11 October 2009

Determining the Appropriate Deliverables for the Finalization Phase of a Project

In previous blog entries I have suggested what the generic goals and deliverables should be for the first two phases of a complex project. This blog-entry will suggest what the generic goals and deliverables should be for the finalization phase of a complex project.

When a team enters the finalization phase of a complex project, it typically has carried out most (or all) of the key analytical activities that are required for meeting the specific project goals. The overall success of the team's work in this phase is very much determined by the work that has been carried out in the previous phase. In addition, there is seldom an explicit borderline between the project phase and the finalization phase, as the process can be iterative in nature as insights are developed and final analytical activities are carried out.

In this final phase, the main goal of the project team will be to develop and communicate the overall deliverables that have been agreed for the project. However, even if the work in the previous phases has been carried out successfully, there are still two aspects that can go seriously wrong in the finalization phase of a complex project:

- The project team is unable to develop clear-cut conclusions and recommendations based on the work they have carried out
- The team does not communicate its findings appropriately (to the right people and in the right way)

In my experience, complex projects are helped by defining a number of generic deliverables specifically for this phase that are related to avoiding these pitfalls. These generic deliverables will help ensure that the overall goals of the project are met on time and within agreed budgets, and will help ensure that project recommendations are actually implemented.

Deliverable Nr. 1: Clear conclusions and recommendations. This may seem obvious, but one of the most typical problems with internal teams carrying out complex projects is that they do not provide conclusions and recommendations. The requirement that the team must provide clear recommendations needs to be clearly stated at the beginning of the project, but should be re-iterated at the beginning of the finalization phase. This will ensure that the team understands that they are expected to come up with actionable conclusions ("go left" or "go right" not "it is possible to go left or to go right"). The specific deliverable should be a (short) presentation to the sponsor on what the team believes that the conclusions / recommendation coming out of the project are.

Deliverable Nr. 2: A pyramid supporting the conclusions / recommendations. The Pyramid Principle is a tool used by consultants to force the project team to develop a logical supportive structure for their conclusions. The basic methodology is well-defined and easy to learn. Developing a pyramid will serve both as a logical test of the conclusion / recommendation (do the results of our analysis support what we want to say?), as well as providing an excellent starting point for developing presentation and reports for the communication process. The pyramid can be tested with the sponsor at the same meeting as the suggested conclusions and recommendations.

Deliverable Nr. 3: A communication plan. Most internal project teams only work toward a final presentation to the steering committee. This often leads to problems because presenting new material to a steering committee often leads to surprises and unwillingness from the steering committee in accepting the conclusions and recommendations. A process should be put in place that allows the individual members of the steering committee to see the final presentation individually before the final presentation so that they can give their opinions, and ask their specific questions. In addition to the steering committee there are usually also other stake-holders to need to be informed in order to ensure buy-in and implementation.

If you can honestly say at the beginning of the finalization phase of your project that all of these generic deliverables will be developed, then the project has greatly enhanced its chances of successfully reaching its overall goals in such a way that the conclusions and recommendations will be accepted and implemented.

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