Projects in today’s high-tech world are complicated and fast-paced. There are a lot of hard-working people on board to get the work done with the intent of completing one project and moving on to the next one. It’s your job as a project manager to keep the work moving forward…and as much as possible not have it slip backwards for rework, missed requirements, or other reasons that may be out of your control.
To aid in the completion of projects, most companies have created and implemented some form of project lifecycle. The activities that comprise the project lifecycle can be captured using Gantt charts and Gantt chart software. Whether your company specializes in marketing, web development, or construction projects, there’s a certain path to follow. The path will typically include the following six components:
- Requirements – This is where “what” is going to be built is defined
- Design – This is where “how” it is going to be built is determined
- Build –This is where the “what” and the “how” come together and the work is done
- Validate – This is where what was built is confirmed to have been done correctly
- Install – This is where the project is implemented in its final location ready for use
- Maintain – This is the ongoing maintenance or updates of what was delivered.
Each one of these phases has their own teams of people that are working on deliverables that are specific to each department. These are then passed down the “assembly line” and follow the Gantt chart for the next group to bring their skills to the table and add value to the project along the way.
What is missing from the above list, however, are Approvals or Checkpoints along the way. There is nothing worse or more demoralizing than a project making it all the way to the Installation phase only to hear that “we need to bring this back to the drawing board”. Your heart sinks as you see the project come to a grinding halt and shift gears to reverse! You watch helplessly as it moves backwards through the validate, build, and design stage just to start over again in the requirements phase.
And then the congressional hearings and finger pointing begins about the project. How could it have made it this far? How was this missed? Who was responsible for approving the work? How much will this cost us to fix? What is the impact on this project’s schedule and others that were coming right behind it?
Approvals and Checkpoints along way would remove all of this angst and should be included in the project schedule and incorporated in the project Gantt chart. Now, congressional hearings and finger-pointing will most likely still ensure, however, you’ll now be able to provide objective, fact-based answers to such questions.
Approvals Instill Accountability
If someone knows they will be responsible for putting their name on the dotted line and approving the work prior to it moving forward, they will pay that much more attention to the quality of the work along the way. They will make sure all the requirements are gathered, the design is sound, the build is solid, and all defects have been found. They will challenge their team members within their department to do the same and the quality of the output will dramatically increase. Doing so will make the approval process more than just another line item in the Gantt chart software, but an event that really means something.
People Have Short-Term and/or Selective Memories
We’ve all experienced the “drive-by approval”. This is when you are walking in one direction down the hall and someone else is walking the other direction down the hall. “Hey, you good to go with moving the deliverable on to the next phase of the project?” you ask. “You’ve got my blessing”, they reply. You take that as your approval to move forward. Nothing is written down and nothing is documented.
A couple of days pass and this drive-by approval comes back to bite you hard. Something went wrong with the deliverable that moved forward and prompted the obligatory escalation meetings. “I never approved that deliverable to move forward”, they now say. “Of course you did”, you reply, “don’t you remember passing me in the hall and saying you’ve got my blessing?”. To which they reply “I wasn’t giving you approval to move forward, I was just giving you my blessing!”.
Perhaps an extreme example, but you get the point. Unfortunately, I’ve seen it time and time again. Squirrely functional managers will conveniently forget what they approved when the going gets tough. Or, they will try and spin what they said to the point that they actually meant something else. Not everyone acts this way, but some do and you need to be mindful of the risk this introduces to your project.
How to Keep Your Project Moving Forward
In order to take each and every step forward with confidence, make sure you have the necessary approvals and paperwork in place to not worry about having to go back to the drawing board. Even if the project does need to go back to the drawing board, you have expended and implemented every bit of due diligence possible on your part as a project manager to make sure it moved forward.
Approvals or Checkpoints don’t need to be a big deal. They are a zero duration task and just a blip on your Gantt chart. It could be a simple Form or a quick Email that states that the project or deliverable has been cleared to move on to the next phase. It’s just good project management housekeeping to make sure you have the necessary documentation in place with the project deliverables.
Something else will occur when you ask someone to sign an approval or checkpoint form. Some people will become offended. “What, you don’t trust me?” they retort when you put the form in front of them. This is EXACTLY the person that you want to make sure signs the form. The ones that are most indignant about signing the form or make the most noise about trust, respect, and other honorable attributes, are the very reason this form is in place. These typically are the people that have the shortest-term or most selective memory. The ones you most likely will never have to worry about are the ones that understand this is a matter of course, applies good project management principles, and is for the good of the project, team and company.
Just let those who make the most noise know that this is part of the process that occurs on each and every project. Show them where the checkpoint appears in the Gantt chart software. It’s up to them whether they want to sign the form or not. However, until they feel the deliverable is ready to move out of their department, it will begin to show up as a risk on the weekly project status reports to upper management. Being objective and consistent across all projects will make this an easy, and effective conversation to have.
Strategically place Approval and Checkpoints throughout your project lifecycle and you will establish traction from your project like never before. Need somewhere to store all the signed Approval Forms? Try our software free for 30 days and store these priceless documents online.