The competitive landscape is changing – for us and for our clients. Technology has accelerated communications between customers, and therefore our clients’ marketing plans are fluid right up until the last minute. Our new “normal” is expecting last-minute project requests flowing into the agency.
The most successful project managers are the ones who know their project will change at some point (maybe multiple points) during the job. They may have the best-laid plans – budget set, schedule in place, suppliers all set up – but they have accepted and fully anticipate they will need to rewrite their plans tomorrow.
We call this approach Operational Agility.
Operational Agility was originally created for manufacturing processes. The objective was to remain competitive when customer expectations for quality and delivery continued to change. It’s all about moving quickly in a much more customized world. That is to say, speed is just half of the equation. Quality is equally important. You don’t want to be too quick to move in the wrong direction!
To incorporate Operational Agility as a best practice, you need to maintain two apparently contradictory points of view.
- Begin with the premise that projects are unpredictable, uncertain and change is inevitable. In fact, you need to welcome the change – and be prepared for it.
- To maintain high-quality standards and error-free execution, you must still rely on tightly controlled Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).
How do you do both?
Develop processes specifically for dealing with changes. Technology may help. And make sure to complement your SOPs with a nimble mindset.
We’ve been testing the Scrum framework to support our agile approach. One of Scrum’s principles is to acknowledge and accept that customers have new challenges to address all the time—and what they want and need will change. If operational challenges can’t be predicted, they also can’t necessarily be easily addressed. So, rather than focusing on defining the problem, we focus on helping the team respond to new issues as they come up.
Our Scrum approach increases project visibility between team members, provides real-time information on the progress of project deliverables and maximizes the team’s ability to respond quickly to emerging requirements. These processes should allow everyone in the agency to speak the same language, collaborate better, and quickly assess each project for addition, removal or revision of steps without jeopardizing quality.
Higher level engagement leads to greater trust. Our Operational Agility has helped us remove barriers. We no longer run as many decisions up a hierarchical chain of command. When team members are empowered, they are fully engaged.
Roles are more fluid, too. When a team member is overwhelmed, it’s visible to all of us and others can step in to help. That means there are many more cross-training opportunities. Those with extensive client and process history rub shoulders with new team members who may not have the experience, but do have plenty of new ideas. It’s a win-win.
Years ago, project managers may have been shocked or appalled when scope changed in the middle of the project – and rigid processes may have introduced roadblocks. In the new dynamic of this fast-moving landscape, project managers need to appreciate that what was not even a blip on our client’s radar a few months ago may be the most important marketing effort relevant in today’s market.
Through Operational Agility, project managers become critical to reinforcing quality and efficiency. These are the key drivers in facilitating the path to success.