Avoid the Costly Mistakes of Starting in the Middle

Big initiatives create a lot of excitement and anticipation to get started. Once the initiative is given the green light, there is a lot of pressure to start showing progress and jump from initiation to implementation. This results in teams rushing off in different directions before the project has been fully defined causing difficulty making decisions, poor handoffs between teams, and deliverables that don’t meet the intended initiative goals.

This is what I call “starting in the middle.” Team Leads skip two very important steps: planning and alignment. These two steps are frequently skipped because they feel redundant to the decision to green-light the initiative or because the initiative is like something done before. Missing these steps will add countless hours, immense frustration, and the need for executive intervention to contain the chaos.

How can these costly mistakes be avoided?

1.       Identify All the Players. Evaluate who is doing the work and who is impacted by the work. Team leads frequently only focus on the team members and completely miss the influencers, supporters, and interested parties. If this step is not done, the initiative will be harried, with constant pushback from internal forces because they were not informed, given a voice, or appropriately involved.

2.       Focus on the Outcomes. Clearly define the outcomes and how the outputs (new widget, technology, or service) align with the outcomes. I have found no matter how well the outcomes were defined in the decision phase, the team leaders need to go through the process of understanding, absorbing, and buying into the business outcomes for the initiative.

3.       Create a BOS. Develop a business outcomes schedule, aka BOS. This is not a schedule that lays out the typical phases like develop, test, integrate, cutover, and maintenance. Instead, the BOS lays out progress toward the business outcomes and usually shows how business value is being created over the course of the initiative. This Harvard Business Review article titled “You Need to Manage Digital Projects for Outcomes, Not Outputs” provides additional examples.

Case study: I was working with a client who was researching approaches to implementing omnichannel life cycle marketing. It was a big investment of resources, and leadership was just seeing a big chunk of time dedicated to research with no clear end game. I was brought in to assist with getting clarity on the outcomes and approach. We went through each of these steps. First, we identified who needed to know what was going on, who was involved in doing the research, and who was to provide input into the research. We found there were a few people left out of the group and added them. Next, we clarified the outcomes, which was huge. The project lead gained a lot of clarity on the value of the research beyond implementing a new marketing practice. Finally, we broke down the schedule into milestones showing how the research activities created business value. Once this was completed, the team lead was able to get the buy-in and support to move through the research activities to implementation, and leadership felt they understood what was happening.

Implementing these three planning and alignment activities will radically improve the initiative’s outcome as well as the overall experience, moving it from one filled with chaos to an orderly rollout.

If you are experiencing any of these challenges or want to talk about your latest initiative in which a strong project leader will be key to your success, schedule a discovery call with MSD Advisors today.