Preventing Projects from Going Sideways

Your project is humming along when, without warning, the scope expands. In the consulting world, this may or may not be a good thing. Within organizations, however, scope creep can be a real problem—usually hurting the bottom line.

The secret to controlling scope creep is to control it from day one of the project. This means ensuring that you thoroughly understand the project’s deliverables and carefully tracking that all efforts go into only those deliverables. As soon as you notice work being done outside of the scope, stop the project. Examine why things are off track and work on re-focusing the project.

To help you successfully control your project’s scope, follow these five rules.

  1. Understand the project. Before writing the project charter, make sure you understand (really understand) the project’s deliverables. Ask for and make sure you get all the information you need to understand the project.
  2. Build a Gantt chart complete with time and resources. Understanding the tasks involved in the project is critical to writing the project charter. This includes anticipated timelines and resources for each task. A Gantt chart can be a powerful tool for visualizing the project’s work requirements at a glance.
  3. Write the project charter. With Gantt chart in hand, you can now write the project charter. The charter should include relevant information that both you and the team can use to manage the project. This includes: definition of the project scope (what is and is not included in the project – be specific), project assumptions, project objectives and deliverables, project organizational scope, project timeframe, project team and other stakeholders, risk management strategies, project communication plan, and a project change management plan.
  4. Work on the project based on the approved project charter.
  5. Manage project changes using the strategies outlined in the project charter.

A final word: Expect that there will be scope creep. Sometimes projects evolve into bigger undertakings as they progress. This is not a problem as long as you manage the change effectively. Refer to your project charter for appropriate change management measures. This includes obtaining necessary approvals and adjusting your timelines and resources before continuing with the project.

By keeping everyone informed about project progress on a regular (usually monthly) basis, potential changes or problems can be caught early and the project adjusted, accordingly.

Here’s to your project’s success!

Customer Service

Organizations exist to serve customers. That’s obvious. What may not be as obvious is that organizations in turmoil often forget this fact.

When an organization’s focus shifts from serving their customers to serving their own needs instead, problems arise. For instance, if your staff is exerting great effort to try and get customers to follow the organization’s internal processes, this is a problem. Typically starting in one area of the organization, this problem can permeate like a mushroom cloud throughout the organization. The results can be disastrous.

Let’s face it. Customers don’t care about your organization’s internal processes. In fact, they don’t care about your processes at all. Customers want only the end product or the end service that they believe you can provide. How you deliver that to your customer is outside of the customer’s concerns.

But your customers do care if they get the run around from you. Sometimes they care enough to leave your organization altogether. This includes both internal (e.g., staff) and external (e.g., public) customers.

Here are some telltale signs that your organization is losing touch with its customers:

  • Customer queries are met with reasons or excuses about why something has or has not occurred.
  • Your staff points to the customer as the problem when the organization’s rules are circumvented.
  • There is a high staff turnover in your organization.
  • Staff on extended sick leave is a regular occurrence.
  • Work overwhelm is the norm.
  • Customer complaints are increasing.
  • You are losing customers.

Whether it’s from internal or external customers, treat customer complaints as an opportunity—an opportunity to improve both services/products and your relationship with your customer. Here are things to consider:

  1. Above all, acknowledge the customer’s complaint with an apology. Don’t give reasons (or excuses) for why things may have turned out the way they did.
  2. Provide options for rectifying the situation. Ask the customer if any of the options are satisfactory. If not, ask the customer to provide options.
  3. Immediately follow through on delivering the agreed-upon option.
  4. Check with the customer to ensure that the final delivery is satisfactory.
  5. Ask for customer feedback.
  6. Take customer feedback seriously. Implement changes in your organization to ensure that your focus is on the customer.

To this last point, if your internal processes are a regular hindrance to both you and your customer, it may be time for an overhaul. Instead of experiencing up to 98% waste in your practices, why not turn that wasted time, effort, and resources into superb customer service?

Be the customer! Look at your internal processes and ask yourself how you would change the process if you were the customer. You may be surprised at how much waste you might uncover in your processes in just a few short minutes or hours. It won’t take a lot of money (if any) to make small process changes for big customer satisfaction gains.

Turning Efficiency into Power

Time and again, I have spoken about the need for efficient processes and systems to enable employees to do their best. It’s not enough to do something right once and then forget about it. If the process or system isn’t set up to sustain efficient activity in the first place, then waste is (and will be) prevalent.

Based on a survey of 10,000 individuals in more than 400 companies, as reported by Bill Jensen, author of Simplicity, individuals rated their company’s ability to compete on clarity (helping individuals work smarter, not harder), navigation (helping individuals find who or what they need), fulfillment of basics (such as communication and knowledge management), usability (company’s effectiveness in all that it designs to help people get tasks done), speed (helping employees to work in a 24/7 ever-faster world), and their respect for employees’ time. Overall, four or more of these elements were reported as unfavourable by 67% of respondents, while only 19% reported four or more as favourable.

To put this into perspective, Jensen says that if you are an executive in a company of 100 employees, then:

  • 52 employees have to go back to their manager again and again to figure out what they’re supposed to do
  • 72 can’t find what they need for them to do their best
  • 75 are filling in the blanks for themselves on task/goal communication
  • 81 think their son’s computer game console works better than the tools you supply
  • 86 think you are like email when it comes to pushing speed down the chain of command, but you’re snail mail when it comes to acting on employee feedback
  • 88 have been trained by the company to guard their time, or at least to be dubious and have second thoughts, or hang back when asked to give more of it

Improving efficiency and effectiveness in organizations can improve employee engagement as well as speed of delivery of products/service to customers. By improving efficiency, all of the above numbers will decrease dramatically, usually by as much as 20% first time through the process. But it’s not all about process.

Being a Lean organization means much more than being efficient and effective. It means that the organization is healthy, responsive, focused, and transforming. A Lean organization exudes power and not merely a set of tools and techniques. But without the baseline tools and techniques to support the organization, getting to power is an impossible feat. It’s like trying to boil the ocean without any heat.

Accelerating Project Success

Ahh…the project. Who among us has never had to do one? No matter what line of work we’re in, we all have at one time and/or another engaged in projects. Anything from planning an event such as a small dinner gathering to building infrastructure like bridges and highways comes under the purview of a project. But did you know that the success of projects is determined in large part by the amount and quality of project planning?

The Project Management Body of Knowledge defines a project plan as “a formal, approved document used to guide both project execution and project control.” However, there are many occasions when a “formal, approved document” may seem over-the-top (e.g., dinner party planning). But no matter the size of the project, having some type of documentation to guide you through execution is recommended.

Consider this. Successful projects can typically be traced back to planning work that can take up to 80% of the project manager’s (and others’) time. What, you ask? When do they have time to actually execute the plan? You may be surprised to learn that the process of planning projects touches all nine areas of project knowledge control areas, whereas the execution process covers only five areas. In fact, of the five project processes (initiation, planning, execution, control, and closing), only initiation and closing have less steps than execution.

How do you make sure you have a fool-proof project plan? Here are five considerations:

  1. Define the purpose. Why are you doing the project in the first place? If you don’t know why, then you won’t know how to plan for the project, either. Knowing the purpose will help you define what success looks and feels like for the project.
  2. Allow freedom to happen, but don’t lose control. Identify what needs to be in place (e.g., policies, procedures, standards) to ensure project success. Then put this in place and trust your project team to move the project forward.
  3. Engage your team. Use brainstorming to fill in the gaps in your plan. Mind mapping used during brainstorming allows everyone to “see” the gaps and makes them easier to fill. A picture is worth more than a thousand words.
  4. Write the plan. Organize your plan in a logical sequence so that both left-brain and right-brain people will be able to glean understanding. Use a simple “at a glance” template and add detail in an appendix. Below is a template that I really like. It captures the “define-measure-analyze-improve-control” principles from Lean.
  5. Make decisions. As you implement your project plan, regularly keep checking the plan. Modify the plan during implementation, as necessary. Remember, plans are just that – plans. They serve as a guide in the process. Adjustments can and should be made to fit the reality of implementation.

Your complete project plan will include assumptions and decisions about the project as well as the project’s estimated (and approved) scope, cost, and schedule. Another advantage to having a project plan is that it helps to facilitate communication among stakeholders – they don’t need to guess about the project, since all the details are written in the plan. And that in itself can be counted as a successful outcome of your project!

Workflow as Easy as P-D-S-A

In 1939, Walter Shewhart introduced the concept of “plan-do-check-act” as a scientific process of acquiring knowledge. In the 1980s, Edwards Deming refined the cycle by changing “check” into a “study” process. The cycle is logical and is used to test information before moving to the next step. It can be applied to all types of learning and improvement. It can also be applied to improve your daily workflow. Here’s how.


  • Write down everything that you need to do. Hold this list in your in-basket, notebook, email folder or calendar, anywhere that you normally keep your “to-do’s” (but not in your head!).
  • Review the items on your list and determine priorities.
  • Determine resource requirements for each item on your list. Can you do it all yourself? Or do you need to delegate? To whom will you delegate?
  • Do you need equipment or materials to complete work on any of the items on your list? Note what is required and when/where to order.
  • How much time will it take for you to complete each item on your list? When you have your timeline, multiply it by three to get a realistic timeline.
  • Schedule time in your calendar for each of the planned items based on your realistic timeline.
  • Remember to schedule priority items first. Base priority on your organization’s requirements in light of long-term goals and objectives. If you’re not sure what a priority item is, ask someone who knows the answer.
  • When scheduling time to accomplish tasks, take into account your individual energy cycle. For instance, if your energy is higher in the morning, then plan on working on more difficult tasks, leaving less demanding work for the afternoon such as returning phone calls or emails, attending meetings, etc.


  • Do the work as planned. In other words, work your plan!
  • Follow B-F-A-T for email and everything else. For instance, if the scheduled item requires considerable work, B-bring it forward by scheduling time to work on it (e.g., big projects, research, report writing, etc.). If the item is for information purposes only, then F-file it. If the item can be dealt with in less than two minutes, then A-act on it now. If the item has no value to you or the organization, then T-toss/delete it. There. You’re done.


  • Daily, weekly, and monthly, review your calendar and list of to-do’s.
  • Update your to-do list by deleting items that are complete and rescheduling items that can be rescheduled.
  • Keep your list current.
  • If you’re falling behind schedule, can you delegate work? Perhaps your timelines are inaccurate. Go back and re-examine your estimates, requirements, and priorities.
  • What modifications need to be made to your priorities, schedule, resources, timelines, delegated work, etc.?


  • Based on the results of the review of your work (i.e., the “study” phase), make adjustments to your work plan.
  • Go back to the “plan” phase and repeat the cycle.

What you may have noticed about this four-step process is that we spend the most amount of time in the planning phase. This makes sense because planning is the most important part of anything we do. If we don’t plan, we set ourselves up for failure. It is not unusual to spend up to 80 percent of time in the planning phase. Once you know what needs doing and you’re prepared by planning for it, execution is relatively easy.  

Repeat this cycle as frequently as you need. It can be done several times even within one task. This cycle is your key to continuous improvement in your workflow.

Imagine if each individual followed a continuous improvement cycle in their work. The resulting benefits would include organization-wide continuous improvement such as greater efficiency, greater productivity, less waste, and a culture that thrives on innovation and change. The plan-do-study-act cycle is your key to continuing success.

If Everything’s Under Control, You’re Going Too Slow

Mario Andretti, retired world champion racing driver, said: “If everything’s under control, you’re going too slow.” In other words, there has to be flexibility in work in order to achieve maximum productivity. When there is little or no flexibility in work, there is a good chance that the work is being micromanaged. In the workplace, this quashes much more than productivity.

Micromanaging is the wrong way to work. It slows down everything and everyone. Checking, re-checking, and checking again is a sign that you have little confidence in either the work systems or processes or both. And if you are a leader with micromanagement tendencies, that’s much worse. Micromanaging leaders (typically Type A personalities) have the best intentions for the organization, but what they’re actually doing is tearing down the organization, one person at a time.

Micromanaging leaders create organizations with the following characteristics:

  • Weak, dysfunctional teams
  • Staff that are unable to make decisions
  • Staff that spend countless hours second guessing what is required
  • Underutilized staff skills
  • Fearful and poorly motivated staff
  • Lack of creativity and innovation
  • Confusion due to unclear vision, plan or strategy
  • Disempowered staff
  • Lack of trust between leaders and staff; and staff and staff
  • High staff turnover
  • Reduced productivity, efficiency and effectiveness

Micromanagement tends to show up when there is pressure and then with good intentions, the micromanager tries to do everybody else’s job to “help” them meet deadlines. Instead of improving productivity, it is decreased, and dissatisfied workers are created. High turnover of staff should not be a surprise in these situations. According to the College of Business and Administration at Southern Illinois University, the negative impacts of micromanagement are so intense that it is labeled among the top three reasons employees resign.

How can the micromanaging leader move away from the micro to the macro? Communication is the key. Leaders who don’t understand what their staff are doing and staff that don’t understand what the organization requires of them create an environment prone to micromanagement. Fear drives micromanagement, but lack of, or inadequate communication sets up the perfect conditions for micromanagement to thrive.

At the end of the day, both leaders and staff want the same thing–success: Success not only for themselves, but also for their organization. If you’re a micromanager, here are six things you can do to get back on the macro track to productivity:

  1. Conduct a self-assessment to determine your working style. Be honest about your style. Micromanagement does not have to be a way of life.
  2. Delegate work if you are in a position to do so; and trust your staff with the work. If you are not a leader, but are overworked, talk to your boss and discuss how to achieve better workload balance.
  3. Develop a vision for your department or organization. What should your department look like one, two, or five years from now? How will micromanagement impact this vision?
  4. Develop policies and procedures for your organization. Policies help identify standards and procedures help all staff meet the standards without the need to micromanage.
  5. Develop, maintain, and improve communication between all lines of management and staff. If no one communicates, how do you know where the problems are or what issues are most urgent?
  6. Expect and allow staff to make mistakes. Mistakes provide excellent learning opportunities.

In addition, learn to listen. Listening is an important element of communication. Don’t just pay lip service to communication. The more serious you are about communication, the less you will engage in micromanagement and the more your staff will engage with you and with their work.

Organizing for Maximum Productivity

Mary shares some tips on how organizing your priorities each day can save you time.

  1. The day before, start by planning and writing down your top priorities for the next day.
  2. Schedule time for each priority. Tip: Decide how long the task will take and then multiple it by three for a more accurate estimation.
  3. At the start of each day, review your priorities.
  4. Check and respond to email every day, End your day with zero items in your inbox –  all items handled, deleted, or flagged for follow up.
  5. During the day, work on your priorities as you scheduled them.
  6. At the end of your work day, start back with step 1.

This podcast is also available as an article: Organizing for Maximum Productivity


Best Ways to Impact Customer Satisfaction

Mary answers the question of how customer satisfaction impacts your business. She stresses the benefits of having satisfied customers that will spread the word about your great service as opposed to looking for new customers. Here are five tips you can use to help create totally satisfied customers:

  1. Treat your customers the same way you would like to be treated
  2. Train your staff to understand their role within the business
  3. Be accessible
  4. Listen to customers complaints and handle them promptly
  5. Run an efficient and trustworthy operation

This podcast is also available as an article: Best Ways to Impact Customer Satisfaction

Mapping the Inefficient Sub Process

Mary discusses how to map processes. Whether the processes are large or small tasks, the steps are the same. They include:

  1. Naming the process
  2. Identifying the start and stop points
  3. Identifying the output of the process
  4. Identifying the customers of the process
  5. Identifying the suppliers of the process
  6. Identifying the inputs of the process
  7. Identifying the top –five to seven high level steps in the process as it currently exists.

This podcast is also available as an article: Mapping the Inefficient Sub Process

Perfecting Products Before or After Launch

Mary discusses the importance of analyzing business processes to meet customer requirements and needs. By putting yourself in your customer’s shoes, you will be able to understand what is expected and acceptable.