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Project Management IV

(December 15, 2008)

Avoiding Project Jams
How to Keep Your Projects in Motion

We live in a time where no matter what you do for a living, there is the need for speed. It seems that everyone wants everything faster and faster. While it's hard to slow down the world, Project Management can help. Using Project Management, you can avoid the project jams at work and in life and keep things moving. While there is no magic formula, there are several ways you can get your project moving again and regain any lost momentum.

The first step is to set up the project correctly so it is built for speed and efficacy. This means getting the team aligned on what is required to do the project: setting up the project agreement and project plan together, and then agreeing on the overall project priorities. I use the term team here broadly. A family is also a team, and your book club is a team. No matter who the team is, you still need a plan, agreement on the plan and clear priorities, roles and responsibilities. Without those things, everyone brings the same dish to the potluck, and there's no dessert. Major bummer.

Once a project is in motion, there are many things that can slow it down. Here are the most common project jams to watch for and tips for dealing with them.

Most Common Project Jams and How to Unclog Them

1. Feature creep monster
This is the monster that we all fight every day. We want to make things better, but instead, sometimes the act of continuing down the road can make things worse. There comes a time in every project when it's time to silence the perfectionist in your head and finish the project. To make decisions about suggested feature changes, we use what is called a change impact matrix. We also freeze the design of the product or service, including the set of features, at a specified time in the project. The earlier this is done, the faster your project will move. Save your future feature ideas as upgrade possibilities for later versions of the product or service.

2. Changes and detours
Let's face it, things happen. Customers change their minds about what they thought they wanted, market forces change, new threats and opportunities arise that make the goals of the project obsolete, and new priorities surface. All of these changes pull money and resources away from a project.

When a project is directed by the project agreement, project changes often mean a re-launch of the project. In my experience, it's better to spend half a day re-launching the project based on the new project agreement than to create a final deliverable that no one wants, or to attempt to complete a project with inadequate resources and lack of support from the project sponsor. At home, this is the equivalent of continuing to build a deck for a pool that you're no longer going to get. Finishing the original deck makes no sense. Instead, you have to stop, regroup and either decide to redesign the deck or ditch it.

When you're developing a new project plan from the new project
agreement, you may also be able to use the interim deliverables you've already created for the new project, ultimately shortening the project cycle time for the new project.

3. Dysfunctional teams
An inability to work together towards a common goal comes from lack of commitment, lack of interaction, and a lack of interest in constructively resolving conflict. Many projects also lose and gain people during the execution of the project. When this happens, it is important that the team spend a half hour together developing the new team guidelines and meeting protocols. With any new people joining the team, it becomes a new team. Re-developing your guidelines and protocols is done for the same reason it is done initially - to facilitate working relationships, to create a way to positively interact, and to prevent destructive conflict.

4. Lack of focus
When we have to work on multiple projects or multiple tasks within the same project, there is a tendency to multi-task. People work quickly and efficiently when they work on one task to its completion and don't juggle multiple tasks simultaneously. If you are working on multiple projects, it's best if you set aside blocks of time to focus on one task at a time.

5. Over-scheduling people's time
Sure, people are capable of doing the occasional marathon week to complete a project. If this becomes routine, however, they will find ways to get out of work responsibilities during the workday. We all need to take care of our basic living needs, such as dentist appointments, grocery shopping, and so on. We also have a need for socialization, connection with family, and time to relax and unwind.

If people are too over-scheduled because of project work, they will create ways to take care of their responsibilities while they are doing their project work. The next thing that will happen is they will get further behind, necessitating more over-scheduling. The best way to prevent this from happening is letting the team members create a schedule they can do in a normal workweek. If things get in a crunch, do not require people to work more than one extended workweek at a time. This keeps the project moving along. If extended hours do become necessary, it's better if team members take turns during the crunch.

6. Inefficient business processes
It's the job of the project sponsor to knock down barriers so the project team can work fast and efficiently. If the team gets stuck mucking through the bureaucratic mazeD3 to complete their interim deliverables, it slows down the project and causes frustration due to their wasted time and effort. When the project sponsor identifies bureaucratic time wasters and gets rid of them, the entire team operates more effectively.

7. Chaotic work environments
How long does it take you to find the information you need to get your job done? Office clutter, on your desk and on your computer, slows down project work. It is also distracting and causes multi-tasking.

Are you 5S Compliant?
To keep your work productive it is a good idea to have a 5S event with the team, both at the beginning of the project and as part of the project status reports. A 5S event is a technique adopted from the Japanese quality movement, and it has been used effectively around the world to increase productivity.

The 5S approach stands for:

Sort: Only have items in your work area that you use on a daily basis. Everything else gets put away in its place. Create filing systems for quick retrieval for both paper and electronic based information.

Straighten: Have a designated place for all moveable items, such as desktop organizers. Everything is labeled in macro-work areas, and there is a logical workflow for shared office machines, such as copiers and printers.

Shine: Everything in the area looks like new and operates perfectly. Recycle bins and waste baskets are emptied nightly.

Standardize: This includes visual controls for common areas, such as how to use the copier, and wall planning calendars.

Sustain: Have a daily and weekly system to keep up with the improvements you have made.

Know Before You Go
Before you start your next project, take the time to create your project plan, so you know where you're going. Once the project is in motion, continue to do reality checks along the way to see if any project jams are slowing you down. You can always fine tune along the way before you've lost too much time. When you unclog your project jams, you put your project pedal to the medal. Buckle up!

By Michelle LaBrosse, PMP, Chief Cheetah, Cheetah Learning

This is the fourth article on Project Management thefirst three in the series are below.

Project Management Series:
  • The Project Called Life
  • Power of Continuity
  • PM 101

  • About the Author
    Michelle LaBrosse, PMP, is an entrepreneurial powerhouse with a penchant for making success easy, fun and fast. She is the founder of Cheetah Learning, the author of the Cheetah Success Series, and a prolific blogger whose mission is to bring Project Management to the masses.

    Cheetah Learning Launches Project Prosperity
    Special offer for free PDUs CEU's

    If you're unemployed, are you tapping all four sources of capital?

    After entrepreneur Michelle LaBrosse, PMP, lost all her money twice, she launched her company, Cheetah Learning ( by bypassing bank capital in favor of alternatives. The alternatives and her techniques are available in Project Prosperity, a new, online course available free to unemployed professionals who are looking to maintain their career certifications to find another job. (Read more.)

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    Send comments to: Colleen Gildea

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