I originally authored this article for Projects@Work. The original post can be found here.
In my experiences as the project manager on large, long-term projects, one of the biggest tasks we face as PMs is keeping our project team engaged on our projects and focused on the current project tasks. Why does this happen? In the organizations I’ve worked with and for, it’s usually because each project team member is working on 3-4 different projects just as I’m managing 5-6 different on-going projects.
The squeaky wheel gets the grease, right? Likewise, whatever project has a critical task or deadline right now, or whatever project manager is being the most communicative at the moment, is likely the area where that particular project team member is going to give the largest portion of their attention and effort.
In order to keep your project moving forward, it’s critical that your team be focused on the project’s goals and mission and remains engaged throughout the project. How do you do that? How do you ensure that they’re focusing on the tasks you need them to perform and not spending most of their time working on another project manager’s project? Sometimes, if another project is more critical or experiencing show-stopping problems, there’s nothing you can do. But for all of the other times, I’ve outlined below five ways to help keep those resources focused on what you need them to be focused on…your project.
Communicate Frequently and Effectively
When your project team members are also working for two or three other project managers on other efforts, then you need to make sure that you’re the most communicative project manager they are working for. I once had a data specialist tell me that he was getting about five times more email from me than any of his other project managers. I think I received a more favorable raise that year from my supervisor for passing that piece of information on to him.
If you’re engaging your resources with meaningful project information and updates, then they can tell by the frequent and important information you’re including them on that you are on top of the project status. You’re keeping them informed and by doing this you’re gaining their respect, trust, and allegiance in very subtle and highly effective ways.
Keep Them Fully Aware of Their Assigned Tasks
In addition to frequent communication of project issues and status, you must also make sure that they are always aware of what is expected of them. If you don’t, no one else will. And never assume that they just know what to do. They’ve got as many things on their plate as you do, but without the target on their head for project success. That’s all yours. So be sure they know what they’re supposed to be doing for you on your project to help ensure that success.
Keep the project schedule detailed and fully updated on a very regular basis. And make sure it’s always in their hands along with any summary alert reports you can put together (using filters in MS Project is a good way to do that). That way, they know what’s expected of them and it will be very visible to them and to everyone if something is about to slip off schedule because of them.
Make Them Visible on the Project
You’re managing critical and visible projects, make sure you share that visibility with the members of your team. I’m not saying you want them to go down with the ship too if things go south…not at all. What I mean here is allow them to share the spotlight. If you’re meeting with the CEO to update him on the status of your critical project, take the team with you or tie them in on a conference call with him.
It won’t take too much of that to make them very aware how important what they’re doing is and how willing you’ll be to share in the project success if that’s the way the project ends up. Just be sure not to throw them under the bus in these situations if there are issues….you’re the PM and you’re supposed to be in control and in charge so own the issues and problems for the team.
Active Participation with the Customer
As the PM, you’ll be running the show on project status meetings and conference calls. However, you can definitely encourage active participation by everyone on the team. When you’re going over the current project status every week with the customer, have team members discuss the status of their assigned tasks. Applaud their successes in front of the customer and likewise hold them accountable to issues they are handling and how those are affecting the project schedule and the engagement in general.
Frequent Communication and Updates with Their Supervisor
Finally, keep a regular communication link going with their direct supervisor. This serves two purposes. First, you can use these opportunities to give the supervisor a periodic review of their performance on your project. After all, you’re their partial manager for the short-term until the project is over.
Second, by keeping their supervisor aware of what’s going on with your project and what tasks that project team member is currently responsible for, it helps to ensure that the supervisor will do his best to keep them engaged on your project and not overload them with other work and other projects while they’re performing these critical tasks. There’s no guarantees on this, but if you’re communicating with the supervisor and the other PMs that the resource is working for are not, then he’s much more likely to help ensure that his resource remains engaged on your project. It’s always worked for me in the past and I see no reason to change a strategy that’s working.