Alignment, Alignment And Alignment!

Whenever we get involved with a team to help them to rescue their project, we quickly encounter the term “not aligned.” I mean this happens 100% of the time, which means there is always an element of misalignment. Here are a few examples:

  • Misalignment of the customer’s expectations to those of the project team. In some cases, the project manager works as a middleman between the customer and suggested vendor, and the vendor may not meet the customer’s expectations.
  • Misalignment of resources – this is where you need a specific experienced resource, but you’ve been provided with a junior resource.
  • Misalignment of the budget with the deliverables of the project, mostly because the deliverable was not clear, and the estimation was totally inadequate.
  • Misalignment of work breakdown activities with the project deliverables either because the deliverables were not understood or were not specific enough.

This is the seventh blog by Mat-Thys in the series “Managing Projects: The Forgotten Art Of Influencing People To Get Results”

There is bad news and there is good news regarding alignment. The bad news is that “alignment issues” are a major cause of project failures. The good news is that they are fairly easy to fix. The fix lies in the alignment requirement to be adhered to from the outset of the project. Unfortunately, this requires you to get involved in many additional activities at the beginning of the planning process, but all worth it. In Project Management we have a saying that every hour you spend on careful planning will save you nine hours later in the project.
The definition of alignment is very interesting. It has the following two meanings, which I think are applicable to managing projects:

  1. Arrangement in a straight line, or incorrect or appropriate relative positions, like the act of aligning parts of a machine or parts of a project. (I’ve added the section “parts of a project” because I think it is highly relevant in that way).
  2. A position of agreement or alliance, which I think is what it is all about in projects.

I would then summarize it as, “Alignment is an act to align all parts of a project and reach a position of agreement or alliance.”

The above definition is significant because it means you will not get alignment unless there is an act to get all parties aligned and it is not good enough without the agreement of all the stakeholders. This tells us that you actively will have to get stakeholders together to discuss, iron out and agree on all the factors mentioned above.

You might rightfully ask, “How would we execute the above with our clients?” That is a fair question and the following would be our guidelines to achieve the “act” and the “agreement” portions of the alignment definition:

  1. Once the initial expectations were gathered from all the stakeholders we would decide with the project sponsor and project manager which stakeholders to gather in which meetings to discuss final deliverables and to get an alignment at the same time.
  2. During the meetings GAPS are identified, ill-defined requirements are clarified and the final project deliverables are crystallized. We go one step further and we then get all the stakeholders to agree which deliverables are minimum requirements (non-negotiable) for the project. We identify and get agreement on these and also identify which of the remaining deliverables are highly desirable and which are just “nice to have” requirements. The value of knowing this up-front is priceless!
  3. The project team will determine the work breakdown structure and will use the various project management tools to itemize what needs to be developed to populate the project with the necessary specific information. Again it would be worthwhile to go back to representatives of the previous stakeholder meetings to get feedback, discuss and problem solve issues that might have been picked up at that time.
  4. We are pro-active in these meetings whereas we also look at “what if” scenarios to prepare all the stakeholders psychologically for what might have to happen if the “what if” scenario occurs. This way we have a good idea of options when we do run into problems with a project.

The ultimate aim is to get alignment and buy-in for the deliverables of the project. If there are legitimate reasons for a scope modification we already have a good idea of what could be done to deal with it effectively and with the approval of all the important stakeholders.

Remember what we stated earlier, “One hour of good planning will save nine hours of work later.” This might sound insignificant, but imagine if you spent two weeks with all these meetings. It would save 18 weeks of work later in the project and that is highly significant!

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This blog and this entire series of blogs were first published by Thinking Dimensions Global.

Mat-Thys Fourie
"I believe that Management would like to see their staff as skilled problem solvers, solving and restoring service issues/incidents 'first time every time', reducing company Mean Time to Restore and Mean Time To Repair cycles. This is done by providing staff with repeatable tools/templates and worked situational questions to stay on the path through organizational difficulties and barriers towards restoration and successful recovery." Dr. Matthys Fourie is a Professional Problem Solver as accredited by the Institute of Professional Problem Solvers (IPPS). He is an author of several books on Root Cause Analysis, Project Management, Problem Solving and is the co-author of the KEPNERandFOURIE® Thinking methodologies. He has over 31 years of Problem Solving and Decision Making experience helping organizations across the world solve some of their most vexing and seemingly unsolvable problems. He has worked across a wide spectrum of industries from Automotive, Financial, Manufacturing, Medical Devices, Pharmaceutical, Nuclear, Insurance, Airline, Technology, and Telecommunications. He has work in companies such as Macquarie Group, SASOL, Unisys, SITA, Barclays, RBS, NCS, Singapore Stock Exchange, BMW, VW, Cadbury Schweppes, Westpac, National Australia Bank, Department of Education NSW Australia, Kimberly-Clark, Hollister, Stihl Inc. and the U.S. Navy.