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Operational Readiness in Project Management

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Operational readiness, also known as OR or ops readiness, describes an organization’s preparedness when handling finished projects and making the transition to the final stage in the project life cycle. In other words, it describes how easy or difficult it is to assume ownership of the finished project and integrate it appropriately. Considering that 59% of today’s project managers (PMs) are overseeing two to five concurrent projects at any given time, it’s easy to understand the importance of operational readiness and its impact on a project’s success. But what exactly is the project manager’s role in operational readiness? How can you create an OR plan for your upcoming projects? And is it possible to lead a successful project without an operational readiness plan in place?

What is Project Readiness?

Project readiness refers to a PM’s overall preparedness for any given project. In order to be fully prepared, several different objectives need to be met.

  • Operational Readiness: This refers to the readiness of your organization and, in particular, any key project stakeholders.
  • Leadership Readiness: Project managers must be ready to lead their team. This includes clarifying roles, delegating tasks, prioritizing deadlines, and maintaining productivity.
  • Team Readiness: The project team needs to be ready, too. While this ultimately falls under the PM’s responsibilities, there’s only so much they can do when working with a stubborn, inexperienced, or ineffective team.
  • Technical Readiness: Your organization also needs to be prepared on a technical level. This could involve installing assets such as software and hardware, establishing infrastructure, or ensuring compliance with applicable data security regulations.
  • Third-Party Readiness: The final objective involves the readiness of any third-party partners or stakeholders. Are the necessary contracts signed? Have you completed the necessary third-party onboarding or briefing? These elements are vital to your project’s success.

Some of these elements, like third-party readiness, can easily be taken care of before starting a new project. Others, such as team readiness, need a structured approach in place to clarify roles and designate responsibilities once each project begins.

What Role Does the Project Manager Play?

The project manager assumes a multifaceted role in project readiness. While they often liaise with staff members from other departments, such as IT, marketing, or sales, they also need to highlight key operational risks and ensure project delivery. While this sometimes involves making a trade-off, such as increasing the time-to-market in exchange for greater quality, it’s the PM’s responsibility to make sure the entire project goes as smoothly as possible for everyone involved.

Understanding the project manager’s responsibilities

Apart from general project leadership, assigning roles, and delegating tasks, the PM is typically expected to complete the following processes.

  • Define the Project Scope: This step identifies the crucial functions, including the necessary tasks and resources, needed to complete your project successfully.
  • Allocate Resources: Once defined and identified, the appropriate assets and resources can then be allocated to your project.
  • Complete a Readiness Assessment: Let your team know how prepared or unprepared they really are with a readiness assessment. This lets you identify shortcomings and gaps, prioritize needs, and make the necessary adjustments.
  • Plan the Initial Rollout: Is your project being completed in phases? If not, when will the project be complete? Answering questions like this keeps your team informed of any hard deadlines.
  • Deliver Progress Reports: While an operational readiness review lets you know how prepared everyone is before beginning, regular progress reports will keep your entire team updated over the course of time.

As a project manager, you’ll play an incredibly hands-on role. From initial conceptualization and planning to asset allocation and quality assurance, the overall success of a project ultimately falls on your shoulders.

Operating Without a Readiness Plan

Operating without a readiness plan is like walking a tightrope without a safety net. It can be done, but it’s certainly not advisable. If you do happen to fail, there’s nothing to save you from the repercussions. Firstly, planning your project around an operational readiness checklist helps you keep everything streamlined and organized. While some business leaders can excel in the face of disorganization, others need to follow these key steps in order to identify and overcome key operational risks. You could also suffer serious losses — either monetary or otherwise — when managing a project without an OR plan. Some potential losses and hazards include:

  • Employee dissatisfaction and turnover
  • Lost revenue from project delays
  • Data security breaches or non-compliance with regulatory requirements
  • Diminished customer experience
  • Complaints from key stakeholders

If you’re even given the choice between managing a project with or without a readiness plan, you should always opt to use it. Not only does it make your job easier, but it could help take some of the heat away from you if something doesn’t go as planned.

Creating and Developing Your Readiness Plan

Most readiness plans follow a highly structured approach. Not only does this make it easy to create and develop new plans as needed, but it provides a standardized means of tracking productivity and measuring success for your project team members and key stakeholders.

  • Training and Onboarding: Providing your team with the required training material is paramount to team readiness and overall project success. For some projects, a full-scale onboarding or orientation period is necessary.
  • Budgeting and Cost Coverage: While operational readiness is sometimes left out of the organizational budgeting process, some projects carry significant costs that should always be considered.
  • Project Maintenance: Ideally, a separate team should be assembled to oversee any project-specific processes, procedures, and systems. This lets you and your team focus on day-to-day productivity instead of worrying about everything that’s going on behind the scenes.
  • Quality Assurance (QA): Every project needs to maintain a certain level of quality. In some cases, a quality assurance team oversees and verifies quality. Other times, the project manager is responsible for performing QA on the entire project.

Every project is different, and as a result, your operational readiness plan might include more or fewer considerations. Ultimately it’s up to the project manager to create a relevant and viable readiness plan that ensures operational excellence.

Maintaining Operational Readiness at All Times

While it is possible to complete a project without complete operational readiness, the results are almost always better when everyone is fully prepared. Achieving this level of synchronization isn’t easy, and it’s even more difficult to maintain operational readiness at all times. It’s an art form that can only be mastered over the course of time, but it’s a process that will benefit everyone involved.

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