What is the Point of Your Project?
It seems like a simple question, but you would be surprised how many project managers can’t answer it when someone asks. A well reasoned and thought out business case is often neglected by even the savviest of organizations. As project managers, it is our responsibility to ask these questions and make sure that we understand what need the project is fulfilling. Whether we are talking about market demand, technological advances or simply a customer request, the important thing is to get to the root of the cause. Without this simple truth to guide the project it is far too easy for it to veer off the road. The execution of a project is generally a series of tactics. What your business case should do is provide these tactics with an overarching strategy that informs those tactics. Otherwise the project is a ship without a rudder and, to overtax this particular metaphor, is doomed to run aground.
How do I Find Out the Point?
If you find yourself in the middle of a project and don’t quite know what your goal is, it’s always a good idea to ask someone. Some project manager may be afraid of looking ignorant by asking this question. Now let’s think about that. What would be considered more ignorant, asking the point of a project or not knowing the point and just charging ahead blindly? If you don’t know whom to ask then I’d start with your Product Sponsor. If the sponsor is not clearly identifiable, then it is the project manager’s responsibility to sleuthing to uncover them. It’s important to dig and determine who commissioned the project in the first place. It’s not uncommon for the originator of a project to get dropped out of the communication flow. If this has happened on your project then it is imperative to bring them back into the fold. Sit down with them and be certain you understand the original need the project is meant to solve. Only then, can you evaluate the project’s activities and determine if they are on track to achieve the stated objectives.
What if My Project Doesn’t Have a Point?
Let’s say you’ve interviewed all the stakeholders and team members and you’ve found the original project sponsor. You have finally gotten to the bottom of this mystery. Sometimes the original business case is no longer relevant. Perhaps the customer who requested the change is no longer with the organization or technology has advanced past your original plan or the environmental factors have simply shifted so that your project is now a solution in search of a problem. In these cases, it’s important for the project manager to make the recommendation that the project be terminated. No matter how much time, effort and money has been invested to this point, it never justifies spending more capital on a project that doesn’t fill any need. It is the project manager’s responsibility to understand this and make the tough recommendation to your stakeholders.
As project managers, we are responsible for making sure that things get done. It’s really the core of what we do. But it’s important to avoid getting so bogged down in the tactics that we fail to understand the strategy. They who, what, when and how are only important if we understand the why. The ability to understand this is often what makes the difference between success and failure in your career as a project manager.