How do you know if everybody is ‘on the same page’ regarding your initiative? How do you know if they are all pulling together and working towards the same end goal? Well, there is a simple, yet powerful, way to find out. It is called the one page ‘project chassis’.
The one-page tool enables you to see if your people are all ‘on the same page’ regarding the fundamentals of your initiative. It identifies where there is clarity and alignment and where there is not. Moreover, the process enables people to re-energize and re-engage.
One-page cheat sheets are very popular – take the business canvass or the beermat business case as examples. With space so limited, they require the creator to be very clear and concise on what they want to communicate to the reader. For busy executives whose attention is limited, they have a real appeal.
The question is: Should there be a one-page cheat sheet for critical projects or initiatives? If yes, what should such a project one-page include? For example, is it a summary of the project plan, or a synopsis of the latest project review? Well, before deciding what should be on the project one pager, it makes sense to clarify what it aims to achieve. Those objectives will then guide us as to what should be included.
A key objective of any project one-pager is to enable not just a ‘typical’ project conversation, but rather a ‘strategic conversation’ regarding the project or initiative. That is the type of important conversation that:
To sum up the one-page project view enables a strategic conversation that speaks the language of the C-suite and clarifies business needs, business impact and so on, ensuring that people are aligned, on message and focused on what matters most.
With the above objectives in mind, there are 9 pieces of information that the project one page should include:
Having a project one pager does not take from the need for the project plan or the business case. However, even if there is a detailed project plan, there are likely to be several of these 9 factors that are either missing or require further clarity.
Many project leaders tell us it is easier to write 5 or 10 pages on a project than it is to complete the one-pager. Therein lies its power, however. Being able to communicate the business need or business impact behind a project in 3-4 sentences is the supreme art of communicating with clarity and impact.
The ‘project one pager’ is a multi-purpose tool – akin to a Swiss Army Knife. Here are some of the many ways it can be useful for project leaders:
Getting back to the basics
In the busyness of a project, it is an opportunity to get ‘back to the basics’ of a project – to focus / re-focus on what matters most. Creating or updating a project one-page can clarify the ‘essentials’ of a project or initiative, helping it to stay on course to deliver against business and stakeholder needs as they evolve.
Ensuring Clarity / Clarifying Assumptions
It means filling any gaps that exist and getting explicit about assumptions or scenarios regarding business impact, business urgency, project complexity (business as usual versus business usual), business / stakeholder needs, or what is happening in the market.
A project one-pager is also a great way of checking alignment with respect to the project team, the organization and its stakeholders. It has the power to quickly reveal if people are ‘on the same page regarding the project / initiative’.
Some divergence of perspectives can create a useful dynamic within the project. However, when it comes to business impact or the business case a lack of clarity or agreement could represent a performance loss. After all, it may suggest that people are not clear on what the project aims to achieve. That in turn could call the very success of the project, or at least how it will be measured, into question. It may even hint that people may be at cross-purposes or perhaps even pulling in different directions.
Should everybody be of ‘one mind’ with respect to a project, or is some divergence useful? Well, it appears to be a balancing act between agreeing on the fundamentals and valuing the power of divergent thinking elsewhere. While people want to ensure alignment, they don’t want a false consensus or unthinking conformity regarding a project.
A key element of what we call ‘project safety’ is the ability of team members to say what they are thinking and to respectfully challenge the thinking of others. If people cannot say what they are really thinking then some risks are likely to remain hidden, some ideas too.
Pitching the Project
In the competition for resources, projects and their sponsors must vie for organizational backing, making their pitch as to why their Initiative should get the green light. The 9 factors on the Project Chassis are the building blocks of a compelling business argument for the allocation of resources. It reduces the element of politics involved in resource allocation decisions, ensuring that those most deserving projects get funded.
Being able to communicate the essentials of the project or initiative on one page can also help in the process of engaging stakeholders. It is unrealistic to expect stakeholders to read the project plan. Instead, we must be able to deliver the business needs, business impact and business urgency in a sound bite. In an age of information overload this is essential.
Chassis conversations are strategic conversations they engage the C-suite and connect project success to business success, the project plan to the business strategy and the project team to the executive suite.
Ideally, the project one-page would be co-created with stakeholders to ensure that it captures their needs clearly. A project one pager helps to keep those people working on the project ‘on message‘ delivering a consistent project message to stakeholders.
The list of uses for the ‘project on a page’ tool could go on and on. However, there is one more use that is worth highlighting. Indeed, some might argue that it should top the list because it means addressing the number one reason for project failure – that is changing business needs.
‘Mr One Page’ – that is what one witty executive had nick-named the newly appointed CEO. In the 6 weeks since being appointed the CEO had asked for ‘one page’ from almost every manager heading up a department, business unit, project or initiative. The one-page summaries were the CEOs preferred way of getting up to speed, while at the same time avoiding getting lost in the detail.
Each page was printed ahead of sitting down with the relevant manager and became a support to the conversation. With passages underlined and notes in the margin, each one page was a handy quick reference guide or cheat sheet on the relevant business unit, department or project. The growing collection of pages soon filled a folder that the CEO kept near at all times.
Some executives spent days preparing their one-pager, asking their teams to create alternative versions or re-write particular paragraphs. The details on what was required were limited – ‘a one-page executive summary of what you feel the CEO needs to know about your unit, department, project or team. For example, your strategic agenda, the key opportunities or challenges, etc.’ Most interpreted the ‘one page’ to mean a double-sided page, few dared to go beyond that number. Some tried to condense 4 pages into two, with densely packed text, others used stylish graphs to communicate the detail.