Defining something as done can be in the eyes of the beholder.
But it shouldn’t be. Especially not in a business context.
At the level of projects
Projects, especially those with higher importance, need to have precisely defined goals. Not only do they have to be defined, but they also need to be discussed with all people part of the project, especially the customer and project lead. Why? To make sure that everyone has the same understanding of what the goals are. Only then will you easily reach a consensus over the state of the project at the end.
The general rule is: define SMART goals. SMART goals refer to:
Goals should not be vague or unmeasurable, certainly not unreachable or completely uninteresting for the customer, and for sure bound by time. Avoid such words as ‘faster’, ‘less’, or ‘better’. They are not precise enough.
Goals should be defined as a state one wants to be in or be able to do after the project is completed, not a task. It should be clear to the customer what the benefits will be when the goals are reached.
Goal definition should also include non-goals. By noting down what is not to be achieved by the end of the project, misconceptions about the goals can be cleared out.
Once the goals and non-goals have been set up and discussed with the team and the customer, there should not be any issues at the end to decide if what was planned was achieved.
Usually, projects have intermediate goals or targets to be reached while the project is running. The contract will need to specify these intermediate goals and how you prove they were reached. Why would you need intermediate goals or targets? There are several reasons but the most prominent could be:
- One task needs to be completed before the next one can start
- In this case there are so-called work packages that depend on something else being finished before they can start. Imagine building a house: you can’t add the windows before the walls are up.
- This can be a purely internal planning task: project managers define milestones such as ‘walls installed’ to trigger the next work package of putting in the windows. The customer only cares about the whole house being done.
- Customers require proof that tasks were done, either in reports or by having that part delivered or installed. They want progress reports regularly which means the project manager needs to be able to monitor the progress themselves to be able to tell the customer where they stand.
- Finishing intermediate tasks might trigger a payment
- The contract contains information about what needs to be delivered when and how much of the whole contract value is paid out because of this
Regular internal core team meetings help the reporting of the progress. The core team gets together to discuss where the project stands, what potential issues were not foreseen but need to be addressed and solved, and maybe some changes even need to be done that have to be discussed with the customer. These regular meetings help the project manager judge the progress and enable them to see if the intermediate goals can be reached as agreed.
Apart from reaching the goals defined by customer projects, which are well planned and followed up, there are also internal tasks that should be reached. Here the view on when is something regarded as done shifts a bit. Take e.g. an employee satisfaction survey. The goal is not only to get as close to 100% of employees engaged enough to answer the survey. The hidden goal is actually to reach high satisfaction and what to work on comes from the previous satisfaction survey. So only the result of the next survey will show if the real goal was reached, and it will in itself trigger the next hidden goal.
Above project goals, we find business goals
We can also take a step up from projects. Projects in a company need to cater to the business goals of the company as a whole. They need to fit the mission, vision, and values of the core company. Those form the border within which projects need to run. Projects feed the ‘what’ of company goals’ purpose. There are short-term and long-term goals of companies. Company goals need to be defined in the same way as goals of individual projects: SMART. They also need to be known to all employees.
The importance of reaching company goals lies in the motivational effect on the employees. Strong company goals and showing their progress are vital. Employees also need to be able to understand which company goals their projects and contribution serve. At the start of each year, the yearly company goals are announced. At the end of the year, progress is reported. Then comes the question: were all goals reached? If not, why? And what can be done differently when defining the goals for the next year.
For all the above-mentioned goals, one thing rings true for all of them: done is not enough. Yes, the comparison between what was planned and what was achieved needs to be done. You can then judge if the goals were reached. But there are also outcomes of the finalization that need to be answered:
- Are there any additional adaptations needed, any post-processing?
- Would the project have been planned any differently knowing what you know at the end of it?
- What did you learn from it?
The lessons learned should be carefully discussed (no pointing fingers, no blame game but truth) to make sure other projects can profit from them. They should be noted down and shared so that they can be consulted if a similar project needs to be set up.
The Entrepreneurial Tool
At The Cecily Group, we are using simple means to show everyone which company goal is reflected in which project: every project carries a stamp or image showing which company goal, from one year, plan to a three-year plan to a moon shoot, that objective mapper or OKR belongs. Objective mappers or OKRs contain information about the success criteria which can be translated into intermediate goals. The objective mappers or OKRs also define the goals by asking Why? What? What if not? Answering these questions helps define the goals.
The Entrepreneurial Tool to be developed takes this a step further: we intend to visualize the flow of these intermediate tasks using swim lanes, so everybody sees when a part is done and when it is coming to them. These are again intermediate goals that can be regarded as done by the predecessor as soon as they pop up in my lane. And there is a clear description of what needs to be done by when so that I can move the task from my swim lane to the following one.
The Cecily Group already uses team meetings at the beginning of each quarter to discuss all the ongoing and upcoming projects and to make sure everybody is aware of what needs to be done by when. That is equal to a project meeting defining the goals. There are also follow-up meetings with individual teams to ensure everything is running as planned. That way there should be no surprises toward the end as to what was supposed to be reached. And there is nothing more satisfying for a project manager than to be able to deliver a completed project on time, with the right quality and the agreed-upon costs. And get confirmation from the customer that all goals were reached, and the project can indeed be closed as done!
The Entrepreneurial Tool to be developed takes the part of lessons learned a step further as well: the idea is to have employees work to their unique abilities to motivate them but also make the best use of their skills. At the end of a project, employees are asked to rate how much the project fits their unique abilities. This is another lesson learned: the rating will tell managers if they picked the right project for the right person. And if not, choose more wisely in the future.
To summarize: the key to defining something as done is good communication and open information sharing. It starts at the project kick-off by defining goals and non-goals, it continues during the project with progress reports and meetings and it ends with discussing the results with the customer, be it an internal or external one.