After what always feels like a longer-than-we-hoped-for selection process, new project teams are anxious to get started ASAP and often want the implementation project to kick-off immediately after the contract is signed. High impact technology projects take time, before the project starts, to establish strong, strategic and measurable business objectives to ensure that the project mobilizes in the right direction with full acceleration.
The concept of setting “SMART” goals has been around for decades now. I’m guessing we have all been trained and coached for how to generate SMART (or SMARTER) goals for our professional and personal aspirations.
While we do a good job of coming up with SMART project goals, there are opportunities to improve how and when we establish, define and communicate our desired project outcomes.
Don’t delay the difficult. Let’s face it, articulating strong and strategic goals can be difficult and scary. Once the goals are established with stakeholders, we all feel (and are) publically accountable to achieve them. This can be both nerve-wracking and exhilarating. We must remind ourselves that putting off what is difficult, does not make the to-do go away.
Establish goals before mobilization. We may convince ourselves that establishing goals is part of the project, so it should be part of the project mobilization. On most projects, mobilization is an exciting time and new project team members and stakeholders may have more energy and optimism than at any other time in the project. If you set goals during mobilization, you will have to reorient project team members – a wasted effort. To get the greatest advantage from that early momentum, set off on day one of the project with everyone being focused on the precise outcomes and expectations for the project.
Stick with business oriented, heavyweight goals. No one wants their project goals to sound like “blah, blah, blah” to their stakeholders. Goals that are not really high-impact and business-driven are lightweight. The classic example of such a goal is “this project will deliver on time and on budget”. Yes, of course this is a goal, but because it does not improve business performance it just doesn’t pack enough punch. It’s possible that just implementing a new technology and turning it on makes your business case. But even if it does, shouldn’t we go for more? At least eliminate specific pain points or speed up some aspect of the business process? Cut the fluff, because fluffy goals don’t count.
Reframe goals, if needed, but don’t keep them top secret. We think the goals are too sensitive to be shared with the actual project team. It’s not uncommon for technology projects to have the goal of eliminating headcount. There is no doubt that this is a highly sensitive subject. I assure you, however, that when you’re a part of these projects, everyone is fully aware of this fact, no matter how in the dark you hope folks are. In these cases, it’s still important to have stated and communicated goals. Reframe your goal to focus on the business process changes that drive the headcount impacts (e.g. eliminate manual invoicing steps for standard billing formats, 100% paperless onboarding). Whatever your rationale for keeping goals known to a select few, know that you are reducing your chances of achieving them. For the best chance of achieving your goals, everyone needs to be aware of them.
Communicate goals, even if they seem obvious. We may think the goals were established already, perhaps before the software selection even started, so everyone already knows what they are. It’s definitely in your best interest to assume that they don’t know, and even if they do know they will forget and need to be reminded. Projects go through many phases and often have multiple stakeholders, which can lead to priorities and expectations getting confused. Perhaps you have established SMARTER goals, but need to spend the effort to ensure that they are top-of-mind for project participants through all phases of the project. Communicating goals clearly and throughout the project will help keep the implementation team focused on the desired outcomes, especially when competing messages come into play.
With a more concerted effort to identify and communicate impactful business goals, starting on day one and throughout the entire project, project team members and end users have the best chance of delivering the desired results back to the organization.