The new year is traditionally a time to start new projects. There is often a collective sense of anticipation that lasts a while and can be used to fuel new initiatives and new projects, an energy that should not be wasted.
I find the metaphor of a coach journey works well to explain how to get new projects to succeed.
The first decision is to agree your destination; start with the end in mind; where are you going with this new project or initiative and how will you know when you have arrived? Time spent bringing your destination to life is never wasted as it makes it clear when the project is actually over and the coach can return to the depot. The destination should be rich in context and should be appealing to all of the people who will be affected by the journey and especially appealing to those you need on the coach to make the journey possible.
The next decision is what type of vehicle do you need to make the journey successful? A large coach, a mini-bus or a fleet of small cars? The nature of the journey and the terrain you need to travel through will help you determine which vehicle is best suited to this project. A departmental project with limited scope, a mini-bus will suffice, a company wide transformational change initiative will need a large coach and a fleet of smaller mini-buses to ensure the destination is reached. Whatever vehicle you decide upon, each can only have one driver at any one time, so who is driving is the next critical decision to make, and, like real life coach journeys, the driver will need to be relieved at some stage during the journey otherwise they will get tired and risks will become issues!
Once the vehicle is chosen and the driver is known, thought needs to be given to who is needed on the coach to make the journey a success. Note, some passengers may be on the coach for the whole journey, whilst others will be only on the coach for a limited period and may get on and off at particular stops along the way. In any case the driver needs to be crystal clear on who needs to be on board at any point in time and which seat they are sitting in so their role on the journey is clear.
Once all the passengers are on board then the actual route needs to be agreed. There are always many different ways to get to any destination and collective thought needs to be given to the most appropriate route for this particular journey. The motorway is usually the quickest but the stops are few and far between, the views are rarely spectacular and the service stations are overpriced and uninspiring and traffic jams, when they occur, can last a long time! The country lanes by contrast usually take a little longer but the journey can be more pleasurable, the local pubs more heartening and as a result the conversations more convivial. A hybrid journey that incorporates both may be what is required. New thinking rarely emerges with a head down, travel fast and get to the destination as quick as possible journey. Whereas a stop over at a nice country pub to chew the cud, share different views and develop several ideas may be what is needed to ensure the destination is reached with the passengers in good heart and ready to take advantage of all the destination has to offer.
Once the journey is over the passengers need to disembark and the coach needs to be returned to a suitable depot. At this stage a quick look through the coach to ensure all personal belongings have been removed is worthwhile. What detritus has been collected along the way and what reflections are there that can be useful for future journey’s. This cleaning and learning step is often overlooked as the driver and passengers have moved on to new journey’s and the coach can be left abandoned on the side of the road, or worse is found careering along without any driver or passengers to control it! How well have you learned from previous journeys in your organisation and how well have these lessons been shared?
Of course this is only a metaphor, but the parallels between the coach journey and the life of many project teams is remarkable. If you are interested in talking to me about how to improve your organisations project performance then please get in touch and we can shape a journey together.