Getting things done is only one part of the equation (though it’s a big one). How do you improve your chances of success on new projects and/or for growing your business?
I’m working on several new projects as part of my new company. In all cases, as I’m creating the end product, I’m trying to work backwards rapidly to lay out what a project plan would look like. As a former project manager, it’s the part of the business I least like, and yet, it’s the most important. As your business scales, it’s even more important. Here’s what I’ve learned.
Make a “Franchise” Plan
If you’re a small-to-growing business, or if you’re a department working on new processes, the same still lays out: think as if you’re building the “franchise” of how you’re doing what you’re doing. What do I mean?
Every McDonalds in the world operates roughly the same way. They have the same rules on the temperature of the meat. They have the same rules on the greeting of customers. They want the experience to be very much the same everywhere.
In building out projects where you might not be leading the charge, but where you want to put your touch on the project, you have to explain things about the experience, as well as the build. If you’re the leader of a new social media effort in a company, you want to have your team members and your newcomer team members to all have the same shot at success. If you’re the restaurant owner, you want your second and third restaurant to have the good customer service experience of your original place. Make sense?
Think like a franchise.
Put your “guest experience” down on paper (in a document). Start by writing out the story. Then go back and look at that story and see if you can find the parts that make up a process. Then, write out what kind of training it will take to make that story match the process.
Story – process – training.
The Blue Book
One of my old bosses, Dan Carney, used to say this: “If it’s a decent process, we can copy it into a blue book and others will be able to replicate it.” By “blue book,” he just meant a 3 ring binder with printed pages. Five or six section dividers. My mom used to project manage a similar way at the phone company.
You can immediately figure out what can’t be replicated. If Michael Jordan’s blue book said “sink baskets,” you can’t just read that line and do it. However, if the book said, “Every time there are two people open, have one run in, have one run back,” that’s pretty repeatable.
What goes in the book? The story, boiled down as much as possible, followed by the processes, simplified as much as possible, followed by checklists. Now, the checklists vary.
Two Ways for Checklists
Dan Carney had another piece of advice: If you’re working with a bunch of teams, let them decide what they need on the checklist. You just manage the larger milestones. They know better than you.
So, if you’re working with larger or team-framed business, then you can do the same: whoever wins the opportunity to project manage, let them decide to handle just the milestones, and assign the detailed checklist to the team itself.
This works until it fails. Then, add the parts they broke to the project manager’s checklist for next time as “just to be sure” parts.
If you are only working with a team of one or two, you have to keep matching very detailed checklists. It just doesn’t work well otherwise.
Timelines and Stuff
If you don’t manage timelines, you won’t have a project. It’s important to put up time estimates and then learn what the reality actually takes. Always add more time than you thought you needed. Always realize you’ll blow even that most times. Adjust the blue book the second time around.
Another important part for timelines. Someone has to own each task. Putting it down on the document doesn’t mean anything unless there’s a name, and it still doesn’t really count until the person listed as an owner agrees to the time you set up. Without a name and an agreed-upon date for each piece, you’ve got a wish list.
The True Test
When you have really made it beyond “mom and pop” business into the next level is when someone who didn’t write the franchise plan or the blue book can pick them up and execute in a way that you’d want it all to go. That’s the test. You make exceptions here and there, but even those should be documented in the end.
It Feels a Bit Grown-Up
But then, that’s how business grows. Right?
How about you? See anything you’re doing in all this? What’s your experience? Have you written either a franchise plan or a blue book equivalent for your company or your team? How’d it go?