Do you ever feel like your project teams are not making as much progress as you’d like? Have you stopped to figure out what steps you can all take to boost your results? There are some concrete steps that you can take to improve project execution. After all, all the planning and managing in the world won’t improve your bottom line if your team is failing on the execution piece. Here you go…. five project execution tips that are sure to improve your results.
Hold standing meetings so that you can improve accountability and stay abreast of rising issues.
People everywhere continue to debate the efficacy of meetings. Some complain about the time wasted in meetings, and the work that isn’t getting done. Some have set aside meeting-free days or banned them almost entirely. Books have been written on how to make meetings more effective.
There are valid concerns about time that is wasted in unnecessary meetings, including the cost to the organization. I still advocate regular, but not necessarily daily, standing meetings to build accountability on your team. If you are unfamiliar with what they are, you can read about them here.
The correct frequency depends on the volume of work that is being done every day. And, you should consider whether the activities that are being done are likely to take a short amount of time (1 or 2 days or less) or longer (weeks). No one needs to have a meeting every day to hear the same person repeat the phrase, I worked on X, and I’ll be working on X tomorrow. If the standing meeting cadence is appropriate, we should regularly hear people say I finished X yesterday and today, I’m working on Y. When this happens, people develop a sense of accomplishment.
As people on the team develop that sense of accomplishment, it may be clear that someone else on the team is not performing. With regular, face-to-face (even if done remotely) standing meetings, there is some peer pressure on team members to perform. Your colleagues will notice when you start slacking, cheer you on when you are making progress, and support you when you have a problem.
When these meetings are done well, there is an increased sense of accountability on the team. By making it a part of your regular process to disclose problems early, you avoid a culture of fear. Problems can be addressed before they become disasters, and management can be appropriately alerted.
Deliver value to the client regularly so that you can quickly learn what works and what doesn’t.
In the planning process, you have hopefully identified the essential activities or work packages so that it is clear what ‘done’ means. By doing this, teams can deliver smaller amounts of work to the client in shorter time periods. There is a very significant difference in a mindset that says we will finish a project by X date, and a mindset that says we will have some tangible product to review with the customer in two or three weeks.
Obviously, you have to talk with your client and see how often they want to be brought in to the process. It will vary from client to client and project to project.
Focus intently on designated activities so that you can deliver a result to the client at the end of each time block.
In traditional Scrum, teams work in sprints on a set of software features that are supposed to be delivered by the end of the sprint. Teams get no credit, so to speak, for unfinished features. This is a different mind-set from what I frequently see in business projects where teams just keep working (and billing time) but don’t ever seem to deliver anything to the client.
Take for example, the advertising agency that is hired to design a campaign for a new retail store opening. The team is formed after the contract is signed. Meetings are held, discussions are had, emails are written, and two days before the deadline, the team locks itself in a room until the project is finished. What happens if the client hates the work?
When teams work in time blocks (or sprints) and focus on delivering some defined result to the client at the end of each time block, it builds some urgency in the short-term. And, it allows for early feedback before tons of money is spent moving in the wrong direction.
Depending on the project, it may be hard to come up with a result that you can deliver every two or three weeks. Try hard to come up with something even when your team says it has nothing to deliver. Define, in writing, the result that you plan to deliver to the client. It may be an executive summary of the work that has been accomplished. It may be a meeting with a leadership team, where you discuss what has been learned. There is simply no substitute for early feedback from your client. It is invaluable. Yet, the client has to have something to review in order to offer you any feedback of value.
Contract workers should update their timesheets daily so that the project manager can monitor the budget.
This is less of a concern when the work is being done on a time and materials basis. When the contract has a fixed price it is essential that everyone is recording time on a daily basis. With multiple people working on the same project, often at sizable hourly rates, a project can fall into the red quickly.
Write effective communications so that readers are clear on what is needed.
This should go without saying, but some of the emails and updates that I’ve seen in my career suggest that effective communications are still badly needed. If you want some tips on how to improve your written communications, check out this blog on effective written communications.
These project execution tips should help you deliver real value to your client and/or management team. Carpe diem. Questions? Just ask.