In the past, people used to work a long time in the same environment, keeping their jobs and doing the same things until they retired. This is no longer possible in the present world. The nature of the contemporary social and economic environment constrains companies to change at a very rapid pace. This change has many aspects, being usually introduced as project-based activities. Below are some project management questions that companies must tackle before committing themselves to large-scale transformations.
New products are created and produced that have a market for a much shorter period of time than goods used to have in the past. Think about a new iPhone: today everyone wants to acquire a certain brand because it has the latest utilities. However, even the producers of this iPhone know that already they must be preparing the next generation of iPhone to be launched in the near future because otherwise they will lose their place in the market.
Projects and Flexibility
On the other hand, employers expect that their workers not only fulfill their jobs but also be creative and come up with solutions to the possible business issues that could arise. These companies may even have departments whose job it is to anticipate and offer solutions to such issues.
Or, it might be that a company builds a team to solve a concrete problem, to find opportunities or solutions with respect to a limited challenge, which once settled makes the team unnecessary so that the members of the team can go back to their initial positions in the company.
Therefore, these members must be very flexible and have additional skills to those required by their usual work. It is not by accident that the concept of continuing education has gained such importance nowadays: due to the dynamics of the present market people must be prepared to do things that they haven’t done before.
In order for a project to develop well, several practical principles must be met both by the project managers and their teams:
– Every project needs monitoring and this involves management activity. Although it might seem that increasing the numbers of people involved would help the project, if these people are not coordinated well enough they could harm the project more than benefiting it. Without well-organized management, the project could evolve chaotically and fail to meet its objectives within the deadline assumed initially.
– A project is not something mechanical, which once started will function by itself like a machine. Projects involve people working together. Therefore, the project manager, especially, must be able to deal with the personal problems that could arise during the unfolding of the project.
– The activities done within a project must add real value and not squander the efforts of the team by tackling adjacent tasks that could waste important resources.
– When communicating with your team, you must do it by using instruments that can be accessed easily by them. For example, when sharing the project plan or other information with others, you should use software like Excel or PowerPoint rather than other more sophisticated software, because the staff may not be able to use the latter due to the fact that it is too complicated.
– Communication should be based not only on means that are accessible to the team but also on ones that are regularly used by them. It is of no avail to send your instructions to the team members by email if they usually don’t use emails or rarely read them, or to send some urgent requirements to your client by email if he checks his email only once a week. In this case, you could face a delay that could critically affect the unfolding of the project.
It is obvious that in order to start a project you must already have the idea of the project. However, a company is not always aware of the need for a new project. Identifying the opportunity for a new project is the first step in the unfolding of any project. And, as in life, opportunities are related either to someone’s creativity or to potential crises (creativity is, sometimes, the capacity to anticipate a crisis, long before that that crisis has appeared).
It could be that only when there are some frictions in the current functioning of the activity, the need for a new project can arise. Therefore, one of the main steps that a company can take in order to prevent dysfunctions is to organize brainstorming with teams of different departments. During these meetings, the so-called stop, start and continue approach could be pursued.
In the first step, the team members will be asked to identify those parts of their activity that are likely to create troubles and which they would tend to avoid if they were not remedied early enough. The second step is to ask them what activities are progressing well and are worthy of being continued in the present form. Finally, the members would be asked to imagine what activities could be initiated to ease or improve the whole economic process significantly.
A good example today of the need to identify a reliable project is the process of developing electric cars. Researching the future possibilities to produce cars that consume less petrol-based fuel is somehow a risky option for a producer at a time when the market trend seems to indicate that electric vehicles will soon replace the existing type of cars. In this case, innovation should correlate with elements that can be efficiently retained. This is why many car producers create vehicles that are based both on petrol and electricity, in an attempt both to keep up with the general trend and to use the traditional locomotion principles efficiently.
However, this example shows that sometimes innovation is not only an improvement of the existing process but a radical change of the principles on which the whole process is based.
Good Opportunities vs. Bad Opportunities
Once the need for change is recognized, the company must look for opportunities through which this change can be realized. In general, these opportunities are related to one or more of the following items:
– the need to increase the profit that can be done through increasing the number of sales, by entering new markets or by developing new services;
– decreasing costs through enhanced productivity;
– reducing risks.
From the pool of opportunities, selecting the best option is possible by comparing them. However, when you compare several opportunities you need to have a benchmark. This can be a better work environment for your employees, a reduced risk during the production activity or an increase in income.
For example, imagine you have identified the opportunity of entering a new market. In order to ascertain if it is a better choice than to remain in the existing market and improve productivity, you must compare the two cases from the point of view of the costs and future income. It is possible that approaching a new market would be associated with very high costs that would drastically reduce your profits in the near future.
However, you could also estimate that in the same future the existing market will diminish, and therefore, despite the risks associated with the decrease of income you still see that entering the new market is better than just improving productivity.
Or, on the other hand, the costs of approaching that market could be so high that they menace your whole business. In this case, confining sales to the existing market is safe enough to make you at least postpone the approach to the new market.
From the previous example, you can see that opportunities are not always what they appear. Only a reliable benchmark can distinguish between them. In each case, you must at least make a short outline of the project to see the real benefits and losses.
Other criteria for choosing good opportunities are that they are important for the future, that you have enough resources to pursue them and that they are supported by all those responsible and by the stakeholders. Identifying bad opportunities involves the opposite: excessive costs, relying too much on the present and ignoring the future, lack of resources, and finally lack of support from the persons involved in the achieving the project.
Another issue that must be taken into account in the discovery phase of a project is whether a project is really needed at all or the changes are only a matter of continuous improvement. In the second case, these improvements will not affect the general process: they are meant to secure the best unfolding of an existing kind of activity. For example, if an employee is required to devote two weeks to a special activity, the latter could be called a project, whereas if this activity requires only two days it would mean only an adjustment of the existing work.
Mini-projects lasting only 1-2 days are considered to be routine activities that do not involve new skills or knowledge.
The importance of the discovery phase consists in the identification of those projects that are both useful and doable.