Who likes Surprises In Their Business Projects?
A few years ago my kids threw a surprise party for my wife and me to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. They arranged family, friends, and long-time neighbors to be there and we were truly caught unaware of the plans. We had a great time telling stories and recounting how blessed we are.
Shift to the business world and generally nobody likes surprises. Sure, a new client that you thought had fallen off the face of the earth or an end of year bonus is nice when unexpected. And no one can anticipate every eventuality relative to vendors, customers, clients and staff, particularly during a pandemic and new paradigms that will result. But generally, “No surprises thank you very much”.
One area we do have some level of control in managing surprises is in projects and project management.
“Experienced project managers and clients, expect that major potential thunderbolts will be fleshed out well beforehand and contingency plans are made.”
Experienced project managers and clients, expect (or at least hope for) that major potential thunderbolts will be fleshed out well beforehand and contingency plans are made. Given fair warning, most of us can develop options and associated impacts without too much problem. Frankly, that is pretty much table stakes in significant transformational projects or programs. The client and the consulting partner know unanticipated events will occur, just not details about the when and the how.
Especially in today’s virtual environment, a seemingly innocent or off-the-cuff remark could be a “What did she just say? We never talked about that!” moment. Dig in further and you might find something that has the potential to knock your project off the rails in short order.
But how do we avoid the out-of-the blue, bombshell potential show-stoppers? A few thoughts that may seem like “Duh, everyone knows that”, but too many times get overlooked. We all know of large technology projects with well-known companies and consultants that went sideways in unbelievable ways:
- Make sure all stakeholders are engaged and understand the scope and scale of your project. Even someone that may have only a small role in the project could have a landmine out there;
- As a consulting partner or internal lead, ask the questions and probe for detail.
- “Is there an internal Program Management Office, what is their role, and how should we interface with them?”;
- Particularly in Life Sciences and Food, “Are there unique requirements relative to compliance that have to be baked into the solution?”;
- Have specific people been identified to escalate and resolve issues (think Project Sponsors, Steering Committees, etc.)?
- Has the project been effectively socialized across the functional areas of the business so it can be prioritized appropriately. This is critical for the I.T. group in a growing environment. If they have 100 projects in the queue, where does yours stand?;
- Have core team members been identified and their roles effectively communicated? We don’t want anyone thinking they are only committed 10% for a couple weeks and in actuality we need them 75% for the duration;
- If there looks to be an unexploded bomb lying in wait, identify the risks and impacts, develop options, communicate to your sponsor or client, and have a plan to mitigate blowing up your schedule and budget;
- Incorporate “Lessons Learned” from other projects and experiences. It is the assumptions or what we perceive to be benign things that come back to haunt us.
“ It is the assumptions or what we perceive to be benign things that come back to haunt us.”
Leave the surprises to your kid’s birthdays or celebrating a big personal event. Be on the lookout like a hawk for potential stumbling blocks on your projects. Ask the questions; be diligent in capturing detail; assume nothing.
Unless, of course you think your boss or client likes surprises, then test that theory and see if you get a big one in return.
Dennis Heppner is a Principal at JBF Consulting. Dennis’ expertise in transportation, logistics and supply chain operations, and third-party providers spans 25+ years. His experience is broad-based, spanning entire supply chains, including business process redesign, sourcing, distribution network design, transportation management, distribution operations, outsourcing selection, and business strategy for major manufacturers, distributors, retailers including eCommerce, and service organizations.
About JBF Consulting
Since 2003, we’ve been helping shippers of all sizes and across many industries select, implement and squeeze as much value as possible out of their logistics systems. We speak your language — not consultant-speak – and we get to know you. Our leadership team has over 70 years of logistics and TMS implementation experience. Because we operate in a niche — we’re not all things to all people — our team members have a very specialized skill set: logistics operations experience + transportation technology + communication and problem-solving skills + a bunch of other cool stuff.