How often do you plan more for your day than you can accomplish? How about for your year? A certain amount of stretching can inspire creative approaches and raise your productivity. Stretching becomes a problem, however, when it jeopardizes timely delivery and quality. Use the six tips below to make sure you stay on track.
- Are your plans fully aligned?
We can become so energized by our vision for the coming year that we add more projects or related nice-to-have tasks than may be wise. When you’ve completed your plans, be sure to review them for single projects that can be modified to reach multiple goals. Look for opportunities to link projects to your strategies and to make adjustments in activities and timing so that projects will reinforce each other and leverage previous accomplishments. Also look for opportunities to shed activities not contributing as effectively to your strategy. It’s just as important to shed low-contributing activities as it is to identify the high contributors. Want a little help with the linking? Try our complimentary toolkit.
Wake Up and Smell the Starbucks Experience
In recent years, Starbucks has worked to strengthen its growth muscle so exclusively and so fast that this directive has overpowered the rest of the company. Growth consumed all of its resources, compressing other tasks critical to the Starbucks experience into an ever-shrinking resource pool.
Straining to function where it traditionally excelled, its reputation for innovative product line additions has devolved into fodder for comedians conjecturing about mythical new products. This last year is the first in Starbucks history where it has actually added paid advertising to its previously viral-only efforts. With founder Howard Schultz now returning to replace Jim Donald as CEO, Starbucks plans to focus again on supporting all the components of the unique Starbucks experience.
- Are your plans realistic and appropriately prioritized?
If you can’t stay on track with your plan for the day, what might that mean to your carefully crafted plans for the year? Your projects have three basic dimensions: the scope and quality of what you achieve, the resources you allocate to achieve it, and the time available to accomplish it all.
When you stretch one corner of this triangle, the others will shrink to keep the equation in balance. If you’ve overloaded your project’s scope, it’s likely to be late, over budget, or absent functions or quality you need, like a champagne special weeks after the new year.
- Are you making a crucial check on your plans?
In the enthusiasm of a new year and revitalized plans, it’s easy to schedule all your projects in the beginning for maximum impact. But that may not be realistic. Outside resources you rely on may be busy with everyone else’s must-do projects. Others may neglect to tell you of your pivotal role in their plans. You may not realize the demands other projects have on your time.
To keep your plans on track, make sure your projects are clearly prioritized, sequenced for maximum impact and incorporate realistic timeframes. Don’t have time for a detailed analysis? Try one of my favorite tools, the Planning Wheel, for a quick, intuitive picture of where you may be overloaded, be at risk or have more opportunity.
- Are you moving from ideas to actions?
When you’re satisfied with the priorities, balance and sequence of your projects, define each project’s steps with ownership, resource requirements and due dates. Project plans convert your ideas into actions, so make sure you’ve been realistic, and determine the who, what and when to measure against.
There are many project planning tools; use what works best for you. If your project is complex or high-risk, considering finding someone with special certification, such as a PMP, or reviewing the PMBOK for help. What’s important at this stage is making sure you’ve considered the necessary steps and resources. If you aren’t using a tool already, you can try the detailed project plan template for no cost in our Planning and Staying on Track Toolkit.
- Are you measuring progress and predicting outcomes?
Once you’ve started, you often need more than project milestones to know if you’re on track. If projects have greater or less than their expected impact, you need to be able to adjust your plans now, before it’s too late. Consider using both financial and non-financial metrics. Although non-financial metrics can be more challenging to collect and validate, managing without them is a bit like black-and-white versus color: you might see results and some relationships, but you will miss important color about what’s really going on.
Cisco’s Frequent Reviews
One factor shown to be key in projects that create change, whether short or long, is frequent review. Cisco is famous for its weekly forecasting of sales, and even during the dot-com plummet credited the early warning from this system for their ability to survive the downturn. As John Chambers put it in one interview, once they realized and corrected for a lack of frank assessment by their front lines, the system helped them understand where the bottom was falling out and how fast it was falling, so that they could estimate the degree of adjustment necessary.
Measurement and metrics are useful, then, in keeping projects on track and providing guidance for what the future holds. Thinking through what activities will directly impact future results helps you focus on the factors that truly affect outcomes, sharpening your ability to pay attention to the right things, whether or not they make it to your final list. Predicting outcomes helps you anticipate opportunities and provides early-warning for adjustments to consider. And finally, predicting outcomes and measuring results against them refines your understanding of the many relationships at work.
- Does everyone know what outcomes will be rewarded?
Don’t wait for your first major achievement to reward results. As soon as the right behaviors appear, award them with words. And when they create positive outcomes, reward them with action.”Thanks for helping us keep our new plan on track,” is not specific enough. Describe the changed behavior and the impact it can create. Your behavior will be rewarded in return.
Nucor Steels Its Managers for Success
Ken Iverson knew to be successful in the steel business into the 1990s and beyond would take a different kind of steel company. He realized Nucor’s future depended not on the brilliance of its executives, but on the commitment and inventiveness of its employees.
At a typical steel company there were nine or more layers of management, at Nucor there were only four. At a typical steel company managers directed and controlled; at Nucor managers were only rewarded for answering questions, getting out of the way, and listening closely to the foreman, plant managers and workers for new practices and ideas that could be successfully applied across the company. Managers who didn’t model this behavior didn’t receive the conciliatory bonuses or partial rewards that often undermine management messages.
Nucor’s stock has been rewarded for this consistent rewarding of the right behaviors and outcomes, dramatically outpacing the marketing through Iverson’s tenure and continuing to soar another nearly nine times in value since 2000 under successor Dan DiMicco.
The bottom line:
The first step to keeping your plans on track is to align all that you’re doing with your strategies, making sure that you’re maintaining balance across the resources and the disciplines needed to support them, and using frequent reviews to measure and reward success. The Planning Wheel is a great way to quickly see how your plans balance out this year.