In Part I of this series, we identified lessons learned, and in Part II, we examined why projects were restarted and failed for the same reasons. In this final section, we explore how project success rates can be improved and how this may help when you have solutions for complex challenges.
One technique for improving project success rates is root cause analysis. This allows us to get to the bottom of a problem and to fix it once and for all. It works well in stable environments. When, however, environments are complex, there is a complication: High-impact problems typically have many causes, which can change over time.
This leads to situations in which analysis efforts get lost in too many causes. Attempts to address all of these causes individually lead to solutions too large to be executable. When such solutions are pushed forward regardless, employees can intuitively recognize too many unsolved matters, which fuels endless discussions and opposition. A common reaction is to limit root cause analysis to a specific area such as the area of a best practice or an organisation. This brings us back to Part II, where we learned that projects are restarted and fail for the same reasons when nobody feels responsible for certain root causes.
We found that, in complex environments, root cause analyses and associated solution identification work well when the following criteria are met:
- Open analysis: This is analysis without restrictions.
- A wide yet ‘small’ enough boundary to identify an executable solution: On the one hand, for high-impact problems, analysis across organisational boundaries and across expertise areas is usually necessary. On the other hand, the scope needs to be contained within a boundary so that all parties involved can agree on a solution framework. In order to swiftly transform conflicting views into an agreed solution framework, this may require advanced facilitation techniques.
- Focus on high-impact problems: This prevents everyone from getting lost in too many causes. A problem-tree approach, in which lower-level problems are linked to higher-level problems, can be very effective. With this approach, we found that unidentified lower-level problems were solved when their higher-level problems were solved.
- Focus on identifying the lowest-effort but highest-impact solution for all parties involved: Focus can be created by asking these questions: ‘With clients, the enterprise and the employees in mind, what is the lowest-effort but highest-impact solution for all involved?’ ‘Do we have the feeling that the solution is executable under acceptable risks and costs, and that it will deliver on its value proposition?’
Applying root cause analysis and solution identification this way led to the findings presented in this series, as well as to a consistent stream of effective solutions to complex problems. You can help your organisation to boost project success rates, create openness for unconventional solutions and boost the value of best practices. To get going and to overcome initial resistance, here is a technique you can apply:
Get managers, best-practices experts, project managers and impacted colleagues into a face-to-face meeting. Make them explore the current situation, using the following approach:
Present Parts I to III. Finish with an open question like this one: ‘Are our best practices delivering the best possible value?’ Next, break into groups for discussion. Reconvene to continue that discussion with all participants (a technique from David Guerteen’s Knowledge Cafes). The learning effects from conversation, as opposed to presentations or readings, can make the difference between follow-up action and no action.
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