Why? Start with Impact
There is something to be said for the adage, begin with the end in mind. Knowing where you are going will certainly get you there faster. Demonstrating impact due to a project is important. It is what top executives want to see. Impact to them is improvement in measures of output, quality, cost, and time, as well as customer satisfaction, job satisfaction, teamwork, and innovation. Executives want to see a positive consequence from what people do with what they know.
The same can be said of donors to nonprofits. Donors give money because they identify with the mission of the organization. They want to know that their investment in the nonprofit is having an impact—that it is improving the lives of others and the communities it serves.
Innovators and entrepreneurs want to deliver impact. When the developers of the Uber app started the project, they had three impact measures in mind: 1) quicker rides (a measure of time) compared to a classic taxi; 2) cheaper rides (a measure of cost) compared to a classic taxi; and 3) better customer experience (a measure of quality) than that offered by a classic taxi. These three impact measures were their guiding light. And good news for all of us riders, they achieved their goals in almost all cities where they operate.
In both situations, project owners knew why they were doing what they were doing. They knew the impact they wanted to achieve before their projects got off the ground. Knowing the answer to the question “Why?” before you ever launch into your work will help ensure that you create and demonstrate value. In answering the question, you will determine: • The impact you hope to achieve by addressing problems or opportunities, and • The value that achieving the impact can deliver.
How? Select the Right Solution
Knowing the why—the impact you are trying to achieve—is the first step. The next question is How do you achieve it? Many projects and programs begin because someone thinks these projects are the right solutions for a problem or opportunity. But are they?
For example, many of you likely remember when Starbucks shut down its stores for racial-bias training back in 2020—sparked by an event involving a Philadelphia Starbucks manager who had arrested two African American entrepreneurs. These two individuals had been waiting at the Starbucks for a business meeting. Starbucks hired SYPartners to deliver a three-and-a-half-hour racial-bias training to 175,000 employees in more than 8,000 Starbucks locations across the United States—all in the same day.
It may have been good PR, and it certainly got attention, but did it solve the problem? Most of the research suggests that anti-bias training doesn’t work. In fact, according to two researchers, “Hundreds of studies dating back to the 1930s suggest that anti-bias training does not reduce bias, alter behavior, or change the workplace.”
So, how did Starbucks come to their solution to shut down stores and offer anti-bias training? Only the insiders know for sure. And, in all fairness, there are times when sending a strong message, as Starbucks did, is a worthy investment. Forgoing $12–14 million dollars in sales does communicate that company leaders recognize a problem when they see one. But what if no benefit comes from the investment? Can all organizations afford such an expensive gamble? How do you increase the chances of identifying the right solution?
To increase the odds of selecting the right solution (and decrease the odds of selecting the wrong one), you will determine the: • Performance that needs to change, • Learning that supports the change, and • Preferences that need to be met.
What? Expect Success with Objectives
You have a solution that aligns with a problem or opportunity, defined with impact measures. This chapter will help you define the What, meaning the expectations for success. You describe expectations in the objectives you set for a solution. Objectives represent the intended outcomes of a project. Outcomes are categorized as reaction, learning, application, impact, and ROI. Objectives are specific versus vague and nebulous outcomes. Specificity drives results. Vague and nebulous gives you, well . . . vague and nebulous.
Objectives provide direction, guidance, and even motivation. They are the ultimate roadmap, and it’s important to share them with all parties involved in a project, including the participants, funders, supporters, and sponsors. To best set expectations for your project’s success, you will: • Recognize the power of objectives, • Develop specific, measurable objectives for all levels of success, • Communicate the objectives to stakeholders that matter, and • Use objectives as the basis for evaluating your project.
Three things occur at this step. First, a clear understanding and definition of the project’s success are pinpointed—that’s the impact. Everyone involved in the project needs to realize that success is not achieved until you have reached the impact. The second part of this step is to set clear objectives. Very specifically described objectives for reaction, learning, application, and impact provide the guidance and direction to get to where you want to go. The third step is to ensure that all the stakeholders involved have these objectives and do their part to ensure that the success is achieved.
How Much? Collect Data along the Way
Knowing the why, selecting the most feasible solution, and setting expectations for success are important—and are vital in designing projects that show value. But to know the progress you are making, you must collect data along the way. Data collection begins with knowing the measures to take. You can hardly create a questionnaire, for example, without questions, right? Where do questions come from? The objectives! So, the better you are at developing project objectives, the easier it is to determine the measures you will take, how you will take them, from whom you will take them, and when you will take them.
A word of caution: As you design and administer your data collection approach, it will become easy for you to add one more question to the survey, one more data point from your database, one more source to your source list, or one more point in time to collect data. Don’t do it. Let the process guide your journey—let the purpose and the project objectives usher you along the data collection phase. Only ask the questions you need to ask to determine whether you are achieving your objectives. Some estimates indicate that 7.5 septillion (yes, septillion) gigabytes of data are generated every day, most left unused, So, why do that to your own project? Collect what you need and use it as you need. More is not better; more is merely more.
What’s It Worth? Analyze the Data
Now comes the challenge of analyzing the data, connecting the dots, and making sense of the results. To be successful with this step, you must first sort out the effects of your project from other influences. Other influences could include other internal projects or initiatives, relevant forces, or environmental issues. This step is vital if you want to be credible.
The next issue is converting impact data to money, which is usually easier than it seems. Some measures are more easily converted to money than others. These are tangible data. Sometimes it’s just not worth converting a measure to money, and these will remain intangible. Intangible benefits are defined as measures not converted to money because the conversion is not credible, or it takes too long to make the conversion.
Then you capture the total cost of the project and compare it to the monetary benefits after the data are converted to money. This step is the ROI calculation. So, to successfully trek down this leg of the journey, you will: • Isolate project effects, • Convert impact measures to money, • Determine the intangible benefits, • Tabulate fully loaded costs, and • Calculate the ROI.
So What? Leverage the Results
You may have a sound theory on which to base your project. You may have done a remarkable job aligning your project to the needs of the business, implementing the project, and even evaluating the project. But until you act on the information that comes from the data gathered, you have done nothing but, well, executed another activity. Evaluation without action is useless. To complete the final leg of the the value journey, you will:
Communicate results. Make sure you select the appropriate audiences. Be as specific as possible. 2. Optimize the results of this project. Take action on the insights from the evaluation. Explain how you used the insights to improve the project and your work. Provide as much detail as possible. 3. Leverage the results of this project. Explain how you will use the results to improve the project, your organization, and your work.