The psychology of project success

Over the years I have come to the conclusion that productivity is not only about the tools and procedures that you have available to you but actually to a very high degree about the human interaction involved.

I firmly believe that psychology has a much greater part to play than many think.

Possibly one of the best examples of this is during the 1960’s when the Americans were in a fight to beat the Russians to put a man on the Moon.

The story goes something like this….some senior politicians were visiting Florida, where the rockets were launched. As ever with such visits they are stage-managed and all was going very well. At a certain point, they saw a man who was sweeping the floor and they asked him what he was doing (As if it wasn’t obvious). His reply, however, was surprising. I am helping to put a man on the Moon.

A wonderful example that illustrates the point so well.

From my perspective, it started to dawn on me that the human factor played such an important part during the first major project I was involved in during my time running New Product introduction in an Italian design centre.

The centre had existed for about 2 years but had not yet launched any significant products. Sales were not great inside the company in Europe and so there were some concerns that if we did not have a product that we could call our own, the design centre might close as well as the company decided to exit the European market.

It was obvious that sales were required in Europe in short measure but there were no new products that were scheduled to be available in the timescales needed.

The European head of sales had identified an existing legacy product that had been very successful but needed it to be modernised. As a result, we were challenged to take an updated set of electronics and put them into a totally different form factor. The product was needed in three months.

Using the normal processes inside the company this could never be done.

We knew that we were going to have to break or at least bend some rules to achieve our goal. We also knew that whatever we did, we’d have to make sure that there were no compromises in what we produced. After all one poorly executed success could also destroy the company’s reputation.

Three months later we had that new product in production.

Even then, we had to pull defeat from the jaws of success. Just as we started we discovered a failure mode that we had never seen during any prototype. We mobilised anyone who could help (In this case, it was a six sigma engineer from the factory) and within 24 hours a fix was found and we were back into production.

The product sold well and revived our European sales.

So what did systematic learning did I take away from this project that I have applied to others in the future, and what proof do I have that the approach worked?

The systematic psychological steps:

  1. Everyone in the design centre knew about the product we were designing. Whenever something was needed, people rallied around to make sure that the obstacle was removed.
  2. Everyone involved in the project knew exactly what needed to be done and took their responsibilities seriously.
  3. There were never excuses for issues that inevitably arose. They were simply fixed as quickly as possible because…
  4. When the issues arose, the focus was on the issue, not on the person.
  5. No one worked only in their function. If someone in one area had the skills to help but were in a different organisation, they helped, and no one minded if you were involved in each others function
  6. During the design phase, we manufacturing guys helped the design team keep to the design schedule. During the product launch phase, the design team helped the Manufacturing team launch the product
  7. We involved the prototyping (And subsequent mass production) factory as early as possible. They were part of the team from day one!
  8. During the run-up to prototypes, we had daily meetings to make sure that everything was prepared. Everyone was focussed
  9. People were not called upon to do anything other than the project. Everything else was subordinated.
  10. When a risk was being taken, everyone knew. Everything was transparent  

What proof do I have that this worked?

This design centre, until it finally did close (sadly), from that first project, never missed it’s on time, cost and quality performance.

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