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Regardless of what kind of project I work on, there is usually some point in the project when it becomes clear that something is going to have to be done again, differently. In other words, rework. The homeowner specified beige toilets and the supplier delivered white toilets. No one checked the paperwork and the white toilets were installed. OR, the executive, trying to hire an associate director thought the search committee was providing a proposal with three well-qualified names and instead the committee produced only one name with a unanimous recommendation to hire her.

Costly rework is caused by the failure of a project team to deliver the quality of work that the client (or management) expected. It’s expensive, it’s exhausting, it’s frustrating, and it can ruin your project experience. Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, of 37Signals, now Basecamp, wrote a great book in 2010 – Rework, which I reviewed in one of my recent newsletters. This blog is a slightly different take on the subject.

How can project teams build plans that reduce costly rework? Notice that I did not say eliminates all rework? I’m a realist. Things change all the time. Some rework is probably to be expected. The goal is to keep rework to a minimal amount. Here are five tips to avoid costly rework:

Break down your project into activities that will validate assumptions.

This is particularly true in business projects designed to undertake a major change initiative. It is tempting to string together a gazillion tasks and hope that at the end you have found the solution and everything works beautifully.

One problem with that approach is that a linear approach doesn’t allow you the flexibility to adapt to change.

Break the project into a well-defined set of concrete deliverables that will help your client understand the upcoming changes or the solution to their problem. The goal is to be able to finish deliverables every week so that the client is regularly receiving written updates that move the project forward. If your project deliverables are too large, you won’t be getting sufficient feedback until a lot of time and money has been invested. So, any rework will be more costly.

And yet, if your deliverables are too small, you will drive your client crazy with too many updates and your project manager runs the risk of getting stuck in the weeds. The secret is to find a balance that allows your team to finish deliverables each week or so, and submit them to the client so that you are regularly receiving feedback.

Define “done” for each deliverable. Confirm that with your client.

I’ve written before on the need to define what “done” looks like. If the activity is to write a set of policies and procedures for a new department, does “done” mean that you are delivering a draft or the final policy? Is the client getting each policy piecemeal or a batch of related policies? Are the procedures supposed to be “high-level” procedures or detailed step-by-step procedures? Are the policies supposed to follow a particular formatted template that the client will provide? Very importantly, make sure you and your client are on the same page. If you think done means a finished product, and the client thinks the deliverable is a draft that is expected to go through six rewrites, you have a problem.

If your activity is to provide the wine for a fundraiser, does “done” mean that you deliver the wine two hours before the event, chill the white wine, provide the corkscrews, and hang around to serve the wine? OR does “done” mean that you BUY the wine (at your expense) and have someone else deliver it? Who is going to show up with corkscrews and ice? Who is making the decision on what kind of wine to buy? Regardless of your activity, try to make sure everyone understands exactly what is expected, and write it down.

Everyone needs to agree on what ‘done’ means. Click To Tweet

Understand your stakeholders.

Projects are not done in a vacuum. There are other perspectives to be considered at every step of the way. Most importantly, there are the needs of your client, or your management team.

Have you fully identified ALL of the stakeholders on your project? Do you fully understand their perspectives? Have you identified the quiet stakeholder(s) who are harboring negative thoughts? The vocal ones may not be your biggest problem. Have you identified the employees or neighborhood residents who aren’t connected to your project but could throw a monkey wrench into your plans simply because they are charismatic? Have you engaged with your project supporters sufficiently so that they can be promoting the upcoming changes?

Plan for change.

In today’s world, there are simply too many changes to think linearly. You have to be looking ahead, looking behind, and looking to the side at all times. That means that it’s not a great use of time to plan every minute detail, but to focus instead of the big picture.

In business projects, I worry less about managing the “critical path” and more about discovering what others are missing. Don’t get caught because you don’t know what you don’t know until it’s too late. Who is that seemingly insignificant stakeholder that no one is thinking about with a massive Twitter following who can sabotage your project? Where are the big decision points? What are the other initiatives in the organization that no one is considering on this project, but which might impact the perspectives of senior leadership as time goes on?

Have a communications plan.

One of the hardest parts of a communications plan is remembering that everyone has a different style. For some people, if I really need something to happen, I need to text them, OR I need to pick up the phone and call them, OR I need to visit their office. Sending emails in today’s world may or may not get you what you need, regardless of how well you write that email.

Another challenge is to understand the different personalities in your large group of stakeholders. Who are the ones that like to be involved in the discussions at every single decision point? Who are the ones that trust and delegate almost too effectively and hardly get involved?

Either extreme can be hard on your project. You need your or management and client reps involved on a regular basis to give you constructive feedback that will move your project forward successfully, but nitpicking every single word on every single proposal is not likely to be cost effective or valuable to the organization.

I’ve made mention of the responsibility matrix before. It can be a helpful tool for documenting some of these details. It’s a first step.

If you need project management help, schedule a call.