DESIGNING CONFIDENCE TO IMPROVE THE PROBABILITY OF PROJECT SUCCESS

By Gareth Fryer, Director, wae

Every project has a chance of succeeding, but no project is guaranteed to reach its goal. While the probability of success is influenced by many factors, every decision maker will admit to a degree of nervousness when starting a new project; from a moment of lingering doubt, to a great chasm of fear.

In today’s ‘customer first’ economy, organisations are scrutinised on the service they deliver like never before. The pressure for projects to succeed has never been higher. So, how can the probability of project success be increased? Which factors can we control — or at the very least mitigate?

The factors of project confidence

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I’ve been thinking about the factors that influence the probability of project success, and how to gain an objective view of how confident you can be in the success of your project.

Those factors are:

  1. Collaborative diversity
  2. Belief in the objective
  3. Fear of failure

Factor 1: collaborative diversity

‘Customer first’, ‘innovation’ and ‘digital transformation’ are all well entrenched in the language of the boardroom. However, much like ‘big data’, while everyone is talking about it, few are doing it well.

Genuine transformational innovation requires different opinions, backgrounds, skills and perceptions to be brought together to create a different way of thinking. A team with similar backgrounds will most likely generate ideas that are too alike and this won’t lead to innovation.

It is also essential to realise that true ‘transformation’ is not an objective; it is an outcome – one that is usually achieved by a committed focus on creating something truly great for your Customers (internal & external), and changing the organisation in order to deliver it.

With that in mind, collaborative diversity relates to how diverse the project team is and how effectively they collaborate to make best use of that shared knowledge. Yes, collaboration must be managed well or it can descend into chaos, and the team needs to be kept lean (lean can still be diverse). But most importantly, the ‘team’ should involve representatives from your internal & external customers, otherwise you are making the decision that internal team members are able to accurately and objectively represent your customers’ needs — which is a risk in itself.

Factor 2: belief in your objective

How often have you worked on a project where the team isn’t convinced by, or doesn’t even understand the stated objectives? This creates a lack of confidence or belief, leads to unclear objectives, mixed messages, bad briefing and ultimately scope creep. James Crawley excellently sums up the need for clarity and highlights an all too familiar problem:

“Imagine wasting weeks of work because the simple questions were never asked.”

Remember, while one person may be very confident about what they think needs to be done, if the wider team don’t believe or understand it, it’s unlikely to create meaningful outcomes.

Design tools and thinking help to get to the root of the problem, uncovering the customer and business issues, and objectively prioritising these against respective requirements. This is essential to guide the process and give the team confidence in decisions.

All too often a ‘priority’ requirement for the business does not even register on the customer scale — or vice-versa. The design process helps to uncover what customers need, and in doing so, what the organisation needs to change to deliver it.

Factor 3: fear of failure

Every project carries with it the previous experiences of the team involved, so by default our previous experiences and perceptions cloud our ability to approach problems objectively.

Where teams have been involved in difficult projects, or have a wealth of experience within one organisation, they are often unwilling to make decisions that may result in genuinely innovative solutions. Either as a result of unwillingness to try something different, or the set belief that trying anything different ‘just won’t work in this organisation’.

By enabling people to act objectively and think like a customer, design methodologies stimulate the creation of hypotheses and their rapid testing in a relatively ‘risk free’ environment. This takes the pressure off the individual and nurtures a more customer-oriented approach within the organisation.

I often find myself explaining that design is not what something looks like — design is a behaviour. It defines what needs to be done, brings people together, sets a clear vision and creates an environment where fear of failure is reduced.

Therefore, it is no surprise that traditional organisations are starting to hire design thinkers such as ‘Chief Customer Officers’, or even purchase entire design-led organisations to create a step-change in their approach, as seen byCapital One’s purchase of Adaptive Path in 2014.

These organisations appreciate that while customer-centricity comes with a cost (time, commitment, effort or financial), the resulting improvements in how they deliver products and services to their Customers, makes it a cost definitely worth paying.

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