Some of these may be happening on your projects right now and if they are, that's great. The more of these that you are already doing, the better. Let’s consider…
Engage the team daily. We engage the team as needed and probably weekly on at least a customer status call. But we need to be engaging them more often as a group – especially if the project is starting to go off the rails. Gold plating, estimate padding, any rogue development, or lost focus on YOUR project is possible when you’ve left too much time between contacts with your critical project resources. Stay in touch – and stay in touch often. I suggest a group page on Facebook or the use of a collaboration tool that – at the very least – allows you to say, “Hi, how’s it going today and what is everyone focused on right now?”. That will allow you to touch base as a group each morning and will keep the team expecting communication, oversight and accountability from you daily. It’s a good thing and a great habit to be in.
Check in with the project customer at least three times a week. Just as we need to keep our project team engaged and on task, we need to do the same with our project client. One project status call and touch base each week may be fine for small projects or during slow times, but for larger and high visibility projects or projects experiencing ongoing issues those touch points need to happen more often and I suggest 3-4 times per week for that.
Add financials to the project status report. The project budget is always important and keeping it in front of the team and the customer only serves to elevate it to a new level of visibility, oversight and accountability. But seriously, I’ve run projects that started to experience serious budget issues. Unfortunately, I was directed by my PMO director to keep the info and troubles out of sight from my project customer on a couple of important and high dollar projects and by the time I could attempt to discuss it with the customer and make a plan for action, it was too late. We ultimately saved one of them after a long work stoppage, but the other one was canceled. It could have gone the other way under better circumstances.
Include senior management in your status reporting distribution. Something most of us don’t do unless the PM infrastructure requires it – including senior management in our weekly project status reporting distribution. Likely, if there is a PMO in place, the director is doing something to report status up the chain of command. I say take it a step further to get senior management aware and involved – especially on the bigger projects. And it never hurts for them to see your name as the PM on a regular basis…unless your project is constantly in trouble.
Send out meeting agendas in advance. This may be something you’re already doing, but if not, start today. It gives everyone a chance to know what’s going to be discussed, know what they need to be prepared for, and allows them to be ready to speak. All of these add up to a meeting that is usually going to be quicker and more productive and – in the long run – better attended.
Hold meetings no matter what, but stay on topic. Nothing really to discuss this week? Don’t cancel the meeting. Say hi, go around the room, and spend 5-10 minutes. You may not get much said or learn anything, but you’ve spoken volumes about your consistency and at the same time shown you’re not a time waster when nothing really needs to be said. But if you start to cancel those meetings rather than going through with them you’ll be telling all the attendees that your meetings aren’t that important and your attendance may dip. Don’t cancel; just don’t waste their time. That’s what the water cooler is for.
Revise project financials weekly. I always say that a 10% budget overage is easier to correct than a 50% budget overage. That is obvious. But what might not be obvious to some is that by reviewing and revising your project financials every week the PM is far more likely to see budget issues before they get out of hand (like 50% out of hand).
Revisit resource forecasts weekly. Everything I stated about project financials goes for the resource forecast as well. Plus, your project resources are usually the most expensive part of the project so they play into the project financials anyway. Working on one and not the other is certainly not wise.
Plan for a mid project lessons learned session. I say why wait till the end of the project to conduct a lessons learned session. Plus, if you always wait till the end you run the risk of losing most or all of your team and the customer to whatever they are working on next. Get everyone together 2-3 times during the project for quick lessons learned sessions to discuss what’s going well and what isn’t so you can correct things now rather than later. This keeps customer satisfaction higher and allows for mid-project correction of issues. Win-win.
Bring the CEO to your next project meeting with the client. Finally, figure out a way to drag your CEO or at least someone close to that level to your next project status meeting. Your customer will love the exposure and seeming importance placed on their project and you’ll get a leader involved who may serve to knock down a roadblock or two later in the engagement.
The bottom line is we can’t guarantee what will work and what won’t, what will make a difference in the engagement and satisfaction of our project clients and ownership of our team members. But we can take several small steps to improve our project that won’t ding the budget or the timeline and can help improve our standing with our customer while also serving to help us stay on top of budgets and resource planning. And these are always areas that we struggle to stay in control of as project managers…especially on the more challenging and long term projects and especially when our plates are full and our project oversight is spread thin.