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I recently read Nudge: The Final Edition, by Richard Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein, and will write a review on the book later. For now, I want to talk about ways that the book made me think about how project managers can nudge teams in new directions to enhance project success.

As a long-term follower of diverse opinions on project management, I want to offer some strategies to help project managers think in new ways about nudging teams in what might be different directions for you.

I say different directions because I’m always amazed at the differences of opinion about how to set up, execute, and manage a project.

1. Set up Systems to Enhance Project Success

I would guess that most if not all trained project managers understand the value of creating and maintaining well-structured systems for project management. And yet, when I read about the use of surveillance software to spy on remote workers, I do wonder about their systems. Why would you need spy software and surveillance if your teams were regularly delivering strong results?

Here are some suggestions, though the list is not complete.

Plan effectively and only to the extent needed

I have written on the need to start and plan well, and the message is still important. Part of planning is understanding the need for the project, the benefits expected, and how you are going to plan and manage the project. A home construction project is very different from a change management project. The size of the project and the team will impact how much planning is needed.

Put aside which tool you want to use to plan your project or whether you want an agile project or a waterfall project. How much do you really need to plan? I’m a big fan of planning, but only to the extent needed. How do you know how much planning is needed? That depends. And let me say that the process of initiating or starting a project is, according to PMBOK, separate from planning. But in this discussion, I’m thinking of starting and planning as one phase – as the two processes can overlap.

Ask if you know what the project is all about and why you are doing it. People often think that planning starts with listing out the things you want to do. I would argue that planning begins long before that. It starts with understanding your vision. Have you created a compelling vision that will keep your team engaged when things get dicey?

Do you understand the benefits that the project is designed to achieve and how these benefits will be measured in the future?

Use regularly scheduled Checkpoint meetings to keep your project on track

Checkpoint meetings are a type of meeting that is proprietary to the Smart Projex method. There is a very specific recommended agenda but you can certainly tweak as needed. I would encourage you to not skip important disciplines, such as risk management. The key is to prepare for, conduct, and follow up the meetings well. Check out this blog on using Checkpoint meetings for more help.

Time block your activities to keep your focus

Time blocking is used by individuals all the time but who says teams can’t time block activities? One of the problems that I frequently see is teams and individuals who are overworking an activity. One way to reduce overwork is to use time blocks. But one of the caveats is that you must complete the task in the allotted time. And this may not always be possible. Only you can judge whether an activity took too long because you overworked it or because you underestimated the work. Be honest, document these observations, share them with your team and learn from them.

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2. Identify and Address Sabotaging Behaviors to Enhance Project Success

According to Morning Brew, “Gallup research found that unhappy employees cost US companies $1.9 trillion in lost productivity last year.” What is going on that is costing so many employees to be unhappy? The list is long, but I think we can all be sure that detrimental interpersonal dynamics and endless distractions aren’t helping happiness or focus. And we need employees to be focused on the right work.

When employees are focused on personal problems, family needs, social media chatter, or negative behaviors, they aren’t focused on the work that will help your company. As a project leader, watch for behaviors that will sabotage your work efforts. Address them promptly. When you see people who are frequently distracted, can’t focus effectively, or are mean or unnecessarily critical, you have a problem that you need to address.

3. Communicate and Engage Effectively

Everyone knows that effective communications are critical, but people differ on what that means. Is it the strength of targeted written communications, effective meetings, or is it the level of engagement that team participants have with each other. I don’t dispute that effective meetings and well written communications are important. But I would argue that we still need to be talking with one another.

I know Slack, instant messaging systems, and online tools have their place. But I would argue that the quality of brainstorming and group engagement is more important if you want to enhance project success.

Ask yourself these three questions about your verbal discussions:

  1. Do you know what your conversation is designed to accomplish? In other words, are your conversations purposeful?
  2. Do the participants show empathy, respect, and love for others on the team?
  3. Is your team prioritizing the client’s needs?
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4. Measure and Monitor Project Performance to enhance project success

I’m a big fan of measuring project performance and tracking it over time. Only by studying a team’s performance can we glean the data needed to make meaningful improvements. But sometimes, I see teams measuring the wrong thing. And it’s often driven by compensation.

For example, when people are rewarded based on individual goals, it does little to foster collaboration and work improvement. That’s true at the team level and the management level.

So what metrics are important? There are lots of opinions here and to some extent, it may depend on the type of project(s) you are working on. Here are three areas to consider.

Activity completion

Are you getting the most important work done first each day? Is work getting done when it was promised? Are tasks getting pushed out into the future too often? I’ll let you decide how to measure activity completion, but I do think it’s important to keep work moving. And that we focus on making sure we are doing the work that brings the most value.

Costs

For most, but not all projects, costs will be important. Have you estimated the costs to complete the project? Are you including the salaries and benefits of full-time employees? I can’t tell you which costs your management will want to track. I can tell you that employee time and energy, and volunteers, are finite resources that you cannot afford to discount or mismanage.

As you execute your project, how are you allocating costs on partially completed work? I can’t delve too deeply here but you might check out the writings of Elizabeth Harrin from GirlsGuideToPM.com.

Risks

I will argue that risks are one of the most important areas for you to monitor. Proactive risk assessment increases in importance as our world gets more and more complex and changes more rapidly. We simply need to be looking around, rather than digging our heels in to execute on a project non-stop. If we fail to measure and monitor risks, results can be disastrous. For more help on this, try this blog on the Secret Sauce Behind Risk Management.

In conclusion, elevating project success requires a multi-faceted approach that includes using effective systems, reducing sabotaging behaviors, fostering effective communication, and measuring and monitoring project performance. By adopting these strategies, project managers can navigate complexities, adapt to changing landscapes, and enhance project success through a forward-thinking and innovative mindset.