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spike bullet August 2008 - Secrets of New Project Success

Avoid Square Peg in Round Hole
Improving the Process
Four stage process
Benefit of Process
Resources (links, books, articles, the lighter side)

color bulletSecrets of New Project Success

                 By Baldwin H. Tom, CMC

Avoid Square Peg in Round Hole

"Let’s set up a creative thinking program."  

"OK, this should be in HR."  

When an organization-wide (cutting across functional groups) initiative is housed (structured) in a business unit without first working through the full aspects of the effort, one often finds the proverbial square peg in round hole problem.  The resources are not well matched, personnel do not have the appropriate skill sets, the unit leadership does not have the ideal passion, etc.  One then wonders why the initiative does not work out well.

The need to quickly identify a place to house an initiative is very strong because new things are disruptive and known entities more comforting.

When there is an owner, someone becomes responsible to manage the new effort and there is a sense of ‘containing’ the newness.  Yet, this should not be the first step taken.  Why would one choose one home over another before the effort is clearly defined?  

When working on cross cutting initiatives like establishing a creative thinking initiative, the choice of a home may seem clear.  "Let’s place it in Human Resources."  Until one has defined the nature of the initiative, know how to implement it and who or what might be needed to make it work, providing a structure should be the last thing done, not the first.

Improving the Process 

Here is a four stage process that avoids the urge to house a project before its definition.  The progression of stages — Goal, Process, Resource and Structure — is particularly important because each provides answers to a logical, sequential set of questions.

  1. What do you want to do?
  2. How are you going to do it?
  3. Who or What do you need to get it done?
  4. How are you going to assure consistency, reproducibility and performance measurement of the efforts?"

Descriptions of each stage are provided in chart form.




What do we want to achieve?


A common focus helps overcome individual agendas.  This must be a shared goal.  

If there is insufficient time devoted to reaching a shared goal, the effort will not be optimized and the best scenario will be that not all participants will be engaged. 

Without a shared goal, the worst scenario will be that the entire effort will unwind and be discarded.  

Note that a shared goal is one that all participants can articulate in ‘their’ way.  

Hence, if the goal is not clearly stated, it will be a challenge to agree how to proceed.




How are we going to do it?


Of all the stages, this may be the most important one. 

If the process is poorly considered, then the entire effort is at risk. 

Asking this how question, at this point, will focus the group on methods and procedures to be aligned with the goal, purpose, or vision and hold off discussions about what can’t be done because there is a lack of personnel or funds. 

As the original goal was shared by all participants, completing this stage before considering resources should not be controversial. 

This stage is critically important if one is building a coalition working on a common cause. 

Then it will be important to agree on desired behaviors as part of the process that will help offset differences in personal values and organization norms. 

Decision making considerations must be articulated here as well.  Is this by consensus? How is consensus defined? Who represents each group? 

Building a coalition is a deliberate act and if a key step is missed, it makes the effort more difficult.




Who or what do we need?


This discussion is guided by who or what is needed to manage or act on the processes/methods. 

The rubber finally meets the road here because by answering this question one determines whether the in-house talent, experience, or materials/technology is sufficient or not. 

At this point, if the effort has been conscientious and the goal desirable, there will be strong impetus by participants to consider ways to obtain the needed resources, rather than give up for lack of resources.




How are we going to assure reproducibility and performance success?


Structure refers to policies and procedures, rules and regulations, and operating norms that provide guidance to such efforts. 

It refers to procedures such as clear, transparent, and consistent means for communications; it refers to the office responsible to manage the project that includes the means for reporting progress. 

It refers to the necessary administrative hierarchy; it refers to the process to evaluate and measure results; it should also refer to deliberate ways to acknowledge successes – individual and group! 

The latter is especially important for all participants, regardless of status – employee or volunteer.

Benefit of Process 

The first steps taken with this four stage approach allow free thinking that energizes participants because constraints are not called into play until after different options for getting the work done are presented under Process

When limited funds and other resources constrain the plans under Resource, efforts to find ways to overcome the limitations are greater when there is passion and ownership of the efforts. 

In contrast, if constraints are brought into play early in the planning that inhibit expansive thinking, there will be less invested emotional energy to seek ways to find needed resources.

About the author: Baldwin H. Tom, CMC®  Former instructor in Strategic Thinking and Planning for the United Way of America; Past National Chair of the Institute of Management Consultants USA, 2004-2006.  Get free management downloads from (under Publications). 
©1999-2008. The Baldwin Group, Inc. All rights reserved.  Used by permission of the author.

  Internet Resources

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world wide web - articles  Articles

Related newsletter articles:
    June 2001 - Successful Project Management
    November 2006 - Project Management - Early Warning Signs
    December 2000 - Sponsoring Successful Projects
    November 1996 - Management vs. Leadership
    April 2001 - Consulting Skills for Managers
    June 2004 - Successful Stakeholdering

smiley graphic  The Lighter Side  


About our resource links:  We do not endorse or agree with all the beliefs in these links.   We do keep an open mind about different viewpoints and respect the ability of our readers to decide for themselves what is useful.

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