5 Steps To Speed Up A Change Project Stuck In The Slow Lane

strategy transformation Nov 04, 2019
Are you dealing with a change or transformation project that’s on a go-slow? If you’re under pressure to speed things up, this week’s blog is for you. In it I share my expertise on exactly what you need to do to speed up without crashing your project into the side of the road.


1. Give your project a health-check

First, make sure the reason your project is going slowly is not because there are actually major problems with it.

In a recent blog (6 Steps To Get Your Project Off To A Flying Start), I discussed the importance of having a health check MOT. Projects which seem to be healthy and working nicely when they are going quite slowly can unravel quickly as you try and accelerate the schedule because it shows up issues in the fundamental building blocks of the project. Therefore take a safety first approach and assess the projects health before making any steps to speed up the project.

Ask these five questions of your project to determine its health:

  1. Does it have a robust business case?
  2. Does it have an appropriate schedule that it's meeting and is it delivering the projects or the elements of the project on time? Is the slowness planned or was it planned to go faster and it is under-performing? 
  3. Does it have all the resources it needs, both in the types of resources and the volume of resources? 
  4. Does it have sufficient engagement? Is there enough engagement with users and stakeholders to get this project over the line? 
  5. Do you have the confidence that it will be able to deliver the benefits that you identified? E.g. savings, other financial benefits, or other non-financial benefits of doing the project.

If these questions reveal any big shocks, it’s important to take time to identify the cause of those problems and resolve them appropriately before moving on.

Assuming there's no huge roadblocks revealed, let’s move on to how you can speed up your project safely.


2. Look at the potential risks along the road

You don't want to speed up recklessly then crash your project into the side of the road. Therefore you need to look at the risks ahead before you can assess how and where to speed up.

 Here’s a step-by-step on how to assess your risk: 

  1. Be proportionate about the time you’re taking on different risks. For the purpose of speed, pay attention to medium and high impact risks that are also medium or high likelihood of happening, because they are the most likely to derail your project.
  2. Decide what risks to mitigate. Once you've identified and mapped your risk register, think about mitigation. This is to reduce either the likelihood of a risk taking place in the first place or the impact of that risk if it does occur. 
  3. Of course, some things are harder to mitigate than others. Some risks have complicated, expensive mitigations and you might decide to just monitor those risks. It's fine to decide not to mitigate, but the key action is to decide what to mitigate from those medium and high impact and likelihood risks you identified in the previous step.
  4. Mitigate the chosen risks. It's amazing how many projects identify valuable mitigations, but then fail to put any of them in place. If you do that, risk is a paper exercise that’s not healthy for speeding up a project. Take risk seriously and mitigate.

Once you’ve taken care of the risks and the road ahead for your project looks reasonably safe, it’s time to look at the areas in which you can increase the speed. 


3. Streamline your governance

Governance typically takes at least one week in every monthly cycle. That's a lot of project management time and time spent by your project team preparing the reporting. 

Here’s how to streamline your governance: 

  • Look for more agility. I don't mean you should be removing governance altogether, but look for clear parameters within which you can delegate decision-making.
  • Reduce reporting requirements. Getting decisions from governance groups and pulling together the details for regular reporting can be time-consuming. I'm not advocating for zero reporting, but instead I suggest developing a dashboard that’s sufficient to monitor the progress of your project on one A3 piece of paper. Take that same piece of paper (with no additional preparation needed) and talk your governance group through progress face-to-face.

This has a number of benefits:

    • It makes stakeholders more relaxed because they are getting more detail
    • You are reducing to almost nothing the amount of time you need to prepare for reporting
    • Stakeholders get to hear from you directly rather than reading a detailed report on the issue (which they are probably only skimming through anyway)
    • It also allows you to be more agile when you're having governance discussions and talking about progress. If stakeholders seem interested in one particular aspect of the project, then you can focus your attention on it.


4. Make changes to the schedule

Before you look at changes you can make to the schedule, you need to remove any of the project management float and schedule contingency. 

I don't mean the float that is naturally created in a schedule, but where you have rounded up and made assumptions about needing additional time for various things, go ahead and remove it.

To be clear, you’re not removing contingency from the schedule completely. You’re just taking it out so you can see what a pared down schedule looks like, make some changes and then put back in the contingency that’s needed.

Broadly, there are two ways of making schedules shorter:

  1. Go through your entire schedule and look where you can do some parallel working, rather than doing one thing after another.
  2. Look at efficiency adjustments. Say, for example, you're doing a number of cycles of development with a new organisation, new processes, or new systems. Normally we would tend to schedule in for the same amount of time for each cycle (e.g. a three-week cycle for each). For improved efficiency, reduce the cycle time consecutively, with each one getting shorter based on the fact that we’re generally quicker at things we’ve done once already. 

As you’re looking at your schedule and making these changes, it's reasonable to ask yourself, ‘what do I need in order to make that true on the schedule?’ 

The answer?

Usually it’s additional resources. 

Identify what additional resources you need, how long you need them for and what they look like, e.g. specific people or capabilities.

This process will take you a number of iterations to get the schedule as short as it can be.

Now it’s time to think about adding in risk time. Think back to the work you did on risk in step 2. Once you understand your residual risk level, what the key risks are and what the potential schedule impact is of those key risks, make an assessment about which schedule risks you're adding back in so that they adjust your overall time. For example, if something's very likely to happen and it's going to have a big impact on schedule, it's reasonable to account for a proportion of that in the schedule.


5. Think in sprints

Working in marathons typically looks like this: you work through a process of having a meeting, doing some activities, and then working together on a more informal basis over the course of a few days or a week before coming together for another meeting. 

Working in sprints is asking the question: what can we co-create by putting everyone together for a week? 

I’ve run projects where we’ve successfully completed design of an entire technical configuration just by getting the tech team together for a week. It was a long week and we had to co-locate people who were based around the world together, but we got through three months of work in just one week.

The key thing is getting everybody together and ensuring you have that dedicated resource, particularly from your stakeholders. Because when you're co-creating with users or stakeholders, you need them in the room for as long as you have all of your project team in the room.

A word of warning:

When you're reporting about the new timescale of your sped-up project, make it clear that they are conditional on: 

  • the streamlined governance you need 
  • the additional resources you need to enable parallel working
  • the dedicated support from the stakeholders and user representatives that you'll work with in the sprints. 

With these elements in place, you’re ready to fly.

If you need help supercharging your project, in my Change Speedometer 1:1, I personally take you through the scary part of taking the brakes off and going faster safely. With my help, there’s nothing to fear and only time and money to save. Send me a DM to find out more.


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