Performance Improvement Projects: Four Key Questions for Success

How well does your firm carry out its performance improvement projects and initiatives? Is success the exception rather than the rule? To avoid getting bogged down with your performance improvement projects,  here is a checklist of key questions to ask when selecting and executing projects.

Question #1: Are we doing the right things? All activities and projects aimed at improving a firm’s performance should be done within the context of the organization’s overall competitive strategy. There is no point in spending time, effort and expense to improve those things that should not be done. Similarly, not all improvement opportunities have the same priority: given a firm’s overall strategy, it is likely that some improvement opportunities should take precedence over some others. Strategy is what gives performance improvement direction and focus.

Question #2: Are we doing things the right way? This question is often misunderstood. It does not refer to how well a firm’s performance improvement projects are being executed. Rather, it refers to a firm’s design and structure – the architecture that allows improvements to succeed. It is a firm`s overall architecture that provides the fabric which allows it to integrate its business processes across functions. When an organization`s architecture is either lacking or not understood at the top leadership level, it is likely that performance improvement projects that cut across business functions will flounder and not succeed.

Question #3: Are we getting things done well? This is the execution question. However, it transcends execution to ask first if the commitment and discipline needed to ensure success has been assured from top leadership. Commitment and discipline from top leadership ensures that the necessary resources are in place, that deliverables and actions to be taken are clearly understood and communicated, and that the authorities and responsibilities needed to ensure productive working relationships from all affected personnel have been established and delegated.

Many performance improvement projects fail, not because they were poorly executed at the tactical level, but because the project became dysfunctional. Dysfunction usually arises when the working relationships between personnel involved in a project have become polluted. This can only be avoided by securing top-level commitment and the outset and ensuring that everyone involved is clear about the rationale for the project, the delegated responsibilities and authorities, the actions to be taken, the methodology to be followed, and the metrics and process for monitoring and review in place as the project unfolds.

Question #4: Are we getting the right results? At every stage of the project life cycle, a project team must review and evaluate if the desired results, outcomes and benefits are being achieved. a surprising number of performance improvement projects are undertaken where there is a lack of clarity about desired outcomes and results. Since virtually every performance improvement project contemplated or undertaken by a firm involves a commitment of resources and time, the outcomes and results achieved must be regularly monitored and reviewed by top management.

Many improvement projects flounder because outcomes, results and measurables have not been defined at the outset, and/or because the management review timeframe for the project is too long. In the first case, it will be impossible for management to review the progress of any improvement project if desired outcomes and their metrics have not been defined; in the second case, if progress reviews are held after too much time has elapsed, it will be too late to implement corrective actions designed to get the project back on track. Having outcomes and measurable defined alone is not enough – progress reviews must be frequent enough to ensure that corrective actions can be taken in a timely manner to prevent project failure.

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