What’s the hardest part of your project or change?

Seth Godin recently wrote a short post asking “Sure, but what’s the hard part?” It reminded me of one of my most frequent pieces of advice to project managers and leaders of change: “find the one thing you need to focus on.”

It’s all important

Before I get a firestorm of people telling me it’s all important: communication, stakeholders, resources, funding, benefits, deliverables, schedule, quality, change control, …

… let me say this in my defence: “I know it’s all important.”

It’s all important, but
some things are more important than others

When you manage anything, your first job is to find the levers that make the biggest difference.  If you are clear on your goal, and you fully understand the environment, you should be able to diagnose what aspects of your endeavour you need to focus on to give you the best chance of spotting problems early and correcting them before they get your project or initiative out of control.

There may be other things equally or more critical to the success of your project, but these are the aspects that are most likely to fail – and bring with them a heap of hassle.

Examples

On one project I led, I had a great team of highly skilled and motivated people, who had developed a great plan, with a tight, but plausible schedule.  The one thing that would scupper us was an impact from the numerous risks on our risk register.  That became my principal management tool.

On another project, the challenge seemed to be number of resources and the tightness for time.  This meant I chose to focus on scheduling each persons activities on a day by day basis, and mange from that one chart.

On another project, the sheer number of deliverables and the criticality of each one matching its quality specification was my cue to set each deliverable on a tight schedule and focus my attention on setting up systems to get each one allocated, done and signed off rigorously.

Once again let me reiterate – deliverables mattered in each case, quality too, and schedule, and use of resources and there were risks to manage on each.  But by choosing which dimension gave me the most leverage, I could track and control the project with ease.

The “so what?”

Figure out what really matters most on your project and follow the Pareto Principle: give a disproportionate amount of your attention to those one or two factors.

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