Put Your Projects (Not Your Managers) on Trial

Put Your Projects (Not Your Managers) on Trial

Put Your Projects (Not Your Managers) on Trial

Let me ask you a question. Which would you rather have? 40 projects that are 20% complete, or 4 projects that are 100% complete? Now, what if I told you that you could be sure that all 4 projects were the right 4?

It’s time to put your projects (not your managers) on trial by following these three straightforward steps:

Step 1: Define “results” at the organizational level

The textbook definition of result is “a consequence, effect or outcome of something.”

I know most of you are down in the trenches fighting the good fight, but take a moment to process this concept:

Everything that happens inside your company is effort. No results happen on the inside… only effort. A result occurs on the outside, where the customer lives. Results are created through transacting customers, and only through transacting customers. What it means for a customer to “transact” depends on the nature of your business: In for-profit businesses, it’s the point of sale. In a not-for-profit, it may be the number of people clothed, fed or educated. In the military, it’s the protection of our Nation’s freedom. And so on…

The point is this:

Inside = Effort

Outside = Result

Step one is to clearly articulate the answer to the question, “What constitutes a result in this company?” Be as specific as possible and make it visual if you can. Put the transacting customer in the front of everyone’s minds. Make it a point to ask yourself at every turn, “How does my effort contribute to the creation of a result?”

Step 2: Prepare for the “Discretionary Project Trial” (DPT)

Compile a list of all your discretionary projects. What’s a discretionary project? Here’s the litmus test: If we stopped doing this today, would we be punished by an outside entity (i.e. regulatory compliance, legal contracts, etc.)?

Once you’ve compiled the list of discretionary projects, notify the responsible managers of their impending trial date (more on this in a moment). Trial preparation is simple, as there’s only one question the defense has to answer: In as few words as possible, how does this project help the company create a transacting customer?

Jury selection varies from one company to the next, but typically consists of steering committee-esque people.

Step 3: Conduct the DPT

The DPT isn’t your father’s project portfolio meeting. It’s an opportunity to purge the crap from your system… a form of organizational cleansing. It’s a way to shine a spotlight on the pet projects that are wasting your limited resources. It’s a chance to refocus everyone on what really matters – results!

During the DPT, projects are put on trial for their existence.

How does this project help the company create a transacting customer? If the answer isn’t clear, concise and compelling, kill it. Unless you’re GE, P&G or Google, you have limited resources. Why would you have them toiling away on something that doesn’t lead to a result? To put it bluntly, that’s like stealing money from the company. If there isn’t a clear line-of-sight to the result, you sure as hell better have a good reason for doing it. After all, it’s discretionary, meaning you’re choosing to do it over something else that could be contributing to a result.

Prioritization Made Simple: How to Pick the Right Projects

Prioritize your projects as follows: What projects give us the maximum results with the minimum effort? Then, do those. That’s it. Prioritization made simple.

Coping With the Loss of a Project

Are you mourning the death of an in-progress project? Don’t. It wouldn’t want you to. If it could speak from the great beyond, it would say something like this:

“Don’t let my passing be in vein. Learn from my mistakes. Help others. Celebrate the freeing of my resources. And above all, don’t put my manager on trial.”


About Brad

Brad is an idea guy with a pragmatic bent. He enjoys looking at conventional topics in unconventional ways by combining his 20 years of industry experience with his intellectual curiosity and insatiable appetite for learning. Brad delivers his message through S2A’s training and development programs, to include the highly-praised virtual workshop, Demystifying Strategy: An Essential Course for Management and virtual seminar program, Strategically-Minded Project Leadership (SMPL).     

If you’d like to know more about Demystifying Strategy, the SMPL Development Program, Brad’s favorite red wines or where to find the best running trails on the east coast, direct message him on LinkedIn or visit learn.s2a.org.