Performance improvements – project recovery

Performance improvements – project recovery

I was asked to step into a project when the Project Manager moved on. Sorry to say, I couldn’t make sense of the plan. Furthermore, each team member confided concerns about the timing and when they would be getting the data they needed from each other. The project outcome was a multi-million-pound bid to a customer. Project recovery was the order of the day.

I took three actions to recover the project.

  1. Making sure that each team member knew what they had to deliver and what it would take to win the business.
  2. Working with each team member to understand what they needed from each other and at what stage in their process.
  3. Understanding how the company would evaluate and approve the bid.

With an understanding of our deliverables, I built a network diagram. This showed when each team member needed an input from another. I added in estimates of duration to build a schedule.

Cartoon schedule

At this point, I have to confess a little pragmatism. Each team member represented a different business function, e.g., Purchasing, and were senior staff or managers. They followed functional processes and I didn’t need to plan how they got their data together. For example, the manufacturing team planned their own data collection and assessment.

So, I opted out of Microsoft Project*. One of the PM specialists later mocked me (gently) for making a ‘cartoon’ schedule. But I stand by my decision. Not only could everyone understand it, but we could easily share it. No company I know buys Project licences for everyone. And I don’t expect SMEs to learn how to read a complex schedule, any more than they expect me to be able to do their jobs.

cartoon schedule
A cartoon schedule lets the team and stakeholder know what is going on at a glance

Back on track

Within a week, I presented a new schedule to the leadership team and booked gate and governance reviews. We had a clear schedule and the team needed little ‘monitor and control’. So, I was able to switch my focus to the internal supply chain and the data crunching.

Working with the supply chain

We improved our communications to simplify the internal supply chain activities. I built a clear brief and worked with nominated staff to agree a timetable. Our senior managers set up stakeholder briefings and we held regular reviews – encouraging our six supply chain teams to learn lessons from each other.

Crunching the data

Most of my team focused on specific aspects of the product and associated services. But we also had to contribute to the engineering resource process and demonstrate the financial business case.

I helped the engineering business manager by changing our data requirements and worked with the Finance Manager to develop more robust instructions for estimating costs.

All-in-all the project was a success – until the customer changed their minds and postponed the bid, but that is a different story.

*MS Project is an amazing scheduling tool. In complex projects, I use the network diagram and Gantt chart. The former helps build the logic of the project and the Gantt chart is invaluable in building a resource profile and schedule.

Key skills

Focus on business outcomes – my contribution to winning the business was ensuring a timely submission. To achieve that I had to understand and manage all the dependencies.

Cross-functional/ matrix management – understanding the needs and constraints of subject matter experts. Negotiating and influencing to reduce process times.

Scheduling – managing dependencies. Developing timescales and communications.

Team leadership – supporting colleagues. Setting standards and expectations.

Governance – stakeholder engagement, presentation, organisation.

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