|Michelle LaBrosse, founder, Cheetah Learning|
We all have a need for speed when it comes to hitting our deadlines. So, if you ever find yourself in a project jam wondering how to unclog it, you're not alone. While there is no magic formula, there are several ways that you can get your software project moving again and regain any lost momentum.
The first step is to set up the project correctly so that it is built for speed and efficacy. That 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.
Once a project is in motion, many things can slow it down. Here are seven ways you can accelerate your projects.
Seven project accelerators
- Slay the "feature creep" monster
This is the monster that we all fight in every industry. 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 engineer 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.
- Manage 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.
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.
- Build functional teams
An inability to work together towards a common goal comes from a lack of commitment, a 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 that happens, it is important for the team to spend a half hour together developing their 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.
- Stay focused
When team members have to work on multiple projects or multiple tasks within the same project, there is a tendency to multitask. People work quickly and efficiently when they work on one task to its completion and don't juggle multiple tasks simultaneously. If people are working on multiple projects, it's best if they set aside blocks of time to focus on one task at a time.
- Manage time realistically
Sure, people are capable of doing the occasional marathon week to complete a project. If that 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 to let the team members create a schedule that 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 become necessary, it's better if team members take turns during the crunch.
- Build efficient business processes
It's the job of the project sponsor to knock down barriers so that the project team can work fast and efficiently. If the team gets stuck "mucking through the bureaucratic maze" to complete their interim deliverables, it will slow down the project and cause frustration due to their wasted time and effort. When the project sponsor identifies bureaucratic time wasters and gets rid of them, the entire team will operate more effectively.
- Clear the decks
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 multitasking.
Are you "5 S" compliant?
To keep your work productive it is a good idea to have a "5 S" event with the team, both at the beginning of the project and as part of the project status reports. A "5 S" event is a technique adopted from the Japanese quality movement and it has been used effectively around the world to increase productivity.
The "5 S" 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 a wall planning calendars.
Sustain -- Have a daily and weekly system to keep up with the improvements that you have made.
Know before you go
Before you start your next project, take time to create your project plan so that 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. When you're tuned in to your projects, you can fine tune along the way before you've lost too much time. Put your project pedal to the metal and buckle up!
About the author: Michelle LaBrosse is the founder and Chief Cheetah of Cheetah Learning. An international expert on accelerated learning and project management, she has grown Cheetah Learning into a market leader for project management training and professional development. Additionally, the Project Management Institute selected Michelle as one of the 25 Most Influential Women in Project Management in the World, and only one of two women selected from the training and education industry.