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Taking a Program Management Approach to Achieving your Goals

Caitlin Keat

June 22, 2020

Have you ever set such a large goal for yourself that you wondered how you’ll ever be able to achieve it? After spending almost 15 years as a program manager I see many lessons from how we manage programs that can help you be successful in these endeavors. So today I’ll share with you some of the key techniques we use to achieve success in programs, and projects, that will help you achieve success in your goals. For the sake of illustration, we’ll use building a house as our goal.

Step 1: Set your goal

Seems self-explanatory, right? You already know the goal you’re trying to reach; you’re building a house. The trick here is to be very clear about not only your goal but how you know when you’ve achieved it. If you go into this process with only a vague sense of the end state, you will have trouble knowing when you are done. In project management terms this means having a detailed and measurable deliverable.

Let’s take a look at our example in this context. Is my house “done” when it’s framed out? How about when it’s closed in? Technically you could live here at this point. But what about flooring? Should I have all of my major appliances in place? Do I want it to be painted or furnished before I consider it done? You can see how many variables there can be with a seemingly defined goal. So, make sure you know what done means before you start. For our house, we’re going to say done means that we’ve enclosed the house.

Step 2: Surround yourself with a good team

If I were starting up a program, I would fill my team with people I trusted and that had relevant experience. Setting up a team to build your house would include a general contractor, electrician, plumber, architect, etc. Over the years I’ve learned that you need to have enough breadth of experience to set a vision and assess when things go wrong. I’ve also learned that you can never be an expert in everything. To ensure my programs are successful I surround myself with people who are experts in their field and I truly value and utilize their input. If you have a team whose advice you constantly ignore its useless to have a team. As you translate this to your goal think about all the pieces that need to come together to get you there and who can help you do so. Don’t forget your friends, family, and champions as part of your team. Even if they’re just there to pick you up and dust you off.

Step 3: Layout the steps to your goal

Now we know our goal, know what done means, and have a team but how do we get from dirt to a new house? Again, using our project management terms, this would be setting our baseline. The first step in setting your baseline is to figure out all smaller steps you need to get to your end goal, how long each takes, how they are dependent on each other, and how much each cost. This is a great place to use your team, they’ll no better than you the answers to these questions based on experience. Back to our house. We know that’ll we need to have a foundation, framing, electricity, plumbing, walls/siding. We also know that we can’t start the framing until the foundation is finished. We can start electricity and plumbing at the same time but not until the foundation is done. Last, we can start the walls/siding after both electricity and plumbing are finished.

Let’s say our foundation takes 2 months and $10k, framing takes 1 month at $15km electricity and plumbing take 1 month each at $5k, and walls/siding take two months at $15k. Based on our logic above the house will be done in 6 months, remember the electricity and plumbing are happening at the same time. The total cost of our project will be $50k.

Step 4: Execute and assess your progress

All right it’s time to get started on those steps we laid out. We’ve got a plan, and this is going to be great, right? In a phrase, it depends. Every plan that I’ve executed in my career has seen deviations along the way. Even great plans cannot account for every variable and unknown you will encounter. Again, this is easy to see in our house example. What if you find something unexpected in the land as you dig? What if excessive rain keeps you from pouring cement for your footings? What if you run out of supplies? What if a pandemic stops construction?

It’s important to know change will happen and not lose hope that you’ll get the end. As a program manager, we’ll work with our team to assess what has deviated, why, and how we can correct it. Sometimes this means changing course, dealing with schedule delays, or spending more money. As you move along your execution path remember to check in with your plan and alter the course as needed. Most importantly remember that changing course is not a failure, it is a necessity.

Step 5: Celebrate success!

This one probably seems easiest of all but in my experience, it’s not something we do well. We tend to focus all our energy on the end goal and wait until we’ve reached that to acknowledge success and celebrate it. However, as you stand at the end and look back you can see all the successes along the way. You realize you didn’t go from start to the end goal, you built yourself up to step by step until you reached the top. Building houses and reaching goals are hard work. If you don’t pause along the way to celebrate and say thank you, you will drain your energy, and your teams, needlessly. So, celebrate every success you can think of in every way you know how, whether they are small or large.

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