How To Improve on Process, Part 1: High-level Considerations

Alleviate stress

You’ve been brought onto a program or portfolio and you’ve been informed that there are issues that need to be addressed (e.g. over-budget, late delivery, quality concerns, client/project sponsor dissatisfaction). Oh boy. This may be a fun challenge or an anxiety-inducing test of patience; for many, it’s a bit of both. Loosely-defined problems can be daunting, but if approached methodically; anxiety, stress, and subjectivity can be mitigated to drive solutions. Although I will be discussing process optimization through the lens of a project manager working with a team, this methodology can be leveraged by any leader looking to improve processes within or across teams.

You might feel pressure to roll up your sleeves and fix “it” in one day. Be mindful that the vast majority of issues won’t be meaningfully solved in a day and attempting to do so may only mask the symptoms at best or exacerbate them at worst. Set realistic goals. Ambition is productive, haste is counter-productive.

Initially, leveraging soft skills related to interpersonal communication and relationship building are of the utmost importance to understanding the issues. At the heart of process is people. Ignoring the people component will impede process success. Once issues have been identified, a testable hypothesis needs to be established. Financial analysis, trend analysis, and variance analysis will provide data to support or invalidate initial suspicions. Although data analysis terms sound complex, difficult problems seldom require complicated fixes; often, effective solutions are simplistic. Collaborative development and execution of process solutions will enable implementable, achievable, and sustainable change for the better. Let’s jump into some key considerations before breaking down process optimization in this multi-part series.

Hands holding puzzle pieces

Key Considerations

  • Take a thoughtful approach to analysing the situational context before taking action. As the saying goes, Work smart, not hard. How do we work smart? Understand as much context as possible. Immediately implementing solutions before grasping the extent of the problem will turn a bad situation worse.
  • Develop solutions collaboratively and transparently with the team. If a team feels like they aren’t being heard, they aren’t going to buy-in to solutions. Project managers are not the dictator, they are facilitators.
  • Project complications also affect the people on the team. Therefore, be aware that process change will have a domino effect on team members. A rapid trial and error approach of process implementation is going to take a toll on key project stakeholders and can diminish their faith in process solutions.
  • Be mindful, but not critical, that team members will be biased and subjective based on their role and craft. Each craft will have their own success metrics and their own priorities. Differing levels (day-to-day vs managerial/oversight) within each craft also add an element of complexity with distinct priorities. 
  • A quality control team likely does not care about creative innovation, simply that functionality or regulatory requirements are achieved. Creative teams may not be concerned with timing efficiency. Prioritise understanding the factors that resonate with each team.
  • As a project manager, it is essential to be conscious of the holistic goal amongst the competing priorities: project, program, and portfolio health within the context of budget, scope, and timing.
  • Internal project health is important, but the project sponsor, or client, will have their own priorities. Be conscientious of contextualising internal priorities against project sponsor needs to be considerate of business priorities, the end goal of most projects. 
  • Implementing too many changes at the same time may create difficulties in understanding the relatedness between process change and success.
  • Be ambitious, but not hasty. Understanding the connectedness between process change and outcomes will drive long-term, positive change.

In the next article, I’ll be discussing how to leverage communication to collectively gather observations from the team with the goal of understanding pain points. You can’t optimize process if you don’t understand the challenges. Stay tuned next week!