by Eileen McMonagle
Editor’s note: We are pleased to welcome a new contributing author, Eileen McMonagle. We look forward to her words of wisdom.
When a project feels like it is getting out of control, don’t try to move faster with it. Now is the time to stop. Even though it may feel like you should be doing the opposite, stop and really look at where you are in your project.
Where to start
Step back and take that fresh look at your project. We all know that we’re supposed to do all of the planning up front and identify every risk and potential obstacle, but how many times have you been handed a project and told to start it immediately? Today, more than ever, project managers are asked to do more, with less, and in a shorter period of time. In many cases, the projects that fall within the realm of big, but not huge, get started too soon. We could be in the middle of executing and can see that the project is heading for a sharp turn in the road and …. we’re not sure if it will make it around that bend. That is the time to STOP.
1. Talk to key stakeholders
I would recommend first that you talk to your key stakeholders and ….make sure they will tell you what they are really seeing about the progress of the project. You have been communicating with them through the course of the project and they have the perspective of not being in the middle of the details. Your key stakeholders are of course your Sponsor and the Senior Staff. They can also be the key customers with whom you feel comfortable. They should give you honest insight as to what is happening with the project from their perspective. They may also give you some interesting information on the strengths of your project team that you may not be aware of or capitalizing on.
2. Ensure the right people, processes and tools are in place
It is critically important that you review the end goal or “future product” of the project. Now that you are into the project, do you have the right people, systems and tools in place, at the right times, so you can complete the project on time and on budget? When I talk to clients about envisioning that future of a big project, I liken the process to getting ready for a long car trip. For the great majority of the time you don’t just get in a car and start driving. Typically you map out how to get to your future destination in the most efficient way, with the least possible cost. If it’s a long trip, you also plan the provisions and tools you will need. And finally, if you are on a long trip, you usually want to take people along who you like and respect and if they have any special skills that you may need on the trip, all the better!
Now in today’s GPS world you may think, “Wait, I do just get in the car, punch in the address and start driving. “ That’s where the right tools come into play for your project. I hope you admit though that for the long, extended trips, you develop a plan as to where you are going rather that just get in the car and follow the voice of your GPS.
3. Have the right team members
If you don’t mind me stretching my car trip analogy a little further, you need to make sure you have the right personnel “vehicles” in place to get your project to the right destination. This also involves making sure you are using all of the potential methodologies and company procedure “maps” at your disposal and that you are effectively getting your message out to all the members of your team and those key stakeholders. This has become particularity complex these days with the myriad of ways we communicate in business. Be open to suggestions from your team with the knowledge that this time you have taken to “stop” the project will also need to include your analysis of the impact of any changes you would propose.
4. And finally, fight to get it right
I realize it is difficult to “stop” a project once it is started but the responsibility of a successful project is yours. I would recommend that if you are asked to start a project too soon, put into the schedule a review milestone that will allow you to put the brakes on the project. If you feel you will need a couple of points in the project where you will need to ‘tap the brakes” try to get them in as well. I realize this is tough because these projects are usually on a very tight time schedule but I have had projects that had major reworks when we didn’t stop and course correct them. It actually took longer to complete those types of project s than when we stopped and reviewed the true status of the project.
Let me know what you think
Tell me about your “off the map” projects and how you were able to get them back on track.