Projects are facing cuts across the board. But some projects face deeper cuts than others. Here is how you can ensure that the knife does not cut too deep or that the axe does not fall on your project.
Here is a summary of the ways you can protect your project or initiative:
How will you ensure that your project is safe? Use the menu above, or scroll down, to explore the detail.
Engage actively with any strategic questions regarding your project & how it is resourced. Welcome the attention (or scrutiny).
Engage openly with those who raise questions about the viability of the project. Don’t get defensive!
Don’t put your head in the sand. The worst nightmare for any project team is that important decisions regarding their projects would be made while they were ‘not in the room’.
Imagine you met the CEO in the corridor on their way to a budget cutting meeting, what would you say about your project?
Lean into the drive for productivity and efficiency. Find new efficiencies and savings – don’t wait for others to force them on you.
Remove any fat from your project. The savings or efficiencies you find may be practical, as well a symbolic (demonstrating a commitment to a more lean/efficient approach). Enlist those who are closest to the action in identifying efficiencies.
Prepare a number of budget scenarios and options. If you face budget cuts address them in the context of the project triangle (or the traffic cone). A project cannot be expected to deliver the same results or timeline if the budget is cut by 10%, 15% or 20%.
This may be the time to tighten project scope and guard against costly scope creep.
Times have changed. Demonstrate how your project addresses today’s business needs & priorities.
How is your project adapting to changing business needs and priorities at this time of slow down and uncertainty?
Can you list 3-5 ways in which your project is adapting to reflect changing business needs and priorities at this time of greater uncertainty and slower growth?
Ensure your project is (seen to be) on track re. budgets, timelines & deliverables. If it is not, then make getting it back on track a priority.
Communicate the value, as well as progress and momentum. Don’t assume people know what is being achieved and why it matters.
If your project is at risk or on ‘shaky ground’ then ‘own it’. Before finance comes telling you to cut your budget by 10%, have your plans and revised budget estimates in place. You are in the best position to find the savings and efficiencies and understand, better than anyone else, the implications of any cuts made.
Avoid a knee-jerk reaction – this is a time for clear-headed thinking. You cannot cut your way to greatness or success. So, focus on how you can accelerate and ensure tangible promised results for your project. Ultimately this matters much more than short-term financial expediency.
Savings represent false economies if they jeopardize or slow progress towards the realization of the bigger prize – that is the success of the project.
You cannot cut your way to greatness. If you must cut, do so in a way that allows you to focus with a new intensity on those areas that matter most – see next.
Look for ways to intensify your project and to become more hardcore in terms of key priorities / benefits / sources of value.
This is an ideal time to re-focus and re-calibrate – to prioritize and sequence workstreams, task bundles and deliverables to reflect changing business needs and priorities. Such disciplined prioritization will enable your team to focus with a new intensity on the areas that matter most.
How can you accelerate the process of delivering results / value? This is no time for waterfall methods where the results appear only at the end. An agile / iterative approach will enable you to deliver results / value more often. This may mean letting go of perfection, engaging with concepts such as the ‘minimum viable release’.
Switch from talking about project outputs to communicating business impact.
When the going gets tough, there is a tendency to tighten control. So, at a time when the organization needs to be nimbler in adapting and responding to change, it becomes the opposite – more bureaucratic, rigid and slow. This result is a rise in bureaucracy, with more paperwork, reporting, approvals and so on.
The rise of bureaucracy strips those closest to the work of autonomy. They must go before a committee before they can act. Meanwhile, more nimble competitors steal the day, capitalizing with speed on the opportunities as well as the threats.
Re-address the business fundamentals of your project through today’s lens. Check to ensure clarity and alignment (between the project team and the C-suite) in respect of the following:
These business fundamentals are the justification for your project and its command on resources.
What are the top 3 to 5 reasons why cutting your project budget would be detrimental to the organization’s success? Use the 6 business fundamentals to answer this question.
Engage key stakeholders on your project’s business fundamentals.
Engage your team in finding the efficiencies and savings—those closest to the action are best positioned to know. Too often resourcing decisions are made based on a spreadsheet by some faceless bureaucrat who knows little about the project and why it matters.
Empower your team – give them the autonomy to optimize the way they work together – to shape priorities, to tackle obstacles that are in their way.
Ask your project team how efficient they are today. Expect to hear, 70%, 80% or 90% as the answer. Then listen to the reasons why, these will likely include too much low value work, lack of clarity regarding priorities, too many meetings, too much bureaucracy, and so on. Creatively tackling these factors is the source of significant efficiencies savings – probably all the savings that you are likely to need.
Find ways to reduce the amount of time people spend talking about as opposed to doing the work. Don’t be surprised if your team are spending up to 70% of their time on internal collaboration and if much of it (perhaps up to 50%) adds little value. Empower them to say no to meetings that are not important. Enable them to find more ‘focus time’ – uninterrupted periods of time when they can do their most important work.
Projects can be left in ‘limbo’ for long periods of time, with people left worrying about the likelihood of cuts and the risks to their jobs. Understandably, rising uncertainty and anxiety can dampen motivation and hamper efficiency. It is at times like this that leaders have an opportunity to shine – to quell anxiety and to keep people focused and on purpose.
Engage your team. Be open and honest in communication with them. Adopting a Pollyanna ‘everything will be ok’ message is unlikely to be convincing.
Stakeholders can be the most powerful advocates for your project or initiative.
Engage the key stakeholders on your project’s business fundamentals, including business needs, business impact, business urgency, etc.
Changing business needs and resource decisions are an opportunity to engage with stakeholders and sponsors in a new way. This is important because, when a project is under scrutiny this can accentuate cracks that exist within a project team and it’s stakeholder community.
This is a time to surprise and excite stakeholders, not just to meet expectations. Get even closer to your sponsors and stakeholders. Understand how their needs and expectations are changing.
How can you communicate to key stakeholders just how lean and efficient your project is? For example, reminding stakeholders that this is the first project to get from testing to approval within 6 months. Don’t assume that they know.
If the last mile for your project – how it will end – is not clear or has changed then focus there with sponsors and stakeholders. Find out: What is success now and how will it be measured?
Focus on benefits realization – ensuring that the value is realized. When your project delivers key outputs how effectively are they adopted / implemented to deliver the expected business results? Is there any additional benefits / value that needs to be captured?
Adopt a business first perspective – whether your project is an IT, HR or any other type of project, it must be first and foremost a business project.
Show that you are putting the business first – ahead of any narrow functional, departmental or project goals. Adopt a business First perspective.
This is key to connecting your project plan to the business strategy, your project team to the c-suite and most important of all your project’s success to the success of the business.
Recognize the inherent challenges faced when it comes to allocating resources – these are often difficult choices for an organization to make. Inevitably there will be winners and losers, but this should be a business, rather a personal or political decision.
A decision by the organization to curtail project spending is not necessary a reflection on the project, it’s leader or team. Rather it is a reflection of the reality of changing business needs and priorities within a dynamic and uncertain business environment.
The long hours invested by you and your team in the project make it seem personal. But it’s not your fault that the business environment has changed or that business priorities have changed either. It’s nobody’s fault!