Your project might already be in motion, but that does not mean you cannot change your processes and approaches. Continuous improvement is your responsibility. Don’t just watch what happens as your team works toward project completion, be strategic and when you see opportunities for positive changes, make them! These eight recommendations are a good place to start.
#1 Have Clear Priorities
You can’t help everyone, and every project cannot be the most important. Within the portfolio of projects you manage, they cannot all have the same priority. And every project your team members work on is not the same priority for your organization.
You might have a sponsor telling you that everything is a top priority. That is a popular statement: It means, “I am not going to commit, or I do not know, figure it out yourself.” You will need to decide if you work for someone who cannot commit to a priority. Listen to how your leadership team discusses projects. Pay attention to where the resources are being utilized the most.
What is most important within each project? Is it scope, schedule, budget, or quality? This does not mean that you do not work to provide all of the scope, on time, within budget, and quality. It does mean that when things change (and they will), you know whether you can ask for money to hit a target date or whether or not some scope might be removed instead. And if your requirements are similarly prioritized, you and your team can make informed suggestions to your sponsor regarding changes to scope to make a target date or stay within the budget.
Sometimes you can deliver everything your sponsor requires on time, on budget, and with beautiful quality exactly as they dreamed, and sometimes you need to make changes. That might mean that some requirements aren’t going to be implemented. I know no one loves this, but it is the truth. That’s why you want to make sure that your requirements are prioritized.
The best time to learn about the relative importance of scope, schedule, budget, and quality is BEFORE changes are necessary. Ask your sponsor for clarification as soon as your project begins.
#2 Have a Plan
I know. Thank you, Captain Obvious. Please plan out your schedule, plan out your budget, plan out your resources and make sure the team understands how things are meant to progress.
Make it clear where people go when there are issues to be reported. Teach your team how to identify risks. When you have clear plans, and your stakeholders understand them, it is easier to commit to your project goals.
The plan’s purpose isn’t to make promises that nothing will ever change. The plan aims to understand how to respond to changes strategically and proactively. When you have a plan and understand your priorities, creating solutions is much easier.
#3 Create Accurate Estimates
Do the best you can to create accurate estimates. This takes time and practice. Encourage your team members to keep good notes that explain their estimates. You want to keep good notes too. As your project progresses, if you can see that the estimates are wrong, don’t sit around hoping for some kind of miracle. Dig into the estimates and the actuals with your team members. You might learn that some of your assumptions about the work were wrong. Or the work is more complicated, or prices have increased. Have an open and honest discussion about what is different, do some problem-solving, and move forward with updated estimates.
#4 Learn to Say No
This is a good tip for you in all aspects of your life. It certainly has been helpful for me. One day I heard a speaker say, “No is a complete sentence.” I was in awe. I can say “No” to unreasonable requests. Wow!
Sometimes you need to say no. “No, we cannot do that for the same amount of budget,” Or “No, we cannot add more scope and hit the same timeline.” Also, “No, you can’t take my subject matter expert away and expect us to function at the same level.”
I understand that the more politically correct way to discuss with your executive team is to learn that “Yes and” phrasing. “Yes, and when we add that valuable scope to the project, with the same team members, allocated in the same way, our timeline will extend by three weeks.”
Find the right way to communicate within your corporate culture, but do not agree to unreasonable requests without making the impact of those requests understood.
#5 Develop Critical Path Thinking
What I mean is to understand the critical path of your project schedule. What is driving your end date? What will happen if an activity runs late? If an activity is not on the critical path and running late, then learn what it means for that item to have slack or float. So that you know how long an item can be delayed before it will cause you to slip the target date.
#6 Communicate Effectively
Understand the needs of your stakeholders. If your sponsor is sensitive to budget increases, you must consider the best way to ask her for more money. Make sure you have a list of your stakeholders and a clear understanding of the information to share, their areas of expertise, and how they contribute to your project.
Map important project milestones to your project communication plan. Critical communications are part of your schedule. Follow that schedule and make updates to improve the quality of your communications and build stakeholder relationships.
#7 Use Your Time Effectively
You have the same 24 hours in a day as everyone else. You are trying to navigate roadblocks and make everything easier for your team; remember, you have things on your to-do list. Plan your time as well as you can. If you need to take a time management course – then do it! Continuous improvement applies to you and your skillset too. Most of us can benefit from a regular assessment of how we spend our time.
#8 Use Your Intuition
If you are a Marvel fan, and specifically a fan of Spiderman, use your Spidey senses. When you have a feeling that something doesn’t seem right. Or that something is off, investigate. Don’t ignore something just because you can’t find any signs that support your suspicions.
If you feel uneasy about something, it is better to do some research. Maybe that funny feeling in your stomach was just too much spicy food at lunch.
Better too much spice than to ignore that funny feeling and then realize there was a problem, and you didn’t research it. Trust your gut, as the saying goes.