A Handful of Tips to Keep Projects On Time, On Scope, and On Budget
As we’re finding our way back into the groove again, this time of year finds us busy with projects at home, at work, and in our social groups and community service associations. Sometimes, we are the one who is leading and directing and coordinating the project work efforts. Sometimes, we are doing work on the project. Sometimes, we are sponsoring the project but not necessarily accountable for doing the work.
Project management is a continuous improvement process by which a body of work is organized to accomplish a goal. It is bound by the constraints of time and resources. It is completed by a team (could be a team of one or a team of many) who are managing risks and issues.
Multiple sources point to an unreasonably high fail rate for projects in business settings. Something like 55% to 75% of projects fail to achieve their agreed-to scope, on their agreed-to schedule, within their agreed-to budget.
Those same sources point to three leading causes of project failure.
The most common fail points are these:
- Ineffective communication: top down messages aren’t getting through about prioritization, goals, expectations; bottom-up messages aren’t getting through about risks, issues, pain points.
- Unclear roles and responsibilities: work gets missed because someone thinks someone else is doing it; work gets done poorly because the person assigned to it either doesn’t know they’re assigned, or has too many other things on their plate; lack of clarity between decision-makers and interested parties causes confusing direction and unnecessary churn
- Ineffective risk management: instead of making a plan for how we will handle that potential future obstacle, we “wait and see” and hope it doesn’t really happen; instead of relying on recent experiences to inform us about what’s likely to happen next, we launch a project without enough thought for what could go wrong; instead of reasonably responding to concerns that have been raised, we push forward with an optimism that says, “it will all be fine in the end”
Do any of those sound familiar?
Here are just a handful of tips and questions that you can use to help make sure the projects that you are involved with stay on the right track and deliver on time, on scope, and on budget.
1-How much do we talk about the “why”?
The “why” of the project is what motivates us and what helps us make good decisions when change happens. Of course we should document and talk about what we’re doing, but even more importantly, we need to talk about the “Why”. The more consistently we talk about why we are doing this project, throughout the team, the more likely we are to achieve the end goals.
2-Are all of the roles defined, established, and adequately staffed?
If you look around the group, does everyone know who is responsible for what work? Do we have a clear understanding of who makes decisions, who has final say, and who is responsible for even the smallest of details? Effective role management includes not just assigning the roles, but also making sure the conversations are being had to ensure that people know what they’re doing as well as what others are doing, so that work doesn’t get missed or duplicated.
3-What are we measuring?
The old adage says, “you get what you measure,” and that is as true in project management as anywhere else. If it’s important to finish things on time, then we should be measuring progress towards completion on time. If it’s important to have high-quality results, then we should be measuring the quality of the results as we produce them. If our resources are not unlimited, then we should be measuring how we’re using them.
4-Are we behaving as a collaborative team?
A group of individuals is not the same as a team. And the truth is, we are better, stronger, and more capable together. As you look at those working on the project, is it a collection of individuals, or is it a team? Making time and effort to foster team development helps us help each other to the finish line.
5-Are we responding to change in a reasonable way?
Change is a natural and real part of life and projects. Pretending that change won’t happen is not productive. In most cases, preventing the reality of change is not possible. Digging in our heels and refusing to budge on anything is painful. And on the flip side, being tossed in the wind of every possible change without reflecting on how it will impact our end goals is particularly detrimental in our pursuit of our destination. Instead, let’s stop and think about changes and how we’re responding to them. For each potential change that comes our way, we would be well-served to stop and evaluate it based on its criticality (do we have to embrace this change, or would it just be nice to have?) and its alignment with our goals (will it help us or hinder us in our pursuit?).
This is just a handful of questions to ask and things to consider. There are others, of course, and I’ve continued to find that starting with these helps us all get our feet solidly underneath us as we step forward in our project journey.
How about you? What helpful ways have you found to feel like you’re on solid footing in the projects you work on? Join in the conversation in the comments or on social media.