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Cheetah Pause For Healthy Projects

When you’re on the hook to deliver a high-profile project, every minute counts. Any threat to forward momentum feels like it will delay or derail even the best plan, so most people think moving forward—and fast—is the only option. The board is watching. Donors want results. But, moving forward full-steam ahead can be a disaster if you’re even one degree off course.


Learn a lesson from the cheetah.


Decelerate, Pivot, Succeed


Cheetahs are the fastest land animals on earth—able to run at speeds beyond 60 mph. But, while their speed gives them an advantage over their prey; their hunting prowess actually comes from their ability to quickly decelerate and change direction.


It turns out cheetahs would starve if they ran full speed in the wrong direction!


Business writers have called this concept of quick deceleration and ability to pivot the “cheetah pause” in relation to decision-making.*


At Way Forth, we believe the cheetah pause creates healthy projects.


Why healthy projects?


We are passionate about healthy projects. Why?


  • Healthy projects are more likely to be successful and less stressful—delivered on time and on budget with less disruptions.

  • Healthy projects can change the world. We work almost exclusively with nonprofits and the work they do positively impacts the lives and futures of people around the globe. When their projects succeed, lives are transformed!

  • Healthy projects make happy stakeholders. Delivering successful projects that meet or exceed expected outcomes builds trust with board members and donors, creating the opportunity for more projects!


The Sound of an Unhealthy Project


Before we dig into what makes a healthy project, here’s what it may sound like if you're working on an unhealthy one:


  • “I don’t know who’s responsible for what.”

  • “I never know where we are on this project.”

  • “We keep getting stuck and aren’t making enough progress.”


Sound familiar? We’ve all worked on unhealthy projects.


Signs of a Healthy Project


So, what makes a healthy project? Healthy projects have:


  • A team culture built on trust and collaboration. Leading with a people-first mindset is the key to building this type of culture.

  • A clearly defined scope and dedication to managing it. The scope includes the project’s parameters (what the project will focus on as well as what it won’t address), assumptions, constraints, and an agreed upon definition of project success. Managing the scope includes monitoring activities throughout the project and having a plan in place in case the scope creeps.

  • Thorough planning and a realistic timeline. With a clearly defined scope, planning is more accurate, expectations are realistic, and surprises can be avoided.

  • Efficient processes and systems that everyone adheres to. These include things like the project management tracking tool, file storage and management, and standard operating procedures.

  • Intentional communication channels used by all stakeholders including communication tools and types and frequency of meetings.


The Cheetah Pause for Healthy Projects


Healthy projects need a cheetah pause. At the beginning of a project, it’s tempting to dive right in and get started without having a fully-defined plan. It happens all the time. How many times have you heard, “We’re building this plane while flying it.” And how does that usually work out?


Too often, projects that start this way go off track as quickly as they began. Not taking time to clearly understand and fully define the scope usually ends up wasting time instead of saving it, blowing the budget, and causing unnecessary frustration along the way.


That’s why we’ve built a cheetah pause into The Way Forth Way, our proven process for successful projects (see step 2, Scope Definition). We build this crucial phase into the project timeline so we can dive deeper into understanding a client's project goals, desired outcomes, team dynamics, and existing processes.


The Way Forth Way process diagram


The Way Forth Way - Our Proven Process to Successful Projects


Without exception, during this 1-2 week Scope Definition process, we uncover a client’s pain points, challenges, and gaps—all of which, unless addressed and accounted for in the project plan, will inevitably cause frustration, delays, missed deadlines, and additional costs.


Remember, the more clearly the scope is defined; the more accurate project planning will be. Think of the old carpentry adage, “measure twice, cut once.”


Taking time on the front end of a project to clearly define the scope is never a waste of time. While it may seem like a step backward, this pause starts projects on track, keeps them on track, and enables teams to pivot when needed—just like a well-fed cheetah.



*Read more about the cheetah pause concept in this Harvard Business Review article: 11 Myths About Decision Making

 

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