Leadership Lesson: Go or no-go? That is the big question (about milestones)

Published in the Phoenix Business Journal on August 2, 2019

Assumption. We set goals, strive to meet them, and celebrate when we reach them. What’s wrong with that? Some questions upon achieving a milestone might tell us. Not just did we make it, but how well did we make it? What was the quality of our accomplishment? What did we learn? More.

Look back a step to when we established the goal. How well did we construct the milestone? Time estimates, resource commitments, and a good definition of how we would know that we had actually reached the milestone?

Problem: most milestone-setting actions assume that as soon as one milestone is met, the next one in sequence will be started. Could be a fatal flaw.

Let’s play 20 questions

Here are some practical guidelines in establishing plans, programs, and projects that have milestones (or should have them). Answer all of these questions in writing BEFORE the journey starts for each milestone:

  1. Why is the milestone being established?
  2. How will we know when we have achieved it?
  3. Who is accountable for reaching it?
  4. What are the key risks and ways to mitigate them along the way?
  5. What resources are needed to reach the first milestone?
  6. What intermediate reviews will be conducted, when, by whom?
  7. Who will attend the reviews?
  8. How will intermediate reviews be reported, how often, by whom, to whom?
  9. What is the plan to handle any delays?
  10. How will additional resources be requested if needed?
  11. Who will be tracking all the associated costs?
  12. What are all the deliverables due by the milestone?
  13. What are NOT being delivered?
  14. How will we detect “scope creep” – the unplanned expansion of the project?
  15. What are the constraints and limits of the project?
  16. What are the major barriers to reaching the milestone?
  17. How can barriers be removed, sooner rather than later?
  18. What are the communication paths among all the key players in the project?
  19. Who is the corporate champion for the project?
  20. What are the major stakes for the project?

Obviously, there are many more good questions to ask before the start of a project. List them, ask them, and record them for the project team.

The big go no-go question

There are at least two places in the process to ask the big “go no-go” question: should we continue or not? Why and why not? Is it a hard stop, or should we continue with modifications? Ask the go no-go decision in every review, and before continuing to the next milestone. The right answer might save time, money, reputation. Or lives.

Plunge on

In January 1986 the Challenger space shot failed. O-rings between sections of the rocket were known by the manufacturer and NASA to be limited in cold weather. But a “go” decision was made on a cold Florida morning and with 17% of the U.S. watching, 7 astronauts were lost, billions of dollars wasted, NASA put on hold for four years, and a black eye for America. A “no-go” decision would have saved everything.

The bottom lines

Take time. Make “go no-go” decisions all along the project path. Instead of pretending that nothing is wrong, prove it. Don’t take the next step, another week or on to another milestone, before determining everything. Speed kills anything, including organizations.

Click here to read this article on the Phoenix Business Journal site.