The task of managing projects can be daunting to say the least. Projects are about change and as a general rule change is met with resistance. If the very nature of change management weren’t challenging enough, today’s economy mandates a globally influenced culture. More than two-thirds of projects have a global influence. This means that team members, stakeholders, end users and even sponsors could be anywhere around the world. Long distance communication and the need to share information and cultural differences have driven the development of technology solutions that are universally accessible and useful. Regardless of technological advances, there are basic project management principles that have proven timeless.
Let’s explore three qualities that will empower any project team. Whether you are implementing the use of new software, transitioning to cloud computing solutions, or developing private applications you will get better and faster results when focusing on these qualities. So, here is a quick snap shot:
- Team Work
Team work, in short, is the ability to achieve specific goals through collaboration. Someone once said, “All the ideas to get ahead aren’t in one head.” Every individual, department, or entity brings a unique value to our projects. Often the same contributors also bring differences that can complicate progress.
One of the greatest complications is agreeing on project values. Are we most concerned about quality, or our deadline? The outside salesperson who initiated the project understands the customer’s demands and needs and may be insistent on a timely delivery regardless of practicality. On the same project team the engineering department may be insisting on frequent quality checks that seem to slow the progress. Ignoring either stakeholder will result in conflict and delays. Strong project leaders clearly define the project values in terms of what matters most on the project.
Another complication is efficient collaboration when different stakeholders may use different technology or for the same technology for a different use. On a recent project a customer received resources late because of a simple miscommunication resulting from differences in the way our corporate software was used. When an order is placed, two dates are required: a due date and a follow-up date. Our department uses the follow-up date as a check point to confirm timely delivery through freight tracking. Another team member had spent time in another department that never sourced projects externally resulting in fewer variables on resource deliveries. They simply matched the due date and follow-up date. As a result critical resources were not followed up and ended up late without a heads-up. Unfortunately, you won’t always identify these differences right away. The following tips will help reduce occurrences.
- Clarify which applications are required.
- Ensure that all team members are familiar with applications and how they are to be used.
- When familiarity is low assign someone the role of data entry and information management.
- If software isn’t already in use for project collaboration, consider cloud based applications.
- If your team is global or in different facilities, cloud or web-based solutions may save time and money.
- Spend 10 minutes of your meetings for training on the use of applications. I find that YouTube is a great resource for these training sessions.
One last key to team effort is facilitating variances and change. At the onset of the project plans are made based on information available. Throughout the project variables and crisis may force team members to deviate from the original plan. Make it easy for qualified individuals to make changes when needed. The following guidelines will reduce the impact of such changes.
Establish change limitations including cost of change, schedule impact of change, and predecessor impact of change.
- Cost of change limits suggest that changes with no greater impact on project cost than X may be made by the task leader.
- Schedule limits work two ways. If the change will result in a delay acceptable delays must be defined. If a change will shorten the time needed to complete the appropriate stakeholders need to be informed.
- Predecessor impact is simply a matter of identifying who may be impacted by the change and making sure they are involved with the decision.
Establish change and change order protocol to avoid organization wide chaos.
- Define processes for documenting all changes made
- Make sure the entire team knows about the changes even if they are not directly impacted. Brief email blasts or a five minute review of changes during a meeting is fine.
- Adjust all collaboration applications, such as MS Project, when changes are made.
Establish communication standards to keep the team collectively involved as the project completes.
That brings us to the second quality of successful project teams. Clarity is created when we communicate openly, consistently and universally. By universally I mean that we are using language and medium that is relevant to everyone involved. I was on a project where we were sending updates to the end user weekly. About four weeks into the project we learned that the user rarely checked his email and then usually only scanned the subject line. As a result he had no idea that the project delivery had changed and was awaiting his PO to bill it out. From this miscommunication we learned to do two things on all future projects:
- Always determine preferred medium for communication. (The above user preferred the intranet discussion forum over email)
- Always clarify email content using the subject line
One last tip that will help you communicate with clarity is to eliminate vague language. As an example don’t use phrases like ASAP or “when you can get around to it.” Say exactly what you want or mean. Keep in mind that what people hear and what you say are often two different things. I once told a user that a resource would most likely have a two day lead for delivery but that I might have it as early as tomorrow. All he heard was “tomorrow.” The next day he was irate that his resource had not arrived. I learned to simply promise only what I knew I could deliver. If the resource is available early the user is pleasantly surprised.
Last but not least, be innovative with your projects. One way to build innovation into your projects is to explore lessons learned throughout the project and at the end of a project. Identify what has or has not worked and be willing to try new things. I used to be a MS Project exclusive user. I now prefer web-based collaboration solutions with high compatibility with MS Project.
By: Bill “The Builder” Carpenter has more than twenty years of project management experience. He has hands on project leadership experience as well as ten years of experience as a project management trainer. He has authored over a dozen books and audio programs. He is available for keynotes and web based training. He teaches practical applications of MS Project, MS Office and cloud computing solutions.