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Project Definition is Critical for Success – 5 Key Elements You Ignore at Your Own Peril

August 12th, 2011

Project Charter | Project DefinitionWe have many discussions with organizations where Lean, Six Sigma, and other performance improvement efforts have outright failed, or maybe have just started to lose their impact.  In an earlier article, we talked about the importance of alignment and how important it is to have clear line of sight to the performance gaps that matter the most.  But, in some cases, scorecards and dashboards are there, with well-defined KPIs pointing to high-value targets, yet improvement efforts still yield less than desired results. Why?

Of course there can be many reasons, but lack of discipline around project definition, or project charters, is something we see consistently in these problem situations.  Poorly defined projects are without a doubt a recipe for disaster.  You may be focusing on exactly the right problem, but, if the project’s problem statement and objectives are not well-defined, your chances of success in making an impact fall dramatically. So what are the key elements of a good project definition and charter?  Here are 5 big things I think should be present in all improvement project charters / project definitions:

    1. A clear Problem Statement that defines the business problemin specific and quantifiable terms.  Done well, it will answer the following questions clearly and concisely:
      • What is the primary metric, or needle, that I’m trying to move?
      • What is the primary metrics current, or baseline, value?
      • How did I measure the primary metric’s baseline value, and over what period?
      • From the business’ perspective, what is the target value for the primary metric?
      • What is the gap between current performance and needed performance levels for the primary metric?
      • What is the value (in $’s if at all possible) of closing that gap?
      • What areas of risk do I need to pay attention to as I try to move the primary metric? These will become your secondary metrics. For example, if you’re trying to reduce costs in some customer facing area of the business, you need to pay attention to such things as attrition rates, customer satisfaction scores, etc.

 

    1. A clear Objective Statement for the project.  It is unlikely that a single project can close the entire gap for the business problem defined in #1.  It is more likely (and usually preferable) that a project focuses on a sub-process, or segment of the overall value stream, and it targeting only a portion of the overall gap.

 

    1. A clear understanding of the Start and Stop points for the project.  Related to #2, be very clear on exactly which segment of the value stream (subprocess) the project will be restricted to.  This is about scope, and avoiding the ever-present scope creep.  It may need to be adjusted as the project progresses (and/or evolves), but make an effort to define start and stop points up front.

 

    1. A clear definition of the Team that needs to be involved in the project.  Team members may be actively working on the project analysis, or they may just be subject matter experts that are called upon to gather information and feedback.  They may work in the process/sub-process being analyzed, or they may be customers of or suppliers to that process.  Take time to think through who really needs to be involved, and engage them early.

 

  1. Explanations of how things like are computed and derived.  For the gap values in problem and objective statements, how were those values derived?  There will always be questions of value, and it’s better to have explanations right in the project definition. The same goes for primary metric baseline values?  How were derived?  Show the data that was used, identify any assumptions that were made, identify any anomalies in the data, etc.

Project definition (project chartering), done well, takes time and effort, but I can assure you that your project outcomes will suffer if shortcuts are taken here.  I do realize that there is a lot of ground covered with these 5 elements, and that there is a lot of detail and nuance in each.  In an upcoming post, I plan to present an example and walk through each of the elements in some detail.

Download our Project Selection executive brief

a short presentation on project identification and definition ….

Feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss project chartering and project definition for your organization and its improvement efforts.

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