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2015

IveBeenThinkingBlog-1024x459.jpgOn Friday and Saturday, my APICS Chapter hosted the APICS West Coast Student Case Competition. I happened to lead the Student Case Competition committee as well, and so I was immersed. It was a popular event as we had close to 100 students from universities throughout Southern California, AZ, Northern CA, Utah, Oregon, Texas, Mexico, Hong Kong, etc. The students did a supply chain case study through a simulated computer exercise and presented their findings and learnings to the crowd (as if we were the Board of Directors of the company). It certainly pointed out how much talent there is in our future supply chain and operations leaders!

It also begged the question about whether we’ve kept the student passion for learning. Are you continually learning? If not, we are falling behind! It so happens that APICS professionals (who were also in attendance) are typically above the curve when it comes to learning as the APICS certifications are a key part of the supply chain and operations body of knowledge. Do you have something like this that will make learning a part of your everyday life?

One tip to implement this week:

In today’s complex world, what worked yesterday might not work today – certainly not by next year! It is important to keep up with the latest trends, best practices, ideas, new concepts, industry news, etc. The good news is that there are lots of alternatives for achieving this goal. 

Looking for more ideas to keep your supply chain connected? Access more tips and resources on my blog. And keep connected by subscribing to my newsletter and email feed of “I’ve Been Thinking…”

failsuccess-300x200.jpgAre you planning for failure? I imagine no one thinks they plan for failure; however, I see it happen more than you’d think. Instead, plan for success, and success will follow.

Have you ever called an important contact and were surprised when he/she answered the phone – and you didn’t know what to say? Don’t despair…we have all been there. This is an example of planning for failure on a small scale. As easy as it is to do with this, unfortunately, I also see countless examples of this in everyday work situations.

For example, if you are planning an important meeting, do you plan for success or failure? Do you expect your sponsor to show up to support you? Plan as though he or she will! Even if he doesn’t, run the meeting as though he did. You’ll be surprised how this type of simple action will contribute to success.

The same holds true if you are planning an event. Do you expect to “fill the house”? Or are you worried if there will be only a handful of people in attendance? Be willing to plan for success. Guarantee food for a full house. Bring the best speakers. Assume you will find a way to achieve success, and you will. What you think will affect whether you plan for success or failure. At my APICS Inland Empire’s first executive panel and networking symposium, we were not sure if we would find enough panelists, fill the audience, etc.  It was scary as we had to commit funds – and, worse yet, we were concerned as to whether we’d lose face if the event wasn’t successful. Instead, we planned for success, and were thrilled that we had 80 people (four times our previously typical program audience) turn up for an amazing panel discussion.

In another example, if you have a recommendation you feel strongly will help your company, will you plan for success to gain approval? Or, will you not ask to meet with the CEO or Board of Directors because you think he/she is too busy or not interested? Think about your idea. Is it worthwhile? If so, plan for success. Be persistent. Bring your peers and manager in the loop. Present why it is a “win” for them – put it in their best interest. Be willing to push for your recommendation, even if you risk hearing “no”. If you do not ask, you will definitely not succeed.

Lastly, in another example, if you know you have a good chance to “win” new business; however, in order to keep it, you have to maintain service levels over 98% which would require spending money not currently approved in your budget, will you? Or will you hold off to try to make both work (win the business and maintain service without spending money), even though the chances are slim? Plan for success. Go to the appropriate people to gain budget approval. Clearly communicate the potential return on investment. Be willing to go to your Board of Directors if required to gain upfront approval. Assume compelling logic will be sufficient. The worse that could happen is that you hear “no”.

It is easy to unintentionally plan for failure. The main way to ensure you plan for success instead of failure is to maintain focused on the end goal. What do you want to achieve? Why? How can you make sure it’s achieved? Develop plans and stick to them. Be persistent. Be bold. Be willing to invest in success. Be willing to ask for help. Plan for success. Success will follow.

Did you like this article? Continue reading on how to Profit Through People:

Develop a Talent Edge 

Essential Skills of a Supply Chain Superhero

Fotolia_74247116_XS-300x200.jpgWhy is everyone searching for the latest and greatest technology and fad when common sense will drive bottom line business results? It seems that it is an exciting conversation piece to talk about potentially intriguing technology or concepts such as agile, and so we all get caught up in it. However, when I look across the hundreds of projects implemented by my clients, the key to success boils down to uncommon common sense.

For example, one of my large manufacturing clients is running multiple projects simultaneously. They have been using lean techniques and bringing in consultants who are gurus in utilizing the latest technologies and processes. Of course, none of this is “bad” as results will occur; however, it doesn’t have the same impact as utilizing uncommon common sense.

In one area, there is an overload of work on specific machines which they can see by looking at the visual signals on the plant floor. If you go to the production board, you can see immediately which items and machines are overloaded because they are highlighted and obviously overflowing. After sifting through loads of system data to review the problem through the best and brightest analytical formulas, it was determined that a select few products were best to move to a new production area for focus on improving output.

Not surprisingly, output increased for those items! However, the items were moved to machines which were already overloaded and overflowing, and so although output increased, the already overloaded items were deprioritized for the select few products and past due temporarily increased. Uncommon common sense would say to review the production board which clearly showed this problem or ask the planner to avoid this significant roadblock on the path to success. It seems obvious in hindsight yet wasn’t obvious to the team in the situation – a perfect example of why common sense is not common!

If we can leverage uncommon common sense, it is likely we’ll surpass our competition. Thus, what do we need to do in order to utilize uncommon common sense? 1) Go back to basics. 2) Ask your team. 3) Think before leaping.

1. Go back to the basics: A common theme for those clients who consistently perform at a higher level than the rest is a respect for the basics. Do you value the basics? If you don’t show it, your team will never focus on them. You get what you value and measure.

In project management, the basics include understanding the objectives of your project (which can sometimes come in the form of a project charter), developing a project plan with cross-functional teams as appropriate, soliciting feedback and being willing to address potential roadblocks, and managing the critical path. It is far from complex; however, it is rarely executed. Make sure you do not divert from the basics.

2. Ask your team: There is nothing more important than involving your project team in the complete process. Make sure they understand the value. Asking the right questions will lead them to this conclusion. Ask for input. Never ask and then beat a project team member up for alerting you to problems and roadblocks. It is almost as bad to ask and ignore. Make sure you request input, value the input and get back to them with whether it will be incorporated and why or why not. Simple common sense courtesy goes a long way to encouraging million dollar ideas which can be easily lost in the shuffle.

3. Think before leaping: One of the keys to success in leveraging uncommon common sense is to take a step back from the daily grind. Remember what is to be accomplished. Think about the options for getting there. Identify the most direct path to success. As Occam’s razor says, the simplest path is often the best one. The bottom line is to think before leaping.

Certainly uncommon common sense will also tell you to not do this alone. Bring your best and brightest together, provide the vision and involve them in the process. Make each person accountable for holding the other team members accountable for thinking of the simplest path to achievable the result before pursuing any path. It will seem radical at first; however, if you stick to it, results will follow.

In today’s new normal business environment, project results are of paramount importance as growth and profitability is cornerstone to success. Why not try uncommon common sense to not only simplify your project team’s lives but also to guarantee success. It boils down to becoming ultra-clear on the objectives, taking the step back and setting aside the appropriate time to determine how to simplify the project plan and path forward to only what is essential to success. Rapid progress and an acceleration of results will be your reward.

Continue reading on how to become a Systems Pragmatist:

Hidden Opportunities for Process Improvement

Communications Rule!

IveBeenThinkingBlog-1024x459.jpgWhy a $5 Decision Could Cost Your Company Key Customers and Potentially Millions…

I’ve been receiving an increased number of calls lately about impacts from the ports – some referred potential clients trying to figure out how to survive through the port slowdown to client concerns about components and equipment expected to come through the port to impacts on inventory costs and customer service levels. Although there hasn’t been a strike, the port slowdown has impacted countless manufacturers and distributors.

I heard so much about it that I called my colleague who is an expert at international freight to understand the latest thinking on the topic and whether there is anything you can do if you haven’t planned well all-along. For example, I’ve heard of countless stories of folks being concerned about $5 fees by brokers who offer value-added service…..I wonder who is thinking $5 is relevant when it comes to handling this type of crisis?

He sent me this link with pictures of LOTS of freight waiting in limbo at the ports. I also read an article that said that if the ports are down for 10 days, it could cost over $2 billion a day. Not pocket change!

One tip to implement this week:

Whether you have supplies or products waiting at the port, I’d take this as an opportunity to be strategic in thinking about supply chain design. Do you understand your supply chain and the likely risks? Few do. Gather your executive team and key supply chain leaders and discuss your supply chain design. The first step is to understand your current setup, likely risks, challenges and inherent cost structure.

Although this comes to light with the recent events, it is always a good idea to understand your base (whether supply chain or any topic). I’ve seen TOO many clients skip this critical step to waste many thousands if not millions in profit – and, worse yet, these are fundamental to customer service, lead times and growing your business.

Looking for more ideas to keep your supply chain connected? Access more tips and resources on my blog. And keep connected by subscribing to my newsletter and email feed of “I’ve Been Thinking…”

dashboard-300x180.jpgI’ve been working with a rapidly growing, smaller client that sees the power of dashboards. I have to tip my hat to them as most $50 and $100 million dollar companies miss the true value in dashboards. They think ahead and results follow.

In today’s information overloaded society, leveraging dashboards to make sense of data for rapid decision-making can be priceless. What trends are emerging? Are you 75% through the quarter, and a key customer has only placed 30% of his typical orders? You better be on top of this to be proactive! Which items are profitable? I find that many clients have “A” customers with “C” margins; however, without easy-to-access dashboards with this type of information, the vast majority spend 80% of their effort to gain pennies of profit. Imagine what you could do if you leveraged strengths and knew which items were most profitable and which customers were most profitable? How would re-focusing a top performing employee on one of these customers or product lines affect your business performance?

Consider implementing simple dashboards for your business. Start by determining what is important. Identify which data is relevant. Present it in a dashboard. And, dig in. 

Continue reading on how to become a Systems Pragmatist:

Watching Metrics Trends

6 Process & Systems Trends for Success

Fotolia_65781297_XS-300x300.jpgAs businesses look to find ways to grow profitably and build efficiencies into the process upfront, maintaining low operational costs remains paramount.  It also provides pricing flexibility as you are able to reduce your breakeven point for covering costs. A few strategies to consider include:

1. Reduce waste – sounds obvious but often requires significant focus. Focus demands priority. Dictating priority doesn’t last long; instead, it must be a priority backed with support when “the going gets rough”.  Reducing waste reduces raw material cost – if raw materials are a significant portion of your business cost, consider prioritizing. If they aren’t, ignore this item!

2. Improve operational efficiency – find a way to resolve roadblocks, analyze root causes and improve your throughput. Improving operational efficiency frees up capacity for growth. You might be able to free up crews/people that can be re-focused on other, value-added activities that will increase profitability and support business growth.

3. Minimize machine breakdowns – it is obvious that minimizing machine breakdowns will improve operational efficiency. In addition, it typically also reduces waste because lining out the machine when starting back up uses extra materials. A healthy focus on preventative maintenance combined with operator training programs typically does the trick.

4. Reduce inventory levels – although the main benefit of lower inventory levels is increased cash flow, it also can reduce operational cost. For example, if there is less inventory on hand, it is typically quicker and requires less people to cycle count, pull inventory, etc. It also can reduce costs significantly if your company is at the breakeven point in terms of warehouse space.

5. Continuous improvement – don’t forget to ask your employees for ideas! In my experience, employees are able to generate significant ideas to save operational cost when asked. Be genuinely interested and you’ll be amazed with the results.

Continue reading on how to be the Strongest Link in your organization:

Quality Tips for Manufacturers

Inventory Velocity

productionplanning-300x226.jpgProduction planning is often overlooked as to its true value. Perhaps it is because it is often delegated to lower-skilled resources? Or perhaps it is because it is in the center of competing priorities and there are so few expert communicators who can explain its significance? Whatever the reason, consider increasing its priority.

I’ve found that the best production planners can have a HUGE impact on the key results of the business – service levels (and ability to grow the business), inventory levels (and resulting cash flow), and margins. Since I’ve been involved with planning from my first job at Coca-Cola Enterprises to the vast majority of my client projects, I have worked with more planners than most will meet in a lifetime. It always seems to be the best planners who are overlooked. After much observation, I’ve found that if a planner is able to seamlessly manage customer needs, sales expectations and inventory goals while also optimizing manufacturing efficiencies, they are overlooked because they are not solving a crisis. Instead, it looks “easy”. And, they are probably quite focused and busy keeping all these balls in the air, and so they are less likely to be skilled at politics.

Think about an area that seems to run smoothly without a lot of drama of missing materials, upset supervisors, and the like. You might just have one of these gems in your midst. Find out what can contribute to their success and supply it. I am working with one of these folks currently, and her needs are simple – she wants to learn, have her ideas listened to, feedback provided and to be appreciated. Talk about an easy win!

Continue reading on how to be the Strongest Link in your organization:

The $1 Million Dollar Planner

Cycle Counting: The 5 Keys to Inventory Accuracy

IveBeenThinkingBlog-1024x459.jpgI’ve had a few client situations arise this week which brings the critical importance of implementation to the forefront. The best plans are useless if not implemented. Similarly, I’d take a “good” plan with an exceptional implementation team any day over a “great” plan with a “so-so” implementation team.

For example, if you determine that you can improve your customer service and reduce your inventory levels by implementing a specific plan of action, little is achieved if you do not explain the plan, ask for input, incorporate changes that make sense and provide education and training for the roll out. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to end up with worse results by partially implementing the plan and not bringing key people on board with the process upfront.

In another example, we were collaborating about implementation timing. There were true risks on both sides. By talking through the scenarios and intended results and risks, the best path forward emerged. Since implementation is vital to any project’s success, it makes sense to take a step back and think through options.

One tip to implement this week:

Think about a project you are in the midst of implementing or thinking about implementing. What can you do to “stack the deck” in the favor of success? How can you bring the best team members to the party? Can you develop metrics to keep the implementation focused? I have no doubt that, at a minimum, you can ASK the implementation team and related parties for ideas and feedback. Undoubtedly, your chances of greater success will improve.

Looking for more ideas to keep your supply chain connected? Access more tips and resources on my blog. And keep connected by subscribing to my newsletter and email feed of “I’ve Been Thinking…”

lisaanderson

Trends at the Top

Posted by lisaanderson Feb 25, 2015

Fotolia_71882634_XS-300x266.jpgI find that keeping an eye on trends is one of the best ways to ensure long-term success. If you are able to identify a changing trend early on, you have the opportunity to adjust plans or leverage an unexpected opportunity. In an era where volatility is the new normal, we must be vigilant with trends.

In watching trends affecting executives, a few pop to mind:

1. The lack of time – No executives have time. If we can find ways to speed up the process (whether lead times, the time to close the month, or the time to get detailed data for an important decision), success will follow.

2. The need for top talent – As customer requirements expand and complexities increase, the need for top talent surges. Even in a status quo environment, there would be a need for top talent as baby boomers begin to retire and people are more comfortable with the economy and job market and so have started to move again. Those who attract, retain, and train top talent will thrive.

3. Information overload – Prior to getting to work, we receive thousands of messages from email, voicemail, phone calls, billboards, the radio, TV, etc. Who can hear anything with all the noise?  We are in an information overloaded society. Even ERP systems have hundreds if not thousands of reports, yet figuring out which to use to make an effective decision can be a challenging task. Leveraging data is important to success; however, it is no longer enough. Leveraging the “right” data is pivotal.

First, be aware of these trends. Next collaborate on developing strategies to address these opportunities. Success will follow.

Continue reading on how to strengthen your Eagle Eye:

Watching Metrics Trends

Leverage Supply Chain Trends for Success

benchmarking-300x225.jpgHow do you know whether you are reaching your company’s potential?  Is $2 million dollars profit good?  Well, it sounds good…..  However, the key is really in comparison to what should be achievable. One way to understand these objectives is through benchmarking.

Benchmarking helps put your performance in perspective with other companies in your industry – and ones that can provide a reasonable comparison. How well do you perform vs. others? How well do you perform vs. other sites in your company? Internal benchmarking can result in a goldmine. Gather this information and put it to good use.

Find areas of opportunity. What are your strengths?  Can you build upon them? In which areas are you in the “middle of the pack”? How can you find ways to improve? Go to trade organizations. Read industry journals. Ask communities.

If you don’t know where you stand, how do you know where to focus? Benchmarking can be a critical component. I’ve recently incorporated this type of focus into my Profit Chain Accelerator Program as it is a repeatedly proven cornerstone to success.  Email me for more information.

Continue reading on how to strengthen your Eagle Eye:

Want to Improve Your Business But Not Sure Where to Start? 

Are You Working on the Right Priorities?

IveBeenThinkingBlog-1024x459.jpgI always look for trends as I find that the 80/20 of success comes from watching and proactively addressing trends. This week, it has been obvious that if we are NOT willing to take prudent risk, things are likely to go awry.

For example, if your sales forecast has been formulated and reviewed to the best knowledge of your organization, and it translates into x number of manufacturing employees at current efficiency levels, taking the prudent risk of hiring people even if it adds to near-term cost for a slightly longer-term return on investment is well worth it.

In another example, if you are hosting a significant event and have people flying in from around the globe (as news has spread re: the success of previous events), if you are not willing to absorb the prudent risk of hotel costs if an unexpected event occurs and rooms aren’t filled, you are likely to have chaos and unhappy participants instead of building on prior successes.

Be willing to be bold with prudent risk if you are interested in success.

One tip to implement this week:

Think about a decision you are shying away from making because you are concerned about prudent risk. There is a big difference between taking radical chances and assuming prudent risk. If the logical choice is to take a small risk for high reward, it is likely prudent risk. Think about the situation as if there was no one else involved – no manager to satisfy; no peer to appease; no politics involved. What is in the best interest of the company? What seems logical? If you need to spend $10 to make $500, what is the logical choice? If you have to take the risk of upsetting a key employee to move core objectives forward, should you? It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Accept the challenge, take the prudent risk and minimize the downside (such as thinking about how to phrase it in the key employee’s self-interest). Success will follow.

Looking for more ideas to keep your supply chain connected? Access more tips and resources on my blog. And keep connected by subscribing to my newsletter and email feed of “I’ve Been Thinking…”

lisaanderson

Overcoming Obstacles

Posted by lisaanderson Feb 25, 2015

Fotolia_48671598_XS-250x300.jpgAs I’ve yet to run across an executive without obstacles, learning how to effectively deal with them has to be a top priority. Often times, we are caught up in fire-fighting mode – every day, we plan to call that customer, read that report, train that employee, or put together long-term plans. And, every day, the day whizzes past with too few of our priorities addressed. Thus, the more adept and quick we become at addressing obstacles, the more successful we’ll be.

So, how do we effectively deal with obstacles? 1) First, prepare to avoid them. 2) Remain calm. 3) Think about options.

1. First, prepare to avoid them! – Well, of course, it is easier to overcome an obstacle if there is no obstacle. I’m sure many of you are thinking, “Easier said than done”. No doubt, as I’ve said that too; however, I have found that with a little thought, you can avoid several obstacles.

My best practice for accomplishing this goal is to stick with what’s simple. First, don’t worry about every obstacle. If it doesn’t matter if you overcome an obstacle, don’t waste your time. Focus only on those that will make a difference. Then, take 5 minutes to think. What is likely to go wrong? Can I live with that potential result? If not, is there something I could do to prevent it? Follow this process for your top 3 potential obstacles for all critical priorities. Soon, you’ll have far fewer obstacles to overcome – and you’ll likely become more effective by default since you can focus on fewer issues at a time!

2. Remain calm – Again, much easier said than done. Yet I’ve found this can be the most essential ingredient to success. Although it’s a natural tendency to stress or feel bad about the situation, refrain as much as possible. We think more clearly when not stressed. Instead of thinking of all the ways we screwed up to make this occur or worrying about what the worst-case impacts might be, take a deep breath. Most likely, it is not a life or death obstacle. Although it might require damage control, it is likely that it will not end your career. So, why waste energy? Instead, let’s put whatever energy we have to good use figuring out a solution.

3. Think about options – In my experience in working with all types and sizes of organizations across multiple industries and globally, the best way to overcome an obstacle is the same across the board – think about options. Don’t waste time determining what caused the obstacle at this point (unless it will help in the resolution); instead, focus attention on options to overcome the obstacle. There are always numerous ways to overcome an obstacle. Don’t worry about the merits of each of the options until you’ve brainstormed a list of options.

Brainstorming isn’t a solo sport. Ask for ideas from even unlikely sources. I find that I’m constantly surprised at what I can learn from unlikely places. Once you have several potential ideas to overcome the obstacle, evaluate the top few. Don’t fall into analysis paralysis. Keep it simple: Determine a ballpark amount of time and resources the option will require. Determine to what degree it will resolve the issue or improve the situation. Is there anything else that would have to happen to ensure success? Will it likely be approved? Then, when you’re 80% ready, GO! In today’s new normal business environment, speed matters. Thus, a 2% improved solution is not worth sacrificing a week of time (or even a day in most cases).

I run into countless obstacles. Whether I’m successful or not has little to do with whether I run into an obstacle; instead, it has to do with how I address the obstacle. Become quicker and more effective, and you’ll surpass your competition.

Did you like this article? Continue reading on how to Profit Through People:

Leaders Must Be Strong!

6 Pitfalls to Program Management Success for Manufacturing Leaders

leadership-300x200.jpgAs a tribute to my HR mentor who recently retired after a long and successful career in organizational development and HR (congrats, Debra), I have to tip my hat (if I wore hats) to her for being 100% correct – success begins and ends with leadership.

Undoubtedly, my successful clients can have mediocre strategies, plans and even people; however, if they have great leaders, I guarantee they will be more successful than the reverse. The most talented and dedicated employees will become frustrated and leave if saddled with lousy leaders. Some might stay if particularly loyal; however, they will eventually “give up” temporarily – until a new leader arrives.

To the exceptional leaders out there, THANK YOU! It is much appreciated. I heard about one of these leaders tonight from a former colleague at a key client. She said this leader is so respected that if he said, “trust me” even if his plan didn’t seem solid, everyone would follow – without exception. Even as a VP, she mentioned the value he created by seeing his employees as valuable assets, regardless of position. He would talk with “the little people” and see how they were doing and ask for ideas. Not surprisingly, they will follow him but not the current leaders who seem to care solely about their personal career paths.

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Leadership Qualities

Essential Skills of a Supply Chain Superhero

IveBeenThinkingBlog-1024x459.jpgWe commonly hear the phrase “Do it right the first time”. Of course, generally speaking, who wouldn’t want to do that? Waste is bad. However, I’ve found that there is a time when doing it right the first time is NOT the path to success – when you hold off for perfection as your view of “doing it right the first time”.

We’ve all been there; however, for the future, think about following a new plan: “When you are 80% ready, move”. I heard my consulting mentor phrase it this way, and loved the simplicity! This week, one of my clients is experiencing a few challenges because he places an immense amount of value on doing it right the first time. Believe me, he is not alone. Think about this example: if you were to have to repeat a training session in order to start with “what is available” and follow-up at a later date with the optimal solution, it wouldn’t be doing it right the first time. However, if you would be addressing a critical gap in the process with a short-term solution so that you kept customers happy until the optimal solution was ready, would you do it? I’d celebrate the opportunity to do it twice!

One tip to implement this week:

Think about a decision you need to make where you are waiting for additional data or input. Do you have 80% of the critical information required? (Notice I didn’t say 80% of ALL information desired.) If you do, make a decision and move on. You’ll find that you’ll be much more successful. The last 20% requires 80% of your time with little to no improvement in the quality of the decision. On the other hand, waiting for the additional information can bring an undesirable result!

Looking for more ideas to keep your supply chain connected? Access more tips and resources on my blog. And keep connected by subscribing to my newsletter and email feed of “I’ve Been Thinking…”

Fotolia_18700641_XS-300x300.jpgEffective project management has become cornerstone to business performance. Although we are largely in a recovery, none of my clients have gone back to the days of having more than the required resources “just in case” yet project demands are ever-increasing as profitable growth is key to success. In essence, if you want to thrive in today’s new normal business environment, you will not only execute flawlessly but you’ll also innovate constantly. Neither will deliver results without flawless project execution. Based on my observations, 90%+ of my clients and contacts struggle to resource projects and overcome obstacles quickly enough to ensure success. What should we do?

For example, one of my key clients has at least 7 critical project priorities in process simultaneously. This alone is problematic enough as it’s been proven over and over again that people can only multi-task so far. In my experience, anything beyond 3 priorities will suffer. However, in addition to this burden, they have resourced these projects with people who already have full-time jobs. Unfortunately, this occurrence is not uncommon.

Of course, my first priority with these situations is to work with the client to take a step back and re-focus in on fewer priorities. Once the first few are completed successfully, we’ll move on to the next set of priorities. In 100% of the cases, I’ve seen this tactic achieve significantly greater success. However, whether we follow the smart path and focus on just 3 priorities or try to keep track of all 7 at once, we must implement check points from the start to have a chance at success! A few keys to success include: 1) Understand milestones. 2) Think about evidence of progress. 3) Develop a check point process.

1. Understand the milestones: Although it might seem basic, it is the most often overlooked critical variable to success in my experience. Do NOT start performing tasks; even if it seems like a critical task, stop yourself before jumping in. Instead, develop the project plan. Take a step back and review the project plan. Does it seem complete? Are there too many tasks? Can some be combined? Which are dependent on which other tasks? Do you know the difference between dependence and sequence? If not, circle back and start again. Have you added fluff to your task times? Why? If everyone adds just 1 day cushion to every task, it will have greater than a 20% impact on almost every project and a 50% impact on the majority.

For example, if you know that you cannot improve your on-time delivery metrics if you don’t improve inventory accuracy, it might be tempting to start addressing that issue immediately. Although it is undoubtedly one of the tasks required to improve on-time delivery, there is no way to know its importance vs. the other tasks without taking a step back. What if throughput had to be increased by 50%? This task would be more important because no matter how accurate your inventory, you can’t do anything with half of your orders if you cannot get them out the door. Also, what if throughput is dependent on another task which doesn’t seem that important in isolation? Typically I see clients ignore that task completely yet it is the most critical task of the three mentioned because it must be completed prior to throughput increasing!

2. Think about evidence of progress: Once you have your project plan outlined and milestones identified, the next step is to make sure you are making progress on these milestones. First, take another step back to identify the critical path. The critical path will tell you where to focus. The milestones on the critical path are the ones which deserve 80% of your attention as they’ll give you 80% of the result with 20% of the effort.

Your critical path milestones are your check points. If you are achieving these critical milestone check points, you’ll be successful. It can be as simple as that! Of course, it rarely is that simple because we veer off the critical path and spend time on items our boss asks us about or those items which seem interesting. None of these paths will yield success because they are not check points to the project success. Stick to the critical path. The great news it that in project management, the critical path provides the check points whereas in many other areas, you must decipher the check points. If you are in this situation, just ask yourself the question: What would tell me I’m making progress? What would I have to see, hear, and/or have as evidence?

3. Develop a check point process: Last but not least, you must develop a check point process. What does this mean? In the simplest format, it means you develop a communication and tracking method to follow up on the critical path check points. I’ve seen many different processes “work”. The key is in the follow-up and the leader’s ability to ask the right questions at the right time and his/her willingness to address the “hard” issues.

For example, one of my clients developed a brief weekly project review meeting to go over the critical milestones. Issues with project tasks were not discussed as they should be incorporated into regular project management cycles. Instead, the meeting was focused on which critical path milestones were achieved, which are coming up, and whether there are roadblocks affecting any critical milestones. There are many communication vehicles and formats. Choose whichever works best for you and your culture.

In today’s new normal business environment, delivering project results is vital to success. Thus, although it has always been the lifeblood of project success to make sure there are check points to tell you whether your projects are on track and where to focus attention; it has a direct correlation on bottom line business results today.

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Project Failure: How to Avoid Top Causes

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