Mastering the Art of Delivery Excellence

Biren Parekh is an agile leader with 28+ years of global experience in managing complex digital transformation & implementation programs across the gamut of retail & corporate banking. He has previously worked with global companies like Intellect Design, Barclays Bank, Oracle, and Tata Chemicals in senior management roles.

In a conversation with Charulatha, a correspondent in Siliconindia magazine. Biren discussed fostering a cul- ture of excellence, defining successful Delivery Exce- llence, and improving efficiency in project delivery.

Effective and concise communication is the key to ensuring everyone is on the same page and understands their roles and responsibilities

What qualities do you believe are crucial for fostering a culture of excellence in project delivery?

Creating a culture of excellence in project delivery involves fostering an environment where individuals and teams are motivated, empowered, and aligned toward achieving exceptional results.

It is imperative that project vision and goals are defined and published to the project team and stakeholders.

In my opinion, there are several qualities and skills that are crucial for fostering a culture of excellence in project delivery:

1. Power skills: The power skills comprise of various soft skills comprising Active listening, Communication, effective leadership, collaboration, empathy, emotional intelligence, nego- tiation, and conflict resolutions etc. This power skills help to build strong teams and successful outcomes. Effective and concise communication is the key to ensuring everyone is on the same page and understands their roles and responsibilities. It might be a better idea to even document and share with team members. It helps to brings the clarity and prevents misunderstanding among stakeholders. There is absolutely no harm if you over-communicate. Ideally majority of leaders’ time should go in the communication as what I believe. Similarly empathy and emotional intellligence are skills that are much desired for the project success.

2. Define RACI Chart: RACI is acronym for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed. It is good idea to ensure that RACI chart is published upfront for different project roles and ensure that everyone is fully aware of it. This ensures a sense of ownership and accountability among team members. When individuals take responsibility for their actions and deliverables, it creates a culture of trust and ensures that everyone is committed to delivering high-quality work.

3. Quality Focus: Delivering high-quality results should be a top priority. Emphasizing the importance of quality in project delivery ensures that attention to detail, thoroughness, and excellence are ingrained in each team member's mindset and work ethic. Its always a good idea to go through the past lessons learnt and try to see how can we incorporate the lessons in the current delivery.

4. Risk management: This is one of the area which is often overlooked by the leaders. It should be one of the first priority to proactively identify and potential risks, each sub-domain or section wise. The risk mitigation plan should be clearly articulated and the mitigation budget should be the considered in the overall project cost.

5. People management: Human resources are at the core of the any project delivery. The organisational and project goals can be only achieved through a growth mindset. Team should be sufficiently empowered to take decisions. They should be encouraged to fearlessly give feedback which ultimately fosters innovation, better problem-solving and faster decision-making. Recognizing and celebrating achievements, milestones, and successes is essential for maintaining morale and motivation. Acknowledging and appreciating the hard work and dedication of team members creates a positive and rewarding atmosphere. Providing oppor- tunities for professional development, training, and knowledge-sharing helps to keep the team motivated and up-to-date with the latest industry trends and best practices.

What core elements define successful Delivery Excellence in a business context and how can efficiency and project delivery quality be improved within an organization?

In today’s VUCA world, successful delivery means whether we can meet business outcome in acceptable timeframe or not. For that, strategic planning, smart execution, and commitment along with governance oversight are key elements. Some of the core elements which leader should keep it close to heart can be following points

1. Will to Excel: The very first objective should be will to excel. One should clearly define the project goals and objectives at the start of the project and convey the same to the team about expectations. At the same time, it is good idea to even publish KPIs to measure project success.

2. Robust Planning and Execution: A well-defined project plan that outlines key milestones, deliverables, timelines, and resource allocation is crucial for successful project delivery. Implementing effective project management practices, such as regular progress tracking and risk management, ensures smooth execution and minimizes disruptions.

3. Effective Resource Management: Allocating the right resources with the necessary skills and expertise to each project is essential. Efficiently managing resources helps optimize pro- ductivity, minimize bottlenecks, and maintain high-quality standards.

4. Stakeholder Engagement and Communication: Engaging and communicating effectively with stakeholders throughout the project lifecycle is vital. Regular updates, transparent communication channels, and addressing concerns promptly contribute to stakeholder satisfaction and overall project success.

5. Continuous Improve- ment and Lessons Learned: Embracing a culture of continuous improvement allows organizations to learn from past projects and adapt best practices. Conducting post-project evaluations, identifying areas for improvement, and implementing lessons learned help enhance future project delivery.

Second part – to improve efficiency and project quality and delivery, some of following strategies can be implemented

1. Lessons Learned: I feel that best practices from the organization, unit or team should be very well documented and referred to when you are starting any project delivery. The mistakes made in past should be documented in the forms of lessons learned and should be referred to even before project kick-off. This simply helps to bring 20-25% efficiency in the project execution.

2. Quality Assurance and Quality Control: Quality Assurance and testing requires strategic and structured approach. This is quite often overlooked and sufficient investment is not done in the space. It is imperative to invest in Tools and technologies and ensure automation is done to achieve required quality. The leader should upfront set the expectations and measure the performance against it periodically. Establish quality assurance processes and mechanisms to ensure that deliverables meet or exceed expectations. Regular audits, peer reviews, and quality checks help identify and address any potential issues or gaps in project delivery. Ensuring first time right helps to reduce reworks and one can simply pocket efficiency of 10-20%

3. Invest in Project Management Tools and Training: Utilize technology and tools that facilitate efficient project management, collaboration, and communication. Additionally, provide training and development opportunities for project managers and team members to enhance their skills and competencies. Having continuous Governance oversight using data helps to bring the lot more efficiency than one can imagine of.

4. Streamline Processes and Eliminate Redundancies: Identify and eliminate unnecessary steps or redundant processes that hinder efficiency. Streamlining workflows and establishing standardized procedures can help improve productivity and reduce delays.

5. Foster a Culture of Innovation: Encourage creativity and innovation within the organization. Empower team members to propose and implement new ideas, approaches, and technologies that can improve project delivery efficiency and quality.

By focusing on these core elements and implementing strategies to improve efficiency and project delivery quality, organizations can drive successful Delivery Excellence and enhance overall business performance.

How can a leader strike an effective balance between addressing team members' needs and fulfilling the demands of achieving project excellence, and what methods are used to gauge Leadership's impact on overall project and team performance?

Balancing the needs of team members and achieving project excellence is a critical aspect of effective leadership. One need to have clear upfront strategy to manage the subject rather than getting int reactive mode.

One can adopt one or combination of following strategies for the same.

The very first step towards balancing the team’s need and fulfilling project demand is to have open and transparent communication with your team. One need to ensure that key team members are taken in confidence before any commitments are being made to external stakeholders. This ensures that everyone is aligned with the project and organization’s expectations.

Its always good idea for leader to understand team’s strengths and aspirations upfront. The leader can leverage those levers during the needs of a team member seeking an effective balance.

Always, it’s not possible but whenever possible, it is good to have backup resources so that one can utilize the backup resources while meeting a need to strike an effective balance between project demands and colleague’s needs.

The rewards and recognition plays an important role in motivating team members and hence one should devise a strategy that drives the team throughout the project and not sporadically.

To avoid one of the most frequent problems about conflicting leave plans during the festivities is to collect holiday schedule of each team members upfront and jointly discuss, negotiate and agree on the individuals need and project demands to ensure effective balance between needs and wishes of team members.

Its always good idea to gauge the impact of leadership on project and team’s performance.

One can have regular feedback loops with team members to guage what is working for the project and what is not.

Another way to guage project success is collect feedback from stakehodlers and customers, which may be in the form of CSS or CSAT.

Another way of collecting feedback is taking anonymous 360 degree feedback from all internal stakeholders. This gives clear picture on where and how leader stands internally.

Another indirect way to measure is to check data with respect to delivery quality, and ability to meet project timeline. Both in tandem gives clear picture of team and leaders performance.

"Embracing a culture of continuous improvement allows organizations to learn from past projects and adapt best practices"

What are the key methods and resources necessary to sustain a high level of performance in project delivery, and can you describe a scenario in which inadequate leadership had an adverse impact on the delivery process, along with potential preventive measures?

Its imperative to have predictive and sustainable performance over the period of time to gain customer’s confidence, more business and get word of mouth reference for sales in other market, geography or country.

Following are some of the assured ways to continue with predictable and quality delivery

1. One need to culture of continuous Improvement in the organization. Any mistakes or lessons learned should feed forward to the next project or program deliveries. Having common repository to store lessons learnt and access as well as awareness helps to ensure that quality and timely delivery comes out of the stable – all the time.

2. Second most important part is to ensure that robust and proven project management processes are defined, followed and even audited to see that project sails through as expected. One need to ensure that sufficient flexibility should be there in the system to manage deviations without impacting the quality.

3. One should not forget to ensure that ‘saw is sharpen’ periodically for team members. Not only that, even evaluation of those training should be done and feedback should be looped back in the system to see that subsequent sessions are improved version.

4. One should also take care that team members are not burnt out due as a part of stretched deliveries due to different reasons. Mental health of team is of utmost importance and leader should keep an eye on that.

5. Strong risk identification and risk management is required to be done from the beginning. This should be done by taking inputs from all members. Periodic and continuous risk monitoring is required to be done and appropriate risk mitigation plan should be prepared and vetted out.

Quite often leaders misses some of the aspects and it results into quality issues all the while.

I have learnt and noticed from stories of several industry leaders about the situations whereby top management overcommits to secure the contract. This results into unreasonable timelines and puts pressure on the team. The team, out of compulsion will agree to the timeline relentlessly. Stretching beyond certain limits for more than few days is not sustainable and this ultimately results into quality issues. When confronted, few team members will resign putting additional pressure on remaining team members getting into vicious cycle. Ultimately, the project delivery will fail at the last moment or half-baked deliveries will be made resulting into huge escalation and obviously roll out some heads.

Strong governance should be implemented right from the beginning and that also with executive oversight. Any watermelon reporting should be deeply investigated and root cause should be addressed. Its better to do under commitment and over delivery instead of over commitment and under delivery.

Appropriate training to leaders and project managers is of utmost importance and should be seriously undertaken.

What role does effective communication play in achieving Delivery Excellence, and how can leaders ensure it is maintained throughout a project?

The communication is the most important aspect of project governance and project management. The project manager should spend majority of the time in the communication to and with stakeholders. Many organisations and project managers overlook the communication aspects.

With smart and effective communication, any gap or misunderstanding among stakeholders can be ironed out or blind spots can be unearthed. It is said that it is better to over-communicate instead of leaving void due to under-communication.

The leader should appropriately choose the appropriate communication method for stakeholders depending on their power, authority, and available time to review the project status. The communication mode, reports and method should be different for different stakeholders. In some cases, the communication can be push kind of mechanism whereby you shared the reports by email. And in some cases, it can be published in the common folder or collaboration tool from where stakeholder can view or download the reports.

The communication can be different for internal project team and can be different for customer’s project team. Also, different type of reports can be prepared and shared for sponsor meeting, governance meeting or for senior and top management reviews. One need to ensure that only relevant data is present for the category of stakeholders.

The leader need to publish the frequency of publishing such reports at the start of the project and get concurrence from stakeholders at the kick-off meeting. The leader then need to ensure that at agreed frequency, reports are published. PMO or project lead can publish the report on the given frequency.

Even investing in good project management tool can help to generate variety of dashboards and reports in real-time status at the click of the button.

So, the efficient and effective communication is the need of any project and plays important role in Delivery excellence.

Disclaimer: The views mentioned are solely of the author and does not represent his employer - CRISIL's views