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Last week, I wrote a blog on innovation projects and I talked about the people who simply manage projects with a Google Drive spreadsheet. I recently worked on a project like that. There were multiple stakeholders from a variety of places. Unfortunately, no one was really managing the project. I’m calling this phenomenon haphazard project management.

I tried to talk the group into some kind of regular discipline, however the team tended to only pay attention to the work when it occurred to them. I’d like to think that this project was unusual – but my gut tells me that in this crazy busy world, we’ve all seen these kinds of projects.

There were a lot of well-meaning, intelligent people working on this one project and each of us had a full load of other projects. We communicated by email, text and phone; we saw each other some. We didn’t talk much about the project as a group, but small groups of two or three would periodically talk about a particular activity.

Some activities got done but at this point, I’m not sure where things stand. We haven’t met in awhile and to my knowledge, the project has not been completed. The project documents are haphazardly stored on various hard drives and Google folders, there’s not much budget information, and no one seems too concerned about the project’s status overall. Does this sound familiar?

If your organization is coping with the realization that teams are lapsing into haphazard project management, what can you do about it? Here are some suggestions.

Re-assess the project to see if you should really continue.

Before you go gangbusters, take a good luck at whether the project is really needed. Often when project work falls off, it’s because people are busy with more important things. Maybe the urgency of the project is not high but it’s still highly needed. If it should be cancelled – do so. And let everyone know.

Find someone to act as the project manager, even if they know nothing.

As much as it would be great to have a dedicated project manager with lots of training and experience, if you are totally desperate, just find someone to take on the project. It could be someone brand new to the workplace who just needs a starting point. It needs to be someone with good people skills, who can write effectively and has reasonably strong emotional intelligence. If you put someone in charge who is a bully, or who doesn’t know how to communicate, you may make the situation worse. When you put them in charge, communicate that their job is to serve the project.

Organize the project files so that everyone can find them.

Have the new project manager find all of the important files and set them up on a shared space. Sometimes, just finding the right information is half of the problem.

Sometimes, just finding the right information is half of the problem. Click To Tweet

Develop a regular meeting schedule and deliver some kind of value at each meeting.  

Maybe step one is to call an initial meeting to reconnect on an existing project that has not gotten much attention lately. At this point, it is important to figure out where things stand. Is most of the work in progress and just languishing, for lack of attention? Has most of the work not been started, or is it finished? Has the needed project work been identified? Until you know where things stand, it’s hard to know whether to spend time re-evaluating the project activities, the scope, the quality needed on a particular set of activities, or the budget.

At this point, you can do two things: focus on the cadence that you want for project meetings and develop a sense of urgency about delivering some kind of value at each meeting. Suppose, for example that you decide to meet every two weeks. Use your meeting time to look at what the team learned in the last two weeks. Aim to deliver something of value at or before each meeting. Figure out what that should be for the next meeting.

The goal of this approach is to build a culture of steady and reliable performance rather than a crisis driven workflow approach. Few people want to work in an organization where they jump from crisis to crisis and work 20-hour days. Even people who prefer the hustle of a crisis environment don’t want it to take over their entire life.

Categorize the needed work in ways that makes sense to all.

When I look at projects that are languishing, what I sometimes find is a very long list of activities. Often, that list has not been kept up to date with an indication of what has been finished, and what has not even been started. People are keeping that information in their heads. And their heads are starting to explode. This is why I like a visual breakdown of the project like I’ve outlined before .

Clearly, haphazard project management is never the intent. Yet, I fear that executives are underestimating the amount of haphazard project management that is occurring. Is it a problem in your organization?  Share your experience in the comments. And when you do, please note the size and industry of your organization. Maybe you have some thoughts on why it is occurring.