Project Management Institute

Driving in circles

JANE HOLLEN is chief information officer-North America for Xerox Corp. Xerox is a $15.7 billion technology, document management and consulting services company based in Stamford, Conn., USA

JANE HOLLEN is chief information officer-North America for Xerox Corp. Xerox is a $15.7 billion technology, document management and consulting services company based in Stamford, Conn., USA.

photography by DAVID BRENNAN

BY JANE HOLLEN

I've been associated with product and systems development at Xerox for the last 20 years, and during that time, some form of project or program management has always been a critical part of the company's business structure. A decade ago we created our Time to Market Process, a clearly structured methodology that enables us to bring the right products to market faster.

In order to drive process simplification and reinvigorate our dedication to quality, our chairman and CEO, Anne Mulcahy, set a Lean Six Sigma agenda for the entire company two years ago. Part of our Lean Six Sigma agenda is a team acceleration model that recognizes the criticality of effective interaction between people in the development of sound strategy and the delivery of superior execution. Max Issacs, principal of 3Circle Partners, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, developed the model, and Xerox is making this model real.

High-quality planning is a critical enabler for the success of any project.

Imagine three overlapping circles. The first is sound strategy. We ask ourselves if we have clear alignment with both our business strategy and where our evolving business models are heading. As we perform investment prioritization, we ensure that there's a clear project sponsor who constantly can verify that a measurable, compelling business need exists.

The second circle is effective interaction (the circle that sometimes gets left out.) Human interaction is a complex system; people must be able to interact effectively from concept to delivery, and they must feel comfortable enough to raise their hand when a problem occurs. I can't emphasize that enough. We spend time teaching people how to conduct an open dialogue—clear, open, honest and fact-based communication is an essential element of a high performance work team. Rather than promoting a hero driven culture, we create a proactive culture where people elevate issues and concerns early on. We can't shoot the messenger: We need to enable an environment where the messenger is applauded.

Successful interaction requires that we implement processes that allow us and project team members to see potential red flags early on. As the organization matures, we're starting to build a more analytical risk based assessment. Using a failure-mode analysis on our projects allows us to look at what failure modes could happen and how we can prevent them.

But as in any living organization, stuff happens. Mistakes are made, so it's imperative that we enable double-loop learning—examining what went wrong, why it happened and why we didn't identify the problem before. Then we build that lesson learned into our next project plan.

Finally, the third circle is superior execution. Building a sound strategy and creating effective communication makes high-level performance a possibility. High-quality planning is a critical enabler for the success of any project. When stakeholders unite to set the upfront definitions—clearly defining the scope, specifying in great detail the end result and determining exactly who will participate and how—we put a project on a successful path.

Projects with crystal-clear planning tend to yield the highest value because they have predictable quality, cost and schedule. Senior managers should spend time in the beginning phases of project definition and planning; it's the highest leverage point in the execution phase. Projects that don't get the planning done right upfront typically lead to senior management involvement later, and management either pulls the plug or helps drive major re-work: Either decision is costly in terms of money and morale. With the proper planning in place, we become more proactive and put the right enablers in place for a smoother ride to delivery.

Driving in circles brings us to our destination: project realization that is the shortest distance from the identified business need, fueled by a highly energized and motivated team. It's a great place to be. PM

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

NOVEMBER 2004 | PM NETWORK

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