I have a confession to make – as a “project guy” I don’t actually love projects. I’m passionate about projects, but not for the reasons you might think. My passion for projects comes from what they enable…the greatness that they can create.
My real love is a truly amazing workplace. The perfect storm of business and people where teams come together in pursuit of objectives that are larger than themselves. Where employees lead and are led in equal measure in pursuit of lofty goals and shared purpose. A place where the organisation values its people by empowering and supporting them. Not out of some social contract but by serving its people, the business serves its customers and itself.
So what does this have to do with projects?
Projects – done well – are the vehicle to these sorts of workplaces.
“Projects are a bridge between your business and its people – a two-way bridge. They allow the business to better access the capabilities of its staff, as well as allow your employees to be better connected to the place that they work every day.”
Projects enable your business to better leverage the skills and expertise of the entire organisation – from its most senior executives to the employees that perform your daily operational activities. They are a powerful way to bring together the strategic vision of senior management with the insights of the people that interact with your customers and the operational environment every day. They are the mechanism to connect a problem with the solution and ideas with execution.
Projects are also an opportunity for your people to be better engaged and be a part of the greater whole. Projects make strategic initiatives and improvement activities tangible for people – they create a sense of shared purpose with the organisation. They’re a framework for employees to see that their knowledge has value – where their ideas for making the business better are turned into action. Projects are a chance for your team to shape the organisation and its working environment so they can excel at their jobs – the job of attracting and serving your customers.
When projects become part of your operational fabric you establish a workplace where value is continuously created and enhanced – value to the business, to the customer and to the teams that deliver that value.
But why do we treat projects with disdain?
As powerful a tool as projects may be for the business, we often approach them with disdain. Many businesses treat them as a necessary evil or something that is outside and separate from the business. They declare them as important to the success of the business but fail to support and enable them in a way that shows the organisation that they are truly valued.
We’re good at judging them – measuring and challenging the negative results – but we don’t seem to think that we need to be good at doing them. Often we’ll happily initiate projects then fail to give our people the time, resources and support required to do them well.
We watch in despair as projects regularly fail and yet we continue to do them in the same way that they have been done for decades hoping that this time we’ll get a better result.
So we miss the opportunity to use projects as an engine to drive the business forward – to stoke our employees’ passion for what the business stands for.
Using projects to make your workplace amazing
If projects are the bridge between a business and its people then the ever-increasing pace of change and volatility is the chasm that bridge must span. Exceptional workplaces will be essential for businesses to thrive in the coming decade. To navigate the turbulent waters of disruption, to constantly enhance the customer experience and to deliver ever-greater levels of value to the market, the full depth and breadth of your organisational capabilities need to be engaged in a powerful way.
Today, the most successful businesses in the world are project-driven organisations. Google, Apple, Airbnb, Southwest Airlines, 3M, IBM and GE all use projects to improve the value they offer their customers and maintain their positions as market leaders. They have moved away from the large transformation change projects in favour of a continuous stream of projects that touch multiple areas of the business.
Interestingly, the businesses that use this project-based approach are also among the most desirable places to work. They value their people and actively engage them in the success of the business. This enables shared purpose to become personal and meaningful for employees – not just a poster on the wall. As a result, their people have become the number one source of their improvement and innovation activities…very few projects come from senior management.
What role do projects play in your business?
“Business excellence comes from using projects to shape your culture not merely from creating a culture that does projects.”
Here are some questions to start asking yourself if you want to use projects to make your workplace amazing.
- Do you use projects only when you need to fix problems or to continuously create and seize opportunities?
- Are your projects large transformational monsters that overwhelm the organisation or smaller bite-sized projects that build progressively on one another?
- Are your projects prioritised based your organisational vision and strategic purpose or a reaction to your circumstances?
- Do you assign projects to your team or empower your people with the ability to successfully plan and control project outcomes?
- Does your management team actively support and enable your projects or monitor and report on them?
I’m passionate about projects because they are the new normal for today’s thriving businesses. But the power of projects lies in the culture of excellence that they can create.
I’d love to hear your comments, thoughts and experiences.