Deliver the Project Goal, Not the Project Plan

Focus on the Project Goal, not the Project Plan

Would you rather have the perfect project plan, extended so that it eliminates all risk and is overbudgeted so that you have all the right resources, before you reach your goal? Or would you rather have a minimum viable project plan that gets you to the goal quicker and cheaper, with the tradeoff of accepting more risk?

Project managers are sometimes thought of as overhead because they make work by collecting lots of details using forms and templates. These then go into very detailed project plans, the presentation of which is a work of art. What if some of the effort that went into planning was diverted into delivering the project goal instead?

Sometimes, PMs need to pull back from focusing on the minutiae of planning and ask the question, “What is the value of this level of planning?” How much risk does it actually eliminate? Bear in mind that the time factor is a risk too. The longer the project timeline, the more the volatile, uncertain environment changes, and the risk of your project becoming irrelevant increases with time. One way a project becomes irrelevant is when a competitor takes over market share, dominates the industry, and your company goes out of business.

I recently heard of a major project, already delayed and over budget, where the timeline was doubled and budget further increased. Maybe there is no way around it, but I seriously doubt so, especially since the project duration was initially several years. An agilist would be able to chunk out the deliverables so that the project starts delivering value sooner rather than later. Perhaps it’s an aversion to risk that prevents accelerated delivery. That would be a symptom of a culture that eats agile projects for lunch.

Integrated complexity is often the root of the problem. That and a sponsor who says, “When it goes into production, it needs to perform at 100%.” That expectation has been levelled to me before too. If I had taken that approach, my projects would have taken years. But by chunking out the delivery so that the initial go live meets 80% of user needs and creating a process (not an automated solution) to handle the remaining 20% of user requirements, benefits were realized in half the time.

Was it the perfect plan? No. But did it deliver the goal earlier, yes? And with cost savings realized earlier, there was more budget available to solve the remaining 20% of the problems.

As a soccer fan, I like to watch a beautiful game played and beautiful goals scored. There is a certain expectation of how the play should go (according to plan, or playbook in this case). But a goal is a goal, however it is scored. To see some of the ugliest goals scored, see: