How have your projects been going lately? Are you sailing smoothly through your project timelines and completing them before deadlines, or are you scurrying to throw things together at the last minute?
Take a minute to think the projects you have worked on in the last year. How many would you say were completed on time, on budget, and realized their intent? According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), your organization is performing well with an 80% successful project rate. Poorly performing organizations only hit around 60%.
If you’re in the latter group, it’s time to identify some common issues that may be causing your projects to drag on or not be completed at all.
It all starts with planning. But how can you plan for something you have not done before? I believe the largest cause for inaccurate project estimates, and therefore unsuccessful projects, is not having a map or a “trail to follow”.
Heading out into the unknown is required of of all creative leaders. The ability to balance creating something new and original while honing in on tried and true practices is an important dichotomy to understand. Use the following techniques to help gain creative insight while not getting lost in the project:
- Develop templates from past successful projects. It’s tempting to want to recreate the wheel to feed our creative desires, but just because you want to try something totally different, that doesn’t mean a previous method will not work well for a new project. Templates can be anything from basic wireframe layouts for designers to a project scope questionnaire that clearly asks all the questions needed up front. Templates also allow you to quickly bring in other members of your team and outside stakeholders into the project. Having shared assets that can be adapted easily and will help guaranteed project success.
- Ask a reference or someone outside your organization that specializes in your project area. Learning from their success and failures will provide valuable insight to your own projects. An alternate route someone else has taken may not be the best road for you, but it begins to fill in the map for your project.
We’ve all been there—”Who’s job was that again?”…”Have you done this yet?”…”Who was supposed to approve that?”
Here’s what happens. Yourself or one of your colleagues will have a question on what to do next (because so much time has elapsed or other reason), but instead of asking the appropriate person to get back on track, they will procrastinate until someone else makes a decision. That’s just one example, but similar situations happen all the time in small businesses that can severely halt the project.
When you think of accountability, you may be thinking of someone annoying checking in on you all the time, making sure you are doing the right thing. Leaving accountability up to individual members of the team or even the leader is not enough to prevent these unknown problems
The key is to build accountability into your project by planning milestones and check ins. When its clear upfront what the milestones are and when check ins will be, everyone can plan and act accordingly. You will rarely have the issue of confusions and next steps if you are regularly meeting with the team, answering questions, and signing off approvals.
While it’s difficult to stop working on the project and meet with your team, it’s better that having to redo the work after finding an unexpected surprise that someone else might know.
Follow the Leader
One of the biggest hindrances to successful project completions is the lack of a decision maker. In larger businesses, project teams usually include an executive sponsor, or someone from the executive team who helps guide the success of the project. In fact, PMI reports that teams with executive sponsors are 40% more likely to deliver on the project than those without one.
In the small business world, however, executive sponsors may be few and far between. If the only executive sponsor is the owner of the company, it’s important to get on the same page from the beginning. Fill them in on milestones, key objectives, deliverables that will need approval, etc.
Without a clearly defined decision maker, your team cannot move forward on the map.
I often wonder why scope creep happens so often. Everyone knows it exists—it happens virtually every project whether you are working internally or externally. So why do we let it happen? The fact of the matter is that anyone not working on the project directly doesn’t really care about scope creep. They just want the results. And to be fair, that’s not their fault.
Anything that can be changed will be changed until there is not time left to change anything.
Scope creep is entirely dependent on who develops the scope. That is the job of the project manager, but as a team, everyone should take action to control scope creep by:
- Influencing the factors that create scope changes in the first place by nailing down specifics up front
- Identifying scope changes when they occur and communicate any internal changes that will need to be made
- Manage the actual changes efficiently when it’s necessary to include them
If you keep these issues in mind before beginning your next project, I am confident you will begin to dramatically increase your project success rate and decrease your project timelines.