“I’m overwhelmed with my current workload as it is, and now I’ve been asked to take on something new…”

“There are a multitude of projects, and no clear framework for managing or prioritizing them…”

“My team just doesn’t have the expertise or resources to do what’s required for this project…” 

“I was brought onto the project late. They’ve already made a lot of decisions that I don’t understand, and set timelines that I don’t think are realistic.  I’m not sure how to handle this…”


I hear these types of comments all too frequently from students in my business leadership & project management class.

They are stressed, emotional, and feel like they are failing.

Project managers who are juggling unclear priorities, ambiguous goals, and unrealistic timelines are on a fast and frustrating path to burnout and project failure.

As an executive leader, you’re in a position to solve or mitigate a LOT of these problems.

In an effort to move a project along quickly, executives often impose deadlines and project requirements that have the exact opposite effect.  They inadvertently create delays, budget overruns, and missed deadlines, and they very often contribute to the failure of the project.

So as you head into your next project, here are three ways that you can help ensure that the project team has what they need to deliver the project on time and on budget.

How to Set The Project Up For Success

1) Involve the project manager from the outset.

A good project manager will interrogate assumptions, identify weak spots, ensure that the strategic goals and project requirements are aligned, and fill in any gaps, ambiguities, and uncertainties BEFORE the project gets underway.

The PM will also help identify *all* the stakeholders and the potential impacts of the project rollout  — so you can ensure that the project plan is as robust as possible.

This work is vital to a successful project, and cutting the PM out of the early stages of planning makes it more likely that the project will proceed with fatal flaws and misalignments. This is how you end up with million-dollar software installations that no one uses, or projects that run over substantially over time and over budget.

Instead of bringing on the project manager partway through, involve them early and invite them to contribute to the decision-making process.

2) Bring in the project manager and subject matter experts before signing the vendor contract.

Digital transformations — especially those that involve moving from legacy business application platforms to cloud-based applications — are far more complex than they appear at the outset.

The vendor may assure you that they have a process and a team to handle all aspects of the migration — but that’s almost certainly an exaggeration.

As the experts on your own data and operational business process use-cases, your organization will need to be an active participant in the implementation process. You can’t rely on the vendor for all aspects of the implementation — and, indeed, the contract will likely specify the contributions and support your organization must lend to the effort.

Subject matter experts and project managers can help you assess what’s truly necessary to complete the project successfully, whether there is sufficient expertise in-house, and what reasonable timelines and budgets might be for such a project.

Without their input, you may find that you’ve committed your organization to an expensive contract for software or equipment that ultimately fails to meet the business needs.

3) Get clear on the scope of work before setting a timeline.

Even relatively simple digital transformation projects are complex efforts. They require a thorough understanding of legacy systems, data structure, how the current system is used by employees at every level (and in every department) of the organization, what the goals and requirements of the new system are, how the new system and data must be configured to meet organizational needs, and how other systems and workflows will need to be modified to accommodate the new application.

Until you understand all those pieces of the puzzle, it’s impossible to set a realistic timeline for implementation and rollout.

And unrealistic timelines don’t motivate a team to do their best work.  Instead, they lead to missed deadlines, budget overruns, lost opportunities, and stressed teams — which themselves lead to more mistakes, higher turnover, and loss of expertise.  

In other words, unrealistic timelines set up a vicious cycle that’s costly both to individuals and to the organization.

The best way to set your projects up for success is to slow down and consult with subject matter experts, stakeholders, and project managers BEFORE launching the project or making any irreversible decisions.  

When more stakeholders are consulted at the outset, initiatives are more likely to support and deliver on organizational strategy and priorities, rather than being a distraction and a drain on resources.

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