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Mis en place

In the restaurant trade, there is an operating principle known as mis en place; a place for everything and everything in it’s place. Adherence to this philosophy is one of the key ingredients that lead to an orderly and functioning kitchen. This got me thinking. Are there equivalent operating principles which can help raise the probability of successful project delivery?  The answer is yes, of course there are. One of the fundamentals is the right thinking at the right time.

What is the right thinking at each of the five stages (concept, selection, defining and planning, execution and management and finally close-out) of our project lifecycle? Let’s explore.

Concept stage thinking.

The key at the concept stage is to rapidly answer four questions:

  1. What do I want to achieve with this project?
  2. Why do I want to achieve it?
  3. What obstacles am I likely to encounter?
  4. What action do I need to start today to move this forward.

A prime example of this thinking is with our annual review and planning (I know not everyone does this, but let’s assume you do). As we plan for the year (we have lots of great ideas and things we would like to achieve this year.

The first thing to do is to start capturing these and listing them down as separate projects, collecting related items into one project. Answer in detail “what is it that I/we want to achieve?”

Once this has been done (and it may take a lot of time and a few attempts), the next step is to ask “WHY is this important”. Write down the answer. Now read it again. Is this the real reason or driver for the project? Does it pass the “so what?” test or do you need to ask why again. You may need to ask yourself why several times before the answer unearth’s itself. Once you find the true why, make sure you review the “WHAT” and update it if necessary.

The next thinking that you need to do is anticipating the obstacles that will lie in the way of a successful outcome. This could be money, or time, or bad habits. List them all down and beside them, the consequences that they would have on your project. Now go back and look at each in turn and ask yourself, or your team:

  1. What is the probability of the obstacles derailing your projects.
  2. With the information above, decide if you need to remove the obstacles or not (i.e. accept the risk, anticipating that the probability and/or consequence don’t merit any additional attention).If you need to eliminate the obstacles, then there is no doubt a lot of planning and action required. It could be anything from changing habits (stopping bad ones, forming new ones), raising money to fund the project or creating time to dedicate to it. You need to address these items before proceeding into the execution of your projects, as these items may well be the enablers to help you succeed. That is, projects in their own right that need to proceed all others.

And finally, you need to take action everyday that moves you closer to delivering your project. Stay focused on the outcome, review progress weekly, adapt, learn as you experience setbacks, find people who can help you. Daily action, in the right direction, will bring a successful outcome.

Your current actions need to be focused on the concept stage if you are contemplating a new project. So here is a little exercise for you. Take the four questions above and explore and document them for your project(s). Choose just one project if that works best for you. Be as specific as possible with your answers.

I am going to be writing about the mis en place of each stage over the coming days; mis en place of project selection is up next.

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