Quick! What are you going to do? You’re project is going off the rails. The clock is ticking! You don’t have much time!
Don’t panic! There’s hope for a quick fix. Many times, serious issues on projects can be prevented by taking a step back and reviewing the project as a whole.
It’s easy to get lost in the details of budgets, timelines, bug fixing, status updates and exception management. You can lose sight of why the project even exists and what it’s goals are.
Okay, so set the timer, and let’s see how these tactics can improve projects quickly.
Go Back to the Charter (5 mins)
Projects without a measurable goal can quickly turn into a “death march.” What can you do?
Take five minutes and revisit your original project charter. Does it have clearly measurable outcomes for what you are delivering? Do you fully understand why the project exists?
If not, outline your understanding and present it to your sponsor and, sometimes more importantly, your team. Do they all understand the impact and importance of what you are delivering? What happens after the project is complete?
Update the original charter with the feedback you gathered and share it with the team and stakeholders. If you can’t correct this within an hour, you may need to re-kick off the project to ensure alignment.
Review Status Reports (20 mins)
Project status reports are usually sent off without a second thought as the project manager is focused on the next big milestone. But they’re a wealth of information.
Take 20 minutes to go back and review prior reports. They can help you recall past challenges and opportunities to ensure those have a resolution or, at the very least, a plan to resolve them.
If you’re running a Scrum framework, review your notes from past retrospectives and talk to your team about how the plan to rectify issues from the past is progressing.
During your demo’s or status meetings, ask the team and stakeholders if they have questions from the past status reports. If you hear nothing but silence, this could be a serious issue. No questions may indicate that they have not been reviewing the documents.
Address this as soon as possible by educating your team and stakeholders on the importance of a formal status report. From there on our, pay close attention to see if people are getting the information they need to make the right decisions.
Call for an Audit (5-30 mins)
Do you have a colleague or trusted peer with a few minutes to spare for you? Ask them to audit your plan. It’s a sure way to find any potential gaps you may have missed during the planning process and help improve your team’s productivity. Setting up a regular review with some “fresh eyes” can give you an important perspective on your plan.
Also, ask your team to take a moment to audit their own work and occasionally redo estimates. As they work through the project, their experience will build and sharpen their view on the tasks at hand.
Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” Having regular audits of your plan, budget and timeline by a trusted peer from outside your project will ensure you stay on track and don’t get lost in the details.
This can be formal, but I prefer an informal check-in. Take 15 minutes to gather the documentation, data and communications you would like feedback on. Package it in a way that will make it easier to gather some context for the auditor you have chosen.
Schedule a 30-minute meeting to review their findings and prepare yourself. It will be easy to get defensive in this situation even if you called for it. Walk in and out with an open mind focused on project improvement.
Ask for a Customer Service Check-in (30 mins)
While you’re busy reporting on budget, timeline and feature sets, have you checked in on how the sponsor is feeling about the project? If you don’t have direct access to the client, talk to the account representative about scheduling a meeting or phone call with the sponsor.
Give them a list of questions you’d like the answers to. How are they feeling about the process? Is there anything they are in the dark about? Is there anything about the communication they would like to see improved?
Plan ahead of time for these check-ins as you’re creating your overall plan. Work with your team to find large milestones where it makes the most sense to gauge your sponsors comfortability.
If you have multiple stakeholders or sponsors, I would suggest one-on-one meetings as to avoid the possibility that they would not feel comfortable sharing. You can get a lot of insight into the project in a short period of time this way.
Take Meetings to the Next Level (>30 Mins)
Nobody likes meetings, but a short meeting to make sure everyone is aligned can get your project quickly back on track. Keep it less an hour, a half-hour is best, by making sure you’re being as productive as possible.
One way to run a productive team meeting is by reaching out afterwards and ask for feedback on its effectiveness. Be proactive and ask for feedback quickly after an important meeting.
Follow up with each meeting member after important meetings to see if they are still aligned on the decisions produced from the meeting.
Schedule a Team/Sponsor Appreciation Event (50 mins)
Don’t wait for the end of a project to celebrate. Small celebrations and recognition of effort throughout a project not only promotes team alignment but also reminds everyone the importance of the endeavor. Even a token of appreciation goes a long way in building a strong team.
You can throw a free team and sponsor lunch or happy hour to celebrate impactful milestones during the project. It doesn’t take much time, but the return on investment in terms of a happy, productive team is invaluable.
By having the team and your project sponsor build a personal connection you will build more trust and you will be well on your way to a successful outcome.
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