When you want to be organized on a project: share and make the time to meet

Rounding out my tips for managing projects, share what you’ve documented. I know…another duh! Another “no kidding”…you might be thinking. I have seen beautiful projects plans in my day that sit in a shared folder or SharePoint team site that don’t get touched, reviewed or updated.

The only reason to document a project is to share it with others to create a mutual understanding of what we are doing, why, who needs to do what and by when. These documents only exist to enable the team to work efficiently.

Lots of organizations are talking about becoming agile today resulting in daily stand-up meetings, quicker releases with iterations rather than big plans that take 18 months to implement. Whatever the preference, meeting with the team and doing a quick review of tasks is always a good thing.

I find when people don’t hold project meetings it is usually because they are intimidated by the project plan. It can be large if the project is large in scope. Don’t focus on the the entire plan every week. The key to success is to break it down. You can keep weekly meetings to be short and impactful.

  1. Spend 5 minutes on the big picture – how are we tracking toward the main deadline, the main deliverables. If there are concerns, talk about them. If needed, assign the concerns or risks to a smaller subset of the team to come up with solutions.
  2. Focus on the items that are NOT tracking on time. Ask why, ask for new dates, ask how this impacts the big picture.
  3. If something is scheduled soon to be released or completed, quickly review what is releasing to whom and ensure communication plans are in place.
  4. Ask for other concerns or risks.

This agenda keeps weekly meetings to a reasonable length and breaks down the project into smaller chunks that will seem less overwhelming.

When you want to be organized on a project: write it down

The most basic step I see missed all the time in managing projects is a lack of documentation. I once had an executive tell me that she thought creating project plans was a huge waste of time. She felt some project managers make the project plan the deliverable instead of using the plan to drive the real deliverable.

Sure. Some can create over-the-top documentation. Some people who are professional Project Managers use MS Project, create Gantt charts, document the critical path and spend time estimating effort and duration. I am in no way suggesting that this is not necessary for certain projects. When you are managing numerous workstreams and lots of capital dollars, you need this.

For most of us managing smaller projects or ones that aren’t using significant capital, I honestly think a decent project charter and a high-level task list can suffice. Then, I recommend two other documents: a RACI Chart and a Communications Plan.

Project Charter – Create one page that lists any pertinent background information, project objectives, deliverables, approach, milestones that match your deliverables and resources. If there are risks to the project, I would document those too.
Task list – You decide at what level to capture tasks but they should all support your deliverables with deadlines for each. I find it helpful to list deadlines for deliverable reviews too. Reviews often take more time than any of us ever think they will.
RACI Chart – Document who is Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed about the project and its deliverables. This is key to avoid any misunderstanding of who should be involved and how deeply. I find ensuring you know who needs to be consulted vs. just informed on a project can save a lot of wasted time and headaches.
Communication Plan – Document who are you going to tell what message, when and using what channel. Most of our projects involve a change of some sort so having a communications plan will help keep people informed.

Taking the time to write these items down, actively manage the task list and share them with the appropriate people will help you stay on track.

When you want to be organized on a project: let’s talk objectives

Last time, we focused on 3 things to do to keep on track when managing projects.

Let’s start with part of the first step: thinking through the objectives. I can’t tell you how often a project gets started with an idea….an even a great idea…and then no one thinks beyond the idea. One of the first questions should be: “What are we trying to achieve?”

I had one senior executive tell me once that he wasn’t quite sure what he wanted to achieve but he read about this idea in Harvard Business Review and felt we should just implement it. Ok. Managing a al HBR may not be the best way to go. HBR is full of great ideas, good models and excellent case studies but is your company the same as the example? What nuances exist in the culture, the performance system, the customers, the leaders? But, I digress…

Knowing what you are trying to achieve is the barometer that everything gets measured against. When you get stuck on whether something should be done or whether the work that is preventing you from reaching a milestone is mission critical, you can ask yourself…does this meet our objective? Simple yes and no answers will help you determine your direction.

Another step I see left out often is the actual measurement to see if we met our objectives. The sole objective CANNOT be: we completed the project, we implemented the system on time. Sure, that is inherent in any project but what was the project supposed to achieve? Less time on something, more engagement of people, more efficiency through automation, less customer wait time, increased customer retention?

Whatever it was, noting these objectives at the front and measuring on the back end is important to see if you made a difference. A difference from a time and money perspective but also for human fulfillment. We all want to have purpose and make a difference. It is an important part of what drives us, what lights us up and what keeps us engaged at work.

It is very easy to skip this step because we have crossed the project off of our long list. But, measuring the outcome matters to the business and to the project team.

When you want to be organized on a project

We all do project work even at the highest levels. A business transformation, a key account pursuit, a merger, an acquisition, a new product launch, a technology roadmap…all of these are projects at their core and involve execution after the strategy is decided.

It’s in the execution where I have experienced many miscommunications and missteps. Execution takes a lot of work to get right and requires a detailed brain at times or at least an organized brain. I do not consider myself detail-oriented but many people have referred to me as organized and logical. Perhaps.

But, the reason I appear organized is because I do follow three steps:

  1. Take time to think about the objectives, what needs to be done, who should do it and by when
  2. Write it all down (including objectives!!)
  3. Share it with the team and meet on it regularly

Some of you may be rolling your eyes and thinking…that’s it?! Yes. This seems so simple and it can be. But, as I have learned over my career, despite what my college English professor says, simple and easy do NOT mean the same thing.

It is simple and yet so many people don’t follow these three steps on project work. Without thinking and documenting, you float from one week to the next hoping and assuming everyone knows what to do and work will get done.

I have been a part of these projects throughout my entire career in HR especially. One in particular stands out to me. My manager was leading a very strategic project sponsored by the CEO of the business but he never believed in thinking about and documenting the project to ensure we all understood objectives, the work, and who was responsible for what.

He only had verbal conversations with each team member separately, never together, and forwarded random emails from senior leaders throwing in their two cents on the project. With these disjointed bits, everyone was supposed to know what to do and by when and be successful. Impossible.

I managed up in this situation and told him that I would lean in and document and lead the team in project meetings. He agreed and we had tons more clarity on the work and started to produce.

Sometimes, people believe documenting and holding status meetings take too much time. They think project plans are too complicated and don’t add value. “Just go do it.” In fact, without documentation and status meetings, it will take more time, create more frustration and lead to disaster, not success.