Creating a Sense of Project Urgency
There never seems to be enough time to do something right, but there always seems to be enough time to do it over. This adage holds true a surprising number of times when it comes to software development and project management. This is regardless of whether you have a project management PMP certification or not.
Why is this? I believe a big culprit is the fact that so many mission critical activities and checks and balances of a project are put off to the last minute. It seems as if everybody waits until 1 – 2 weeks before a project is scheduled to be complete before they really kick into high gear.
Here’s an example. I worked in a firm that engaged a large off-shore team that performed most of the development and QA work on the company’s projects. The assumption was that the work was going along just fine and that there weren’t any issues. Everyone concluded that if there were issues, these would be brought to the attention of the development manager for him to get resolved.
There were certain checkpoints along the way that would raise any red flags if necessary. The development manager and his team were just too busy to confirm that these checkpoints had been verified. They reasoned to themselves that they would get around to it later just before the project went live. They didn’t have the sense of urgency that was needed to check things out right then and there before the project moved forward despite these milestones being clear on the project schedule.
The week before deployment would inevitably come around. All the last minute scurrying and activity around a project would get underway. This included the development manager and his team doing the verifications that should have been done a number of weeks prior. Well, they were shocked to see that they team went down the wrong path from a long-term architectural standpoint. It wasn’t the team’s fault. They were doing the best they could with the direction they had received.
The sense of urgency was missing from the development manager and his team. This problem could have been averted if it had been discovered a number of weeks previously when they should have been reviewing the code. They put it off to the last minute and now they are paying the price.
Out comes the long nights, short tempers, and Red Bull to fix what had been missed. All of this could have been prevented if there was a sense of urgency a number of weeks prior.
How Can you Instill this Sense of Urgency?
The following are some suggestions you can try with your team:
- Deal with the Issue Up Front: It doesn’t take too many of the pre-deployment weeks described above before you get tired of those long days and late nights. Address this topic up front with your team before you even start the next project.You could do this a couple of different ways…One way would be to incorporate this topic into your Lessons Learned session. Or, if it has gotten to the point where it’s a HUGE problem you could have a separate and specific meeting to deal with just the topic of staying on top of the work that needs to get done.This is a great time to muster up your best PMP voice and say, “Look, here’s the story…none of us enjoy the last minute fire-drill that we seem to inflict upon ourselves at the end of each project. What is it that we can do to make sure that doesn’t happen the next time around?”It won’t be a surprise that everyone else hates the fire-drills as much as you do. Get their ideas out on the whiteboard and then implement them immediately on the next project.
- Create Mini-Fire Drills: There’s eternity in view when you start each project. You may have a glorious 4 or 6 months ahead of you before the project is expected to be complete. That feels like forever! How could that be a problem to get the project done in that amount of time?Trust me, it will be a problem if you don’t instill that sense of urgency. Rather than look at the project as needing to be complete 6 months from now, look at it that the Requirements phase needs to be complete 30 days from now…and guess what? You’re already late! Every day counts at this point and you need to rustle up every one of your project management skills to make this happen. Keep everyone focused on the 30 day deadline and don’t let it slip.
- Freak Out and Melt Down When Necessary: You need to set the tenor for your team about how serious you are about not getting behind. There may be times when someone comes to you and says “relax, we have plenty of time to get it done.”This would be an appropriate time to freak out and meltdown…in a professional manner of course.“You think we should relax about getting this done?” you counter. “Sure, we have plenty of time. What could go wrong,” they reply.“What could go wrong? What could go wrong? Are you kidding me? Here’s a list of all of the things that could possibly, and most likely WILL go wrong. And, these are only the risks I’m aware of. There’s a half dozen more waiting in the wings getting ready to pounce on this project,” you continue.You need to make it clear that there is no room for “we have plenty of time” or “what could possibly go wrong” in anyone’s vocabulary. Pounce on anyone that utters these words and keep them focused on the task at hand.
- Review Why Things Worked: Dealing with the urgency issue up front, creating mini-fire drills, and professionally freaking out when necessary will ensure your projects stay on track.Reflect on these experiences on your next lessons learned or ad hoc meetings that are called to specifically discuss the issue of urgency. Reflect on the fact that the worst thing that could possibly happen by maintaining a sense of urgency from the get-go of a project is that you all may end up a bit ahead of schedule.You can guarantee them that there is nothing you have ever read as a project management PMP that discouraged you from finishing early.
Once you’ve finished the project and put it on the shelf is the time to relax. Up until that point is the time that you need to keep the pedal to the metal and instill a sense of urgency in everything you do. Doing so will allow you to make it to the week of deployment knowing that you did things right, and prevent you from having to do them over.
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