In this third instalment of his series of opinion pieces, enterprise investment specialist Chris Potts suggests that flexibility and speed-to-outcomes can drive momentum and help make better choices.
When I trained as a project manager, long ago, a first-principle we learned was that delivering either early or late causes problems. Stick to the milestones you most recently agreed. Flex your approach to fit with the timescale, not the other way around. Otherwise, you will deliver out-of-sync with what’s happening around you, putting at risk both your project’s success and the value of everyone’s work.
Later, when I learned about investing in change, that principle’s importance became even more obvious. Each project is a fragment of our enterprise journey, creating outcomes from stability and change. There are wider impacts from delivering change late or early, not just for the process the project is part of, but for other related events. The scale of the potential impact does not equate to the size of the project: any out-of-sync change, large or small, could cause just as much collateral damage.
Enterprises also have milestones, to achieve by particular dates. These are big-picture outcomes, rather than project deliverables, and need to happen at various speeds. Timescales depend on our enterprise strategy, fickle markets, and how well we are doing. It’s up to us to keep noticing, testing and adjusting, and set the pace in the market if we want to. The dynamics of managing a portfolio of outcomes is very different from delivering projects.
Diverse goals, different timescales
Enterprises typically invest in 10-12 types of outcome-based goals. Although the milestones for each one evolve, the "goal types" themselves are very stable. In a commercial enterprise, for example, they are likely to be:
- Plus one or two more that are enterprise-specific.
Your chosen goal types, whatever they are, are your solid foundations for investing in change. Their milestones have a diversity of horizons and timings. Some are defined years ahead, while others for this month or less. There are ones that are targeted to a regular rhythm, such as quarterly revenues and costs. Others are when-and-if-necessary, such as legal and regulatory compliance. Few, if any, are set in stone. Many are shaped by external developments, and most we will change as often as we choose, as we continuously learn from results and events. Dynamic investment is the key to success, in a world of multi-speed change.
Momentum, choices and culture
Your performance, at creating on-time outcomes from change, depends on what is most driving your momentum and choices. The answer is embedded in your enterprise culture, so it is important to know what to look for.
A full diagnosis of your “investment culture” reveals more perspectives and answers than space here allows, but here are a few things you can easily check:
- Are your goals for change expressed as target outcomes, rather than as outputs or activities?
- Is the pace of change in your enterprise driven by the diverse horizons and timings of your goals?
- Are you prioritising goals, rather than individual changes?
- When people propose ideas for change (e.g. in business cases or agile backlogs), do you start with the contribution to your goals?
- While a delivery team is executing each change, is someone else still managing the investment (see the conclusion to my previous article, Why some ideas work better than others)?
The overall momentum in enterprise cultures is either speed-to-implementation or speed-to-outcomes. The latter, when dominant, takes care of the former.
In a speed-to-outcomes culture, the delivery approaches flex to fit with the goals and their various timescales. And as with my original "lesson 101" in project-managing change, that is indeed the right way around.
Photo credit: Brett Jordan (Unsplash)
Look out for the fourth and final part in this series of guest posts, where Chris will focus on end-to-end portfolio performance, concluding that – from the ideas to the outcomes – it’s all one portfolio…