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In last week’s blog, I encouraged project managers to set up their projects for small wins. There are huge benefits to celebrating small wins, among them:

  • Momentum keeps people moving.
  • Progress improves people’s spirits, and their commitment levels.
  • People want to be on winning teams, so you may get better resources.
  • Scientific research says that gratitude improves brain function.

So, how can we give people something about which to get excited? How can we realize the benefits of small wins?

Understand the big picture – the why.

Projects today can be ambiguous, particularly in the beginning. Start with understanding what you are trying to accomplish and why. It might help to take this dialogue a few steps further with these questions:

  • What constitutes success?
  • What might mean failure?
  • What is the most important factor – cost, schedule, scope, risks, and quality?
  • What assumptions need to be considered?
  • Are there any constraints?
  • What are you trying to do?
  • What are you NOT going to do?

Break the project into activities that can be achieved in a reasonable amount of time.

I was working on a change project a while back and I pushed and pushed to have everyone on the team write down what they would deliver for each activity. The goal was to break each workstream down into a series of activities, each of which could be delivered in no more than two weeks. I was not always successful. I had activities that it took months to deliver. And for weeks and weeks, I would inquire about progress, only to hear – it’s coming along. That’s helpful!

I confess. It can be pretty hard to get some people to break their work down into manageable packages. Some people are list makers. Some are not. Start with helping the team understand the reason for breaking the work into bite-sized pieces. Then, ask them to put themselves in the position of the client – having to write large checks for work products that they haven’t received.

Understand success factors at different milestones.

I don’t use the term milestone as much as some project managers, mainly because it can mean different things to different people. In any project of more than a month or two, there will be points at which the team will need to come up for air.

In technology projects, these points may be every two to four weeks, and they will be marked by the delivery of working software.

In business projects, there won’t be software that can be delivered, but think about the blocks of work deliverables that need to be delivered. And think about the critical deadlines. Perhaps a group of deliverables is to be delivered at one time?

The point here is to understand what constitutes success at that point. Talk to the client. Talk to management. Know what will make them happy and give you a reason to celebrate.

Celebrate the small wins.

It’s a shame to spend the time setting up a project with celebration points and then, fail to celebrate. Each team will need to find its celebration rhythm and its methods. I would encourage you to find inexpensive ways that don’t always involve a lot of extra food and alcohol. Here are some ideas:

  • Take a picnic lunch to the park and fly kites.
  • Have a river in your town? Can you go hop rocks one day after work?
  • Movie night at someone’s house.

Get creative. It’s not about the money or the alcohol. It’s about spending time together doing something fun. But keep in mind that people on your team have families, and they want to spend time with their families too. So, maybe you celebrate at lunch or include families.

Monitor the money.

Every project manager has faced times when activity costs start spiraling out of control and you wonder if the entire project is going to exceed budget. That experience is no fun. Can you find activities that have delighted the client and come in under budget? Celebrate them!

Know why people are serving on the team.

When you understand what people are trying to get out of their work, it can help you find reasons to celebrate. For example, suppose you have one person on the team who is trying to learn new skills. When that person masters something new, it can be a cause for celebration. The accomplishment may add little value for the team in the short-term. But it may be a very big deal to the team member who has spent countless hours trying to master something new. Make the most of that accomplishment. Celebrate that win!

Every team has to find its own way of realizing the benefits of small wins. The project manager can play many roles, but when it comes to team celebrations, let the team find its own way. If you are the project manager, look for the quiet ones who are not chiming in, and seek out their thoughts independently. Find out what will make them happy. Avoid letting the extroverts call all of the shots.

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