Posted by Doug Richards, Sr. PSA Account Executive, NetSuite
Earlier in my career, I was a supply chain consultant on a large project that I thought was going well. The project manager was great about internal communication, and everything sounded like we were well on the road to success.
Only one problem: The customer wasn't on the same page. The project manager hadn't been looping the customer in regularly, and as a result we'd progressed in a direction the customer didn't like. It was another in a long series of reminders that a team approach focused on keeping everyone in sync is tantamount to the success of services projects.
This is especially true for professional services automation (PSA) deployments, which establish a sort of nervous system for the services organizations, providing the information needed to better communicate. Having a misguided PSA project can cripple a services company, adding to the numerous challenges business face.
That said, there are certain project management truisms that hold across project types. A long career in the industry has helped me form some guidelines for how to get more PSA projects off on the right foot.
Why Do Projects Fail?
As a consultant, I saw projects go off the rails for numerous reasons. Some didn't factor in change management enough. Others were on time, but didn't meet the expectations of the customer. I've seen simple projects drown in over-planning and complex projects undermined by insufficient planning.
Each time a project struggled, I thought I had the answer. At first, I thought it was all about know-how. But it wasn't long before I learned that possessing all the subject-matter knowledge and skills in the world doesn't guarantee project success.
In fact, it turns out that subject-matter expertise can often be absorbed in real time, as the project progresses. I learned this lesson from working closely with an experienced consultant who constantly amazed me with his ability to improvise and expand his knowledge on the fly. He got me thinking that maybe this whole subject matter expertise thing might be overrated.
That lead me to a new conclusion. I began to believe that project success was all about being on time—that is, until I saw projects jammed through with brute force in order to meet deadlines, typically to disastrous effect. Even if a project wraps up on time naturally, it often only demonstrates efficiency. Being efficient and on time doesn't mean a project was effective.
Required: Empathy for Stakeholders
Don't get me wrong—finishing projects on time is outstanding. But it's not enough. I came to realize that a truly successful project requires a level of empathy for all of the stakeholders so that the project team understands how those stakeholders view success and what ultimately will make them feel successful.
That awakening took me to the next step in my evolution, when I determined that a solid plan was the key to a project's success. Having a plan that was geared toward achieving an end result, but also set clear expectations, laid the path toward that end, and specified who was responsible for each step, would lead to project nirvana.
A funny thing happened on the way to nirvana, though: I watched as projects with a solid plan, skilled people and good communication still proved far from automatically successful.
It Comes Down to Discipline
That was when the missing element occurred to me: Discipline. All of the pieces of a project I've mentioned — expertise, time, a solid plan, strong communication skills — amount to a hill of beans if there isn't any discipline behind them. There needs to be discipline about sticking to project guidelines and adhering to the project schedule. And the communication element requires multiple layers of discipline, from identifying a project champion and sponsor within the customer's organization who knows what the finished result needs to look like to ensuring that communication occurs both ways.
Ultimately, this series of epiphanies led to this succinct blueprint for a successful project:
The discipline to execute a viable plan while engaging in a meaningful dialogue with the customer is the best path to project success.
The unavoidable truth is that projects are subject to disruption. Even the best plans can be undermined by an endless array of often unforeseeable issues. But a combination of discipline, effective planning and two-way communication should help elevate even the most beleaguered project.
There are no guarantees, of course, and when it comes to projects, one size most definitely does not fit all. But a career full of lessons has taught me that this approach significantly increases the odds of success. I also learned through the years that having the right solutions in place are paramount to any successful services organization.
Learn from the mistakes I made throughout the years. Find a PSA system that provides complete visibility and control over your enterprise-wide processes with such capabilities as revenue recognition for diverse revenue streams, and unified billing across multi-model service and product delivery and you will be on that road to project nirvana everyone is looking for.
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