A company has two basic kinds of project: external and internal. External projects have a paying customer; they make money, but internal projects waste it. At least that seems to be the sentiment in many firms. People think that internal projects are less valuable and less critical.
The truth is that internal projects require the same level of attention and dedication as external projects. They use cash generated from customer projects to strive for business results: competitive advantage, cost savings or increased revenues.
As a management consultant I’ve helped clients in the planning and execution of internal development projects. Time after time the same issues seem to hamper initiatives. Here are some of the most typical, and my ideas on how managers could avoid them.
Plan steps that deliver results fast
A long change program with results expected far in the future is not going to create a feeling of urgency and commitment. Break down a large project into manageable bits that deliver visible results fast. The more concrete and measurable the results are, the better.
Give employees time for the project
Few employees are lucky enough to get a full time post working on an internal project. Most workers have to take care of everyday business first; only when this is completed can they use what little time is left for the project. They cannot give their best when their minds are constantly struggling with other issues.
You should give the employee a whole day in a week, or a week in a month when he or she can concentrate solely on the project. Offer a replacement to cover their usual role for that period, and communicate the arrangement to the employee’s colleagues and managers. Make sure to support the employee in situations when the requirements of the project and their “normal” work collide.
Share a simple project model
Companies have great models for customer project deliveries. Still, many companies lack basic project methodologies and practices internally.
Practically all personnel should undertake basic project training. A company must have a simple, generic project management model and manual. Those who are going to be named project managers should receive training or mentoring before the project kicks off.
The managers who initiate a project have certain goals in mind. They know why the project is necessary and why it is beneficial. Unfortunately, others can see the project as one more distraction with little or no results.
People are more accepting of change when they understand why it is necessary and what’s in it for them. It may sound like a cliché, but bi-directional communication is a key to project success. Showing an example is a great way to communicate.
A successful customer project not only brings in money, but also gets attention. The project team receives an extra bonus or other rewards. Sometimes a project is noted in the media. How often are people involved in internal initiatives awarded due credit?
Make internal projects known in the company and reward success. That way you’ll ensure you have an even more motivated project team next time around.
It is amazing to hear from time to time that companies don’t measure the effect of a project. It is no wonder people think that nothing has changed and that internal projects are a waste of time.
Plan how to follow up on the results after the project is completed. Making these results public and discussing them is an effective way to learn and improve project performance in the future.