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Project Velocity: 8 Ways the best teams are accelerating their projects

As the world speeds up the rate at which projects are set-up and delivered needs to change too. Here are some insights to how this is happening.

In a world of fast change, projects that cannot be delivered with speed, risk becoming irrelevant – as they fall behind fast changing business, stakeholder or market needs.

When it comes to strategic projects, stakeholders seem to ‘want it all and they want it fast!’ Moreover, the window of opportunity afforded by any new trend or technology may be short, with the first-mover advantage going to the fast and nimble.

When you have 24 months to take a new product to market or 16 months to implement a new system, then the traditional approaches to either project management or performance management may just get you there in time.  But speed things up and there are going to be problems. 

The Need for Speed

Taking a product or system to market in 4 months, rather than 24 months, requires a level of adaptability and innovation that is typically not rewarded by traditional approaches to project management, typified by the beautiful but rigid Gannt Chart.

But speed of delivery is only part of the challenge, without the ability to maneuver around obstacles speed can be dangerous.  Agility is key to keeping the project on track and it is this combination of speed and agility we call Project Velocity.

Testing Project Velocity

How do you know if your project is moving fast enough. Well, you can find out by asking 2 questions of your project team, sponsor(s) and stakeholders:

  • Is the project moving fast enough?
  • is the project moving in the right direction?

It is the answers to both of these questions that reveals the velocity of a project. They recognize the equal importance of not just speed but agility too (i.e. the ability to dynamically adjust so as to keep the project on track).

Strategies for Project Velocity

Our data highlights 8 ways that teams are accelerating the velocity of their projects and enjoying greater success as a result:

1. Heroic solo-runs and traditional inter-departmental hand-overs are the enemy of speed to market.  Effective cross-functional collaboration in real time is essential.  That is not easy and may even be counter to the culture and structure of many organizations.

2. Projects need to be capable of getting off the ground faster – doing some initial test laps as validation or proof of concept. These then will determine whether a project advances to the next stage.

3. Projects need to be scrapped quicker too – where priorities change or success is in doubt – with resources being immediately diverted to more deserving projects.

4. Projects need to be chunked more cleverly in order to deliver quick wins, or at least fast learning. It is the agile mindset that has been adopted by our colleagues in software and IT.

5. Having the perfectly planned and carefully executed project is no good if it delivers after the window of opportunity has closed. So many project surprises occur because the needs of the business and its customers/stakeholders will likely have changed considerably from the start to the finish of a long project. A mechanism for keeping pace with changing business and market needs is essential.

6. Perhaps the most important element of speed however is the elapsed time between project reviews. Reviews need to be more regular and more effective. Moreover, projects don’t just need to continually reviewed, but re-energized them too. This is where the pitstop is a model for more effective, collaborative and faster approach to ‘mid-race’ adjustment.

7. Project teams need to be set-up to deliver with speed. That means they to have the right people in the right roles, etc. They also need to be energized by a shared and compelling purpose related to project success. Moreover they need to be given the power to ‘make it happen’. If every adjustment that is to be made need to be sent up the line for approval then that will not just slow things down, but diminish ownership and engagement.

8. There is a cultural dimension to project speed too. For example, does the culture tolerate risks and promote experimentation?  This will determine how quick people are to suggest ideas / solutions – something that is inversely correlated to how quick people are to criticize or blame. In the case of your project team:

  • Is there a culture of curiosity that promotes experimentation and fast learning, where there is no blaming and no hiding? 
  • Are all ideas welcome?  Do people feel that it is safe to speak their mind – especially when it comes to challenging the orthodoxy, telling the ‘bad news’ or to suggesting a more innovative/unconventional approach.

Leaders say they want greater innovation, more creative problem solving and increased flexibility in response to accelerating change and VUCA markets.  However, the extent to which they can have it, depends on the ability of their organization to unlock the latent potential of its people –  to tap into the discretionary effort (talent, creativity and innovation) of its people. 

Having the perfectly planned and carefully executed project is no good if it delivers after the window of opportunity has closed.

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