There is an unfortunate reality for any of you who are in the proximity of the age of 40. You begin to realize the critical importance of FOCUS. Let’s face it…around 40 our eyes aren’t what they used to be. Initially you blame it on outside influences such as “bad lighting” or the fact that “you’re tired”, but you soon realize you need to ‘fess up and call a spade a spade. Your vision is beginning to deteriorate and you need a little thing called “reading glasses” to help you focus.
It’s a harsh reality that many of us have had to come to terms with, like it or not. In your younger days your vision used to be 20/20, crystal clear and razor sharp. Now? Not so much.
Compare your 20/20 vision to the early days of the last project you kicked off. Your team’s focus on the project was perfect. They were explicitly clear on what needed to be done and extremely focused on the outcome of the project. They were zeroed into the project planning schedule like they were looking at a vision chart on the wall in front of them.
But then something changes. Your team begins to lose FOCUS. Depending upon the length of the project, it may be 40 hours, 40 days, or even 40 weeks when things begin to get a bit blurry. The team that had perfect vision and focus at the start of the project is now beginning to lose focus. You think to yourself that it would be great if you could find some reading glasses to give to everyone!
Why Do Team Members Lose Focus?
Why is it that team members begin to lose focus on the project they are working on as time passes? The following are three main reasons why:
Coordination Deteriorates Over Time
The first reason that focus begins to wane can be placed squarely on the shoulders of the project manager. The project manager in the early days of the project keeps events, activities, and deliverables crystal clear in everyone’s mind. There was no question about who owned what and the accountability that each person had to the project planning schedule.
You as the project manager would let anyone know that deviated from this course in the early days that they need to get back on track. Time passes and you become a bit indifferent. You yourself begin to lose focus and this laissez faire attitude is transferred to your team by means of osmosis.
Focus Shifts From the Big Picture
Another reason that people begin to lose focus the longer a project is underway is that people’s attention begins to shift away from the big picture. In the beginning, everyone is tuned into the project plan as a whole. Then everyone gets down to business and they begin working on their own individual tasks. Issues, challenges, and triumphs arise within each of these individual tasks and people become more focused on their small view of the world and begin to lose sight of how everything is tied in together.
Distracted by Other Projects
A final reason that people begin to lose focus on projects is that other things get in the way. This project was all the rage when the project schedule was reviewed, all the executives and stakeholders were on board and focused on making this a success. But now there’s a shiny new toy that everyone wants to play with. It may be a new project, new opportunity, or even a problem that has surfaced that needs to be handled.
Regardless, people are now distracted by the introduction of this new thing into their environment and begin to lose focus on the current project.
How Can You Help Your Team Stay Focused?
The following are five project planning steps you can apply to make sure your team stays focused:
- Remind Everyone about the Big Picture – Be sure to remind everyone about the big picture at every opportunity. It’s understandable that team members will zero in on those tasks they are responsible for, but it’s up to you to make sure they see how everything ties in together. Let them know the benefits that will come from completing this project (perhaps a bonus, more free time, recognition, etc.) and that you’re determined to make sure the team gets there.
- Reaffirm Your Personal Commitment to the Project – There are times during the lifecycle of a project when the going gets tough. You may be bogged down with a technical or business issue that is having a hard time being resolved. It’s during these dark times when people begin to lose focus as well. After all, you can’t see very well in the dark. Now is the time to let your team know of your personal commitment to seeing things through to the end no matter how bleak current circumstances may look. Your team is looking to you as the harbinger of things to come. If you only think that bad times are around the corner and that nothing you and your team do will change that, then that’s what your team will pick up on. On the other hand, if you take a close look at the project planning schedule and are convinced you can pull things off, then they will follow that path as well.
- Regain Your Team’s Commitment – It’s just as important that your team is as committed as you are. There’s nothing wrong to have a candid conversation with everyone and ask them to express their concerns, worries, and frustrations. This is actually a very healthy exercise to go through. Most people want a project to be a success and don’t to give up easily. If you listen closely to your team members you will glean some great insight into what can be done to turn a project around and maintain sharp focus. This is also a good opportunity to ask for their commitment as well.
- Put In Reasonable Touch Points – Another way to make sure that the project schedule remains in focus and achievable for everyone, is to put in reasonably spaced Touch Points. I like to call these moments a “reality check”. It may be every day, every week, or every month (you determine what’s appropriate) that you check in with the team to make sure things are on track. Use the schedule as the basis for these conversations. The schedule says we should be here so let’s compare that to where things really stand. You’re goal is not to put people on the spot and make them feel bad, but rather to uncover potential areas where focus may be slipping and making sure it doesn’t get too far out of control.
- Be Available – The final thing you can do to make sure people maintain their focus on a project is to be available. There is nothing more disheartening then when a team member needs to go over an issue with you and you don’t have the time for them. The reasons may be legitimate as we know all project managers are busy, but it’s important for you to set aside what you are working on, and spend some time with this team member that has an issue needing your assistance.Otherwise, you’ll find that they’ll let the issue simmer until it gets worse and focus is again lost. Don’t worry if you’re around that 40-year old mark and you start to lose focus. It happens to the best of us. Grab yourself a pair of reading glasses and get on with the task at hand.
If you find that your project has gone on for some time now and the team is beginning to lose focus…don’t worry, it happens to the best of us. By understanding the reasons why and applying the 5 suggestions above you’ll be able to get your focus back in no time.
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