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Is your Project ‘Business As Usual’?

To what extent is your project ‘business as usual’ or ‘business unusual’? The answer to this question is more important than you might think. It has profound implications for success. That includes how you plan, manage, review and report on your project or initiative. It even has implications for how you organize those who will work on it.

A Tale of Two Projects/Initiatives

There is a fundamental duality at the core of successful projects and initiatives. It is that of ‘business as usual’ and ‘business unusual’.

The first is ‘Business As Usual’ Performance. That is the smooth and efficient operation of the business on a daily basis. The objective is to ‘run a tight ship’, leveraging existing processes, systems/technologies in support of existing customers, products and channels. It is quite literally business as usual, with performance being measured in terms of predictability, visibility and control.

Business as usual is the usual products and services delivered to the usual customers and markets, by means the usual processes and systems and through the usual channels and business models. 

With business as usual the objective is to protect and leverage core products, capabilities and processes for maximum revenue and profitability for as long as possible – with the focus on meeting targets, especially in the short to term. There may be some optimization along the way, but efficiency and control are the order of the day.

Is your Project ‘Business Unusual’?

The second type of performance is ‘Business Unusual’. This is the type of innovative and entrepreneurial performance, that takes the business is a new direction – new customers, markets, technologies and business models.

Business Unusual creates new processes, technologies and channels. In terms of performance, it requires creativity, experimentation and innovation. So the type of behaviors required can be unusual too – creativity, risk-taking, flexibility and fast learning.

When the Traditional Approach Won’t Work

When it comes to Business as Usual, then traditional project or performance management may well meet your needs (see the left column below). In particular, your need for predictability and control. But if your aim is to foster speed, agility and innovation – to ‘stir things up’ – then traditional project or performance management will likely stop you in your tracks.

Business As UsualBusiness Unusual
Steady as she goesLet’s stir things up
Stability & predictabilityUncertainty & disruption 
Management & controlSpeed & agility
Marginal gains in efficiencyBig-leaps of innovation
ST, MT – ‘meet the number’Long Term – ‘next bounce of the ball’ 
Minimize risk – Follow the rules – repeat what worked in the past – apply the ‘proven formula’ Re-write the rules – Experiment, learn & adapt – The risk is to not change
Protect existing product & channel revenueDevelop new products, channels & markets
Run the business – work in the businessChange the business – work on the business

Most important projects are Business Unusual and that is what makes them strategic. But if you manage your strategic project as if it were ‘business as usual‘ (BAU) problems are likely. It will likely stifle speed and agility, as well as collaboration and innovation.

This BAU approach is often reflected in a traditional linear approach to project management where waterfall methods.or at least Gannt Charts put the focus on control rather than agility or innovation. In many cases the problem is that those responsible for critical projects are expecting their projects to run smoothly, when at least a certain amount of turbulence is required for innovation.

…if your aim is to foster speed, agility and innovation – traditional project management will likely stop you in your tracks.

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