If you’re struggling with the definition of a project, or at the earlier stages where it is initially being conceptualized and the focus is still unclear; you will do yourself a favor if you shift completely to the business perspective.
You are doing this project for a customer, perhaps an internal business area, perhaps you’re a consultant and you are doing this project for a customer. The tendency we all have at the early stages is to migrate to our comfort zone, which is to start with a solution based on our past experience. You’re a project manager and you were drawn to this profession because of your ability to take charge and get things done. At a personal level this may show up as making a decision about something based on past experience with the same problem. At a professional level it may be seeing similar problems across different customers and realizing that the same solution with a few tweaks could fit a number of different scenarios.
However the tendency with that approach is that, while it can save time and allow you to be more effective because of your experience, it can also blind you to the real issues and the most appropriate solution. Yet we do this all the time. Hence our project plans and deliverables, though being well intentioned, come out looking more like our projects rather than our customer’s projects.
To get out of this perspective, put yourself in the shoes of your customer and ask yourself how do they go about their daily work world and face this problem that they are currently bringing to me? What are the processes and goals that need to be accomplished within the constraints of what they have to do? How do they deal with the external groups, the stakeholders, and those organizations and people who feed into the assembly line of the product or service they provide? What tangible business benefits do they need?
When you take this perspective the greatest benefit will be the content and perspective of the proposal. I watched this shift most recently in a project that had been trying to get off the ground for over 6 years. The project needed to be driven by the Technology department, though it was for the benefit of the business and it required a 6 to 7 figure investment. It was the right project for the business, however every time the presentation went before the executive, it looked like an IT project. Of course the executive want to be focused on business delivery and the customer and did not care to support another internal IT silver bullet.
I spent the first month speaking to the business about what this would really do for them. I had to know the real value the business would get out of this – something that could be measured. If I couldn’t target those values, achieve and measure them, then we had no business even starting. Long story short, four months later we were before the executive again, this time with a business driven proposal, so much so that I asked the business manager to present the business benefits and drivers for the project. This had to come from the business and if the business manager could not stand up and justify this then we shouldn’t even be having the discussion.
The result is that this manager really had to be convinced of the value of the solution in order to justify it in front of the executive and we in IT had to help with that understanding, long before we got to the presentation. IT and the business had to work on this together. Gradually everyone started to feel the shift. It was no longer an IT project. It was becoming a business project. And the new presentation and new focus got everyone much more excited and motivated.
We now had a business driven project and proposal with measurable goals and targets that would provide real benefit to the business. So orient your project and proposal to be a business driven perspective, and you will feel the shift.