results-oriented project management

Are We There Yet? An Outcome, Results-Orientated Approach to Make Project Management More Efficient

By: Conrad Herholdt

There is an old saying in the business world. When getting a project done, you can only pick two desired approaches — good, fast, or cheap. Picking all three is a wild utopian fantasy that rarely, if ever, works. When it comes to product development, more often than not, managers opt to pick good and fast.

The idea of picking good, a.k.a. quality, is clear. Deliver a high-quality product to protect your brand image and increase the lifetime value of your customer. But fast, a.k.a. speed-to-market, is a little bit less clear. How do managers get a quality product to market quickly and answer the relentless question of, “Are we there yet?” Our solution: Following an outcome, results-oriented mindset.

What is an Outcome, Results-Oriented Mindset?

Having an outcome, results-oriented mindset requires a healthy dose of empathy. Understanding what’s happening in the customer’s world and how the product solves their problems while creating new possibilities for them requires organization. 

Success, under this approach, occurs when a customer’s life changes for the good. Adopting the product or service delivered by the brand somehow makes their life easier, making them more likely to recommend the brand, return for a repeat purchase, or react with a social share online. 

The question then becomes: How do you infuse this outcome, results-oriented mindset to capture those results? Here’s the three-pronged approach and ways of working our team leverages to achieve the right outcome and positive impact by solving your customer’s problems together.

Step 1: Defining the Definition of Done

The best place to start is at the finish line when embarking on a new product management initiative. It’s here where you can capture the goal and define the outcome that the team aims to achieve. 

The key during this stage is to formulate the goal in a specific way and without ambiguity. The defined outcome resonates best when it is: 

  • Clear
  • Tangible
  • Quantifiable
  • Able to be measured

With these four elements in mind, the team should be able to define the end product’s objective, be it a capability, a component, or a feature, and clearly explain the purpose of the output goal. This definition should be so clear that the entire team can visualize and describe it internally. Nebulous definitions will cause teams to move in a foggy direction. It is paramount to cultivate a clear picture of a tangible end product, and have that definition clearly articulated by the management team, development team, and even the end customer. 

With the definition clarified, quantifiable acceptance test criteria needs to be identified that one would use to measure when that desired outcome’s objectives have been met. In other words, at what point will the outputs meet the Definition of Done (DoD)? This, too, should be as clear and tangible as possible, without ambiguity.

Step 2: Pinpointing the Prerequisites

After starting at the end, the management team can then catapult themselves back to the beginning of the process. It’s here where your team can identify the prerequisites needed to get the project and product in motion, the required inputs and dependencies, and any “raw material ingredients” needed to formulate, build, and/or assemble the end product. 

In addition to identifying the prerequisites to get the product in motion, teams must also obtain the right resources. For example, suppose a team is missing a key component for executing the project. In that case, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to identify, assign roles to, and enable the work package to begin. 

Step 3: Outlining Key Processes

Your team is ready to start the journey with the vision clarified and the key resources lined up. The final step in this three-part process is to connect the dots between the starting point and the DoD. 

  • What will the process look like from start to finish?
  • What tools and techniques need to be mastered to achieve the desired outcome?
  • Who will need to perform the work to enable the desired outcome? 

This stage is both an art and a science. There’s a science to defining the steps to bring the concept to life. Then, there’s an art to performing, managing, monitoring, and controlling the people, resources, processes, tools, and techniques once the project is in motion. 

One of the most impactful ways to bring these two worlds together is to identify the W5H2 — the what, who, when, where, why, how, and how-tos. 

A great technique used quite often is to visualize the process into three core segments — the inputs, the processes, and the outputs. By drawing out the how-tos, managers can bring the desired output into focus and help convey how each person’s work contributes to the end goal along the journey. In this visual, managers also have the means to demonstrate and confirm their understanding of the customer’s need and how it can be resolved. 

Visualizations like these are key in taking a good and fast outcome, results-oriented approach. They help confirm and validate the customer’s desired outcome while simultaneously identifying additional key inputs required and additional tools, techniques, or processes needed to enable the project’s success. 

These visualizations also help answer that key question — are we there yet? Demonstrating an understanding of the desired outcomes and measuring progress towards that goal helps continuously refine the DoD and keep teams on track. 

Plan, Do, Study, Act for Guided Continuous Improvement

You don’t have to have been in product or project management for long to know that few things happen linearly or sequentially in this space. Infused into this three-step approach is a need for Guided Continuous Improvement (GCI). 

GCI occurs when teams can adopt a regular cadence between the team and customer to gather feedback and ensure everyone is on track to reach the desired result successfully. This process happens by holding regular proofs of concept, show-and-tell events, and progress reports that showcase the evolution of the project. 

By focusing on the end product, teams can deploy the plan, do, study, and act (PDSA) repetitive cycle as a means for pinpointing potential defects early on, mitigating the creation of unnecessary features, reducing the risk of partially done work, reducing delays, and easing the handoff and hand back process. Gathering that consistent feedback throughout the project builds momentum and assists in the flow of the work performed by reducing more work than is needed and maximizing the team’s talents and resources. 

There’s another byproduct to the PDSA approach too. Teams learning more pragmatically can keep options open and deliver value quickly. This approach further respects fellow team members’ inputs and ideas, which has the potential to optimize the whole. It builds resilience in the development process by continuously validating the work being done and integrating and testing dependencies. Collective feedback and proactive customer engagement throughout the development lifecycle lets teams come together with more unity. Then, when the question is asked, “Are we there yet?” you can answer with confidence in the vision, the direction of the team, and the vision for the scope of the work being performed.