Focus on Value, Not Projects #noprojects

What is your focus, if not a project?

This is the latest in a series of articles on #noprojects; examining how organisations can deliver continuous change without project structures. If you haven’t already, you should read the first in this series.

We will start this article by looking at the costs of running a project vs a continuous change model to help you understand the financial benefits of #noprojects. We will then get practical and dive deep into a #noprojects implementation and give you a framework to structure work as activities around defined outcomes. You can jump straight to part 2 if you are already convinced of the value of #noprojects.

Part 1: The cost of projects

Projects are, by definition, a layer of management, governance, and supporting activities on top of an agreed sequence of work. As such, by definition again, projects introduce additional costs into the work process. We will start by looking at the three O’s of cost that differ between continuous changes vs. a project; Overheads, Overruns and Opportunity costs.

A quick definition: Overheads are the direct costs borne from running a project. These are relatively small, but the easiest to quantify and recover. Overruns are potential costs caused in rectifying planning, estimation issues or overall project failure. Depending on the risk profile of the project and the maturity of the organisation’s estimation process, these costs can range from very small to very large. Lastly, an opportunity cost is the forgone revenue expected between project initiation and deployment. The longer a project runs without deploying a change, the larger the opportunity costs.

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Part 2: A focus on value not effort

Let’s start you with some basic #noprojects terminology. An outcome is a meaningful, and fundamental, change in the status quo as a result of a series of related changes. An activity is any discrete work that is undertaken as part of a change.

For teams to be successful when undertaking complex work, they need to be structured around delivering outcomes. I call this a Value Delivery Team. This is a different approach for many organisations, as teams are traditionally structured around functional capabilities (e.g. Finance, HR, sales, or IT). As outcomes may require the skills from multiple functional areas, These cross-functional teams benefit the organisation by improving coordination, simplifying communication & accountability, and sharing expertise to solve problems. This is similar to a team formed in a matrix organisation, however a Value Delivery Team (or division) should be permanent and report to a single, accountable, line manager.

An organisation will obviously be working on multiple outcomes simultaneously and each of these will be assigned to one or more permanent or temporary teams as required. In turn, each team is accountable for planning and delivering the ongoing activities required to achieve the outcome assigned to them. It is important to ensure outcomes do not contradict each other or lead to unintended consequences.

Organisations need a way to manage work without resorting to projects. That’s where activity management and the activity canvas come in. The activities delivered by each dedicated Value Delivery Team to achieve an outcome exist on a continuum; small to large effort against low to high value. Your status quo (or do nothing) sits at the bottom left. This is managed on the activity canvas below.

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