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Last week, we identified “communication” as the most important means to achieving success, the one tool your managerial toolbox cannot do without. Without effective and timely communication, project development and implementation will suffer and as a result, the organization will have a difficult time reaching its project objectives.
Of course, there are other barriers to project success. Good communication will take care of a lot of problems but not all — human nature being what it is. Whether you’ve been a project leader or part of a project team, you’ve undoubtedly run into one or more of the following problems:
- Lack of Clarity. Some or all employees don’t know or don’t understand the project goals, objectives, roles and responsibilities, etc. What are their individual goals and how do they relate to the goals of other team members, and to the project? Stakeholders don’t see what they have to gain if your project plans aren’t clear, and everyone must have something to gain or they don’t cooperate.
- Inadequately Researched or Defined Requirements. This is a major cause, if not the root cause, of lack of project clarity. Be sure you and the user/customer agree on what is required.
- Inadequate Resources. You considered and planned for project development and rollout costs, but what happens after rollout? What does it take to adequately inform, or educate, the customer? Did you adequately address marketing, customer support, and maintenance needs?
- Lack of Ongoing Customer Support. For some companies, contact with the customer ends with the sale. Did your plans account for the customer’s satisfaction and loyalty? Too many companies fall short in this regard.
- Biases (Yours and Theirs). You’ve heard the phrase “overpromised and underdelivered”. How many times does this happen in your business? Why? How likely are potential customers to believe you if they’ve already been burned. What were their previous experiences? Be sure to address these. Also be sure to address your company’s attitudes toward existing customers (see “Ongoing Support”).
- Technology Gap. Where is the customer on the technology continuum? If your solution is technology-based, consider the amount of training that will be required within your implementation process. Also, be sure you know what their most pressing needs are and solve them. Don’t give them more than they need and don’t shoot wide of the mark.
- Resistance to Change. An individual’s degree of resistance to change is a major factor: While it may seem counterintuitive to you, many people prefer the devil they know to the one they don’t. Be aware of that and have a plan for dealing with it. Make sure the customer knows the benefits of your project early on and how they will far outweigh any temporary pain they might feel.
- Lack of Time. See “inadequate resources”.
- Not Invented Here. You still see a lot of this from customers: “How can you expect to come in here and solve our problems when you don’t have any experience in our business?” That may be a purely defensive posture. One of the messages often underlying that question is, “Once the project is complete, jobs will be lost, etc.” You have to be able to answer that in your project plan. Also see “biases” and “resistance to change”.
- Political Barriers. You lack support from critical areas/functions. Maybe people are unwilling to step forward for various reasons. What’s the company culture like? Are they historically proactive or reactive? What are their real motives for seeking you out? Is the project supported all the way from the bottom to the top of the chain of command?
We need to remind ourselves now and again that careful, thorough planning prevents most problems. The problems you don’t prevent in the project planning phase – and you’re never going to prevent them all, but – they’re a lot easier to identify and correct when you have a sound project plan.