Home Professionalisms Three Practices That Keep Critical Projects On Track

Three Practices That Keep Critical Projects On Track


by Kate Purmal and Lisa Goldman, co-authors of “The Moonshot Effect: Disrupting Business as Usual


Here’s a common lament we hear from senior executives: “My team left the off-site planning meeting fully energized, but when it came to getting the initiative off the ground, we stalled. If we can’t rebuild momentum, I’m concerned this critical project will fail.”

If you’ve experienced the failure to launch, let alone complete, a big project (“a moonshot,” in our terms), you’re far from alone. A survey by the Project Management Institute, reported that only roughly half of strategic initiatives are self-reported as having succeeded. Here are three practical tips to ensure your great idea gets to the finish line.

30-Day Quick Wins.

One common place that big projects get derailed is at the start. When initiating a project, ask each core team member to commit to a specific win they can deliver in the first 30-days Schedule a status meeting in 30 days and ask each team member to confirm to the group whether they delivered their “quick win.” Quick wins establish a culture of public accountability, and quickly build momentum for the project. In one project we were involved with, an effective 30-day quick win for the team was “develop a prototype for a new product and validate it with 10 customers.” This early traction got the team from inertia to action.

Completion Milestones.

Once you’ve got initial wins and your project is off the ground, you have to keep things moving. Completion milestones can help accelerate efforts when a project starts to stall. Completion milestones serve as a tool to exit one phase of the project and kick-off a new phase. Use these milestones as an opportunity to review and assess what’s working and not working, and hit the reset button if needed to re-engage the team and rebuild momentum.

Completion milestones can be artificial, not necessarily tied to any specific deliverables. For example, one CEO clients focused his team on increasing conversion rates for people visiting their website as a means to boost revenue. After a couple of months, his realized his team had become fixated on conversion rates to the exclusion of other levers to boost revenue. So he announced the completion of the “Conversion Phase,” and initiated the kick-off of a “Sales Phase,” the purpose of which was to assess and implement new tactics to generate more sales for the business. Brilliant—and it worked.

Compressed Timelines and Hard Deadlines.

In our experience, projects with tight timelines and non-movable deadlines are the ones that operate most efficiently and get completed on time. An aggressive timeline requires teams to develop the capacity to make rapid decisions and find ways to increase efficiency and optimize team performance in the project. A hard deadline, like a launch at an industry event, for example, forces a team to make trade-offs to complete the project on time, rather than making decisions that elongate the project and delay the completion date. These trade-offs usually fall into the category of “done is better than perfect,” the words painted on the walls of Facebook that have become a hallmark of success where the company’s survival is dependent on their ability to move fast.

While the moonshots themselves are never easy, instituting quick wins, completion milestones, forced deadlines and compressed timelines are simple and proven ways to get your team into action and keep them on pace for success.



Lisa Goldman is an international management consultant, author, and educator. She has consulted with top executives at companies across the globe including About.com, Apple Inc., AT&T, David’s Bridal, Estée Lauder, and Vodafone, and more than 60 startups. 

Kate Purmal served as a Senior Vice President at SanDisk Corporation, and on the founding management team of Palm Inc. She is a five-time CxO for technology and life sciences companies, and co-founder of two startups that achieved successful exits. She currently serves as a strategic advisor to CEOs and executives, a board member and an angel investor.

They are co-authors of “The Moonshot Effect: Disrupting Business as Usual“.


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