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New Year’s Resolutions—Using Project Management to Live Up to 2016 Resolutions

2016 is here, and so is New Year’s resolution season, replete with its standard clichés. The following represent the top 10 commonly broken New Year’s resolutions according to TIME Magazine.

• Lose Weight and Get Fit
• Quit Smoking
• Learn Something New
• Eat Healthier and Diet
• Get Out of Debt and Save Money
• Spend More Time with Family
• Travel to New Places
• Be Less Stressed
• Volunteer
• Drink Less

While all the above represent personal resolutions that tend to fail, I wonder what a list of business resolutions might look like:

• Reduce Turnover
• Cut Operating Costs
• Drive Bigger Profits
• Improve Employee Morale
• Expand Market Share

Like the personal New Year’s resolutions that we “commit to,” yet inevitably fail to actualize, these organizational resolutions too often fall short. What is it that stops resolution success?

The Elusive Magic Pill

Since “lose weight and get fit” is typically on everyone’s mind post-holidays, we will use that for comparative purposes. Consider this: Just as people want to take a magic pill to reverse unwanted holiday weight gain, so do companies seek a quick fix to hit their goals without taking the time to rationally approach what they aim to achieve. Resolving to lose weight is easy; it’s actually executing that stops folks dead in their tracks. “I want to lose 20 pounds… now how exactly do I do this?” And when results don’t come, that’s when panic, frustration, and ultimately indifference set in. From an organizational standpoint, it may be easy for firms to make resolutions, but without meticulously defining and planning how this will be achieved, implementation will simply not happen correctly, efficiently, or even at all.

Organizations can get serious about their New Year’s resolutions with a project approach to moving ahead. There is no magic pill. It requires a good foundation of project management expertise that can clarify what needs to be done using well-defined projects that plan for success. For example, the Kepner-Tregoe Project Management process uses three distinct phases for project success:  Definition – Planning – Implementation. These three phases comprise a clear flow of procedures that, when followed, will position organizations to take appropriate and effective action.

Project Statement and Objectives

Before starting a weight loss regimen, be clear about your goals and mission. How much weight do you want to lose? By when do you expect to lose it? What is your motivation? Prior to starting any project, DEFINE it with a clear project statement and set objectives for how value will be added. This means having a simple statement outlining the project’s timeframe, its relative cost, and the expected result at completion. This answers the question, WHAT is the intent of the project? And it should include a list of the ways the project will add value or WHY will we do the things we will do for this project and toward what end goal(s)?

Create a Work Breakdown Structure, Set Resource Requirements and Assign Responsibility

How will you structure your workouts and meals? You simply can’t approach a weight loss regimen by chance. Your regimen must be calculated. If you do not plan your meals, you may overeat. And if your workouts lack structure, you can over-train and risk injury. In project management, once there is a clear project statement with objectives for the work, the next step is to create a work breakdown structure (WBS) that clearly delineates how the work will get done, with deliverables and specific tasks clearly listed.

Understanding HOW the work should get done, teams can begin estimating HOW MUCH the work will cost. Planning a weight loss program requires a strict appraisal of one’s resources, as it will cost time and money for the equipment, food, vitamins and facilities needed to put all the puzzle pieces in place. Within project definition, we consider how much it’s going to cost us to do the project, taking into account the cost of the people whose skills we’ll need, the equipment we’ll use, the facilities we’ll require, etc. Doing this step early provides a checklist of what is needed for the project and helps us think about WHO specifically has the project skills required.

Sequence and Schedule

At the gym, sequencing means setting your workouts so you hit specific muscle groups on different days. From a nutritional standpoint, it means arranging your meals so you have certain supplements, foods and types of calories at different points in the day.

From a project perspective, in WHAT ORDER will the work be completed? What tasks must be done as natural precedents for others to take place? How long will each activity take? There are various techniques for graphically representing the workflow of a project. These techniques help project managers identify the minimal amount of time their projects will take, as well as the critical tasks that, if not executed flawlessly, can force the entire project off-schedule. Sequencing must happen prior to scheduling any work; once tasks are ordered sensibly, it’s a simple matter of adding date/calendar times. Furthermore, with work happening at different intervals, it should be easier to involve people in projects and avoid conflicts and overwork.

Protect the Plan

You have your weight loss and exercise plan and it’s all written down. Great job— assuming it’s followed verbatim with no roadblocks. Will you have every meal as planned, every day? Work-out as expected? Maintain the level of discipline you were so confident of on New Year’s Eve? What if your workout plan does not go as projected, and what will you do if it goes off track?

Because we make mistakes, it is important that we plan ahead to protect our project from unwanted pitfalls. How often does something go awry in a project? While perfection may be unattainable, preventing easily avoidable issues is not. As the saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  Within the KT toolbox is Potential Problem Analysis, a risk management tool for viewing the future and planning preventive and contingent actions. If well-integrated as part of the organizational “lifestyle,” it can be the saving grace when teams wonder, why didn’t we think of this beforehand? Unfortunately, preventive planning is too often weakly attempted.


An improvisational approach to dieting scarcely succeeds. To execute on a regimen that works, you need a plan that is carefully constructed and a process for implementation that includes monitoring and performance feedback so that progress stays on track according to plan. Like any well-planned project, this requires monitoring project performance against expectations and, if necessary, making the modifications needed to reflect unforeseen changes and keep moving ahead. In our experience, projects should never end cold turkey; there needs to be a closeout process to evaluate the project and address lessons-learned for forthcoming projects. Just think – after finishing your workout plan, wouldn’t you want to reflect on how well you met your goals and what you could have done differently?

A Lifestyle of Clear Thinking

True results happen when a diet becomes a lifestyle. Change your eating habits for a month, you might lose five pounds but gain them back quickly. Change your eating indefinitely and you will transform your body. Take project management training and you will gain good information. But, when rational approaches permeate the way work is done by an organization and its people, clear thinking becomes the organizational lifestyle.

It’s 2016. Your organization may have resolved to lean in and get fit this year. What steps are you taking to act on personal—and organizational—resolutions with rational approaches to achieving success?


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