I was supporting a group of senior leaders in a global technology company to create breakthrough projects in a few key areas of their business in which they wanted to elevated performance. As a kickoff, I asked each of the project teams to present their ‘Starting Point Status’.
Different projects were at different stages of maturity. However, they all shared a few common mistakes.
One team outlined several initiatives, but it wasn’t clear what was the overarching outcome of their project. So beyond the individual outcome of each initiative, I couldn’t tell if the initiatives they’d taken on were the right ones for this breakthrough project.
Another team outlined the outcome of their project, but when I asked who was accountable for that overall outcome they stuttered and started to tell me what each project will do and what each function in the company will do to support it. Not what I was asking…
The third project team had a clear outcome and they had outlined the owners of the overall project as well as the different initiatives that supported it. However, when I asked if all the leaders who were listed owned their role and felt passionate about it, they acknowledged that in some cases not and in other cases, they picked leaders by assumption based on their functional role, without talking directly to these people.
All the projects were very strategic to the company as they spanned across multiple functions. In one case, I asked the entire group of senior leaders to share and acknowledge the level of belief, ownership and passionate within the senior team about the project. It became clear quickly that the level was not strong.
The fourth project leader stood up and acknowledged in a heartfelt way that the area they were trying to turn around was an area the company has repeatedly said they wanted to fix but had failed to do so. It wasn’t hard to detect that the same powerful project elements were missing here too.
Generating breakthroughs is both an art and a science.
The art part is people’s personality and style, and their ability to inspire motivation and confidence in others to believe in a bigger cause and follow them to achieve it.
The science part is a few elements that make or break any breakthrough effort.
If you want to structure your projects to achieve breakthrough-results make sure you have the following elements:
- An overarching measurable outcome for the project.
- A clear and genuine owner for that overarching outcome. You cannot assume this. Someone has to stand up and declare: “You can count on me to ensure this outcome will be achieved!” This doesn’t mean that the project is their problem, or that they have to do everything. In big complex projects, there are multiple people and functions who are involved. But, one leader has to be the driving force.
- A passionate belief by all team members in the purpose and importance of the project and in the fact that it can be and will be achieved.
You can view this as the classic “What?” – “Who?” – “Why?”.
People jump to activities and plans too quickly. Why?
Because it is easier to identify activities and plans than it is to confront ownership and commitment.
I have seen elaborate plans be presented so many times. These are often misleading because it appears the team is on top of the project, whilst in reality, they are generating a lot of activities that won’t necessarily hit the mark.
If people don’t wholeheartedly believe in the project, in its purpose and reason for being, as well as in the fact that it can be and will be achieved, you don’t have a strong enough foundation to drive a breakthrough.
And if you don’t have a clear outcome and someone who owns it you have nothing!