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Beyond 'Just Do It': Manager's guide to completing projects

Once a project is in motion, many things can slow it down -- feature creep, project changes, poor team dynamics. Michelle LaBrosse explains how to eliminate such problems.

Michelle LaBrosse, founder, Cheetah Learning
Michelle LaBrosse, founder, Cheetah Learning

Nike's famous slogan "Just Do It" speaks to the project manager in us all. But as we all know, "Just Do It" is easier said than done. In the IT world where technology and software evolve daily, how can you keep your projects updated and racing for the finish line while avoiding the inevitable traffic jams along the way?

The first step is to set up the project correctly so that it is built for speed and efficiency. This means aligning the team through some basic project management techniques: setting up the project agreement and project plan together, then agreeing on the overall project priorities.

Once a project is in motion, many things can slow it down. Here are the most common project clogs to watch for:

"Feature creep"
This is the disease of "we can make it better." There comes a time in every project when it's time to put the engineer in your head on hold and complete the project. To make decisions about suggested feature changes, use what is called a change impact matrix. 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.

Project agreement changes
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. Experience proves that 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 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.

Poor team dynamics
This stems from an inability to work together toward a common goal and 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 that the team members 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.

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. This also includes forwarding the phone to voicemail and temporarily turning off email to avoid interruptions and distractions.

More information on
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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 to let the team members create a schedule that they can do in a normal work week. If things get in a crunch, do not require people to work more than one extended work week 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.

Inefficient business processes
It's the job of the project sponsor to knock down barriers so that the project team can work quickly 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.

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 multitasking.

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

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.

All of these S's together lead to speed. Put your project pedal to the metal and make your projects faster and more effective and get beyond "Just Do It" to "Done!"

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.

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