and continues on during and after a major initiative has been implemented. Because of this, you’ll want to communicate with and engage stakeholders throughout the journey. Sometimes this requires as much energy and attention as solving the business issues at hand.
Apply risk management throughout the duration of the effort.
Identifying and mitigating risks throughout the duration of a strategic initiative is critical to achieving success. Some companies define a living set of top risks that are evaluated and discussed during each progress review meeting. Others conduct project audits at the end of key phases where they use internal experts or outsiders to critically evaluate their work to date. There are many other risk management practices that can be applied and the key is to make this a regular part of the implementation process.
Here’s the Bottom Line.
Regardless of the size of your business, you’ll likely have one or more large scale initiatives to execute as you grow in the future. These initiatives may struggle, move slower or fall short of desired results when the core practices outlined above are missing or loosely applied. When thoughtfully implemented, these practices can be critical to achieving results while reducing risk along the way.
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