7 secrets to successful projects (1 & 2)

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As the latest series of The Apprentice* reaches its finale – now is a great time to explore the real secrets behind successful projects.

*For readers outside the UK – The Apprentice is one of the BBC’s most popular TV programmes. See here for more

These insights will help you achieve more – at work and at home – on those important tasks that really do need some project management.

So what are the secrets?

Step 1 – Ask why you’re working on this project

For players in The Apprentice, this question is easy.

You’re doing it because Alan has told you to!

But in the real world you may head into projects that dominate your life for weeks or months on end. So you’re going to need a really good reason for working on them.

You’ll want to know who the end customer is – for the thing you’re developing.

And you’ll want to be clear on who is sponsoring the project (supplying the dosh – to get it done) if it’s not you.

Hint: If you don’t have a sponsor, then just stop now . . . because that’s a clear sign that no one cares!

Write down the ‘purpose’ of what you’re doing.

Why is it important to you?

And how will it benefit those customers?

You’ll want to read this ‘purpose’ statement again in the course of your project – and without that clarity, you’ll give up sooner rather than later.

And be prepared to change that statement if your first attempt doesn’t ‘cut it’ when you get going with the development.

That’s not ‘being soft’ by the way – it’s just common sense.

Pilot’s change course when they discover thunderstorms or other unexpected hazards en route. So it makes sense for us to do the same with our projects.

So be flexible – not stubborn.

Step 2 – Define what you’re making

Yes, it sounds obvious right?

But you’d be amazed at how many projects fail at this early stage – with a poorly defined product or service.

What normally happens (in big business anyway) is some big boss (like Alan for example!) comes up with an idea and that’s the end of the discussion.

Everyone on the project then runs around like crazy to make ‘that idea’ happen – in the invariably unreasonable timescale given.

Please try not to get involved in too many of those projects. They’re not good for your health or your work/home life balance.

And you’re just going to spend your whole time asking that question from stage 1.

Yes, you may get forced into these sorts of projects from time to time. And if you do, take a good look at the WHY question first.

Then, if you’re not happy with the answer – challenge the sponsor on it.

You never know, you might just end up saving your boss a ton of money by improving (or killing off) a duff project early on.

And you might get promoted for that.

Just be sure to challenge carefully and politely eh!

A good technique is to use innocent questions, like, “please can you help me understand this?”

Try not to question the wisdom of the sponsor – or that pointy ‘you’re fired’ finger might reveal itself once more!

So, there you have it, the first two secrets of successful projects are simple.

  1. Know WHY you’re working on a project – including your own – and
  2. Get a good definition of the product (or products) within it.

I’ll explore the other 5 steps in future Insights.

Till next time

Paul

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