Projects are ramping up, teams are hitting their stride, and productivity is just over the horizon…
As employees delve into their projects and start producing results, now is an opportune time to check on success. Habits, both good and bad, are being formed, and the good need to be nurtured while the negative need to be stunted.
What is the best measure for potential success of a project mid-process? A few approaches to the question may be helpful: Analytics are an excellent way to check on your return on investment, deviations from original plans may be warning signs of impending failure, and the strength of social cohesion between your team and leadership can be a strong indicator of catastrophe or triumph to come.
1. Analytics: Are You On The Right Road?
Which data is applicable will depend on the project, process, and product being developed. In any case, what you do with those analytics will determine if that hard-won information does you and your team any benefit.
In Unleash Your Most Valuable Asset with Workforce Analytics by Derrick McIver for Blue Granite, McIver writes that workforce analytics are most impactful when utilized to focus a team on goals, what is or is not working, and to make sure everyone is on the same page. He explains this saying, “Harnessing data can enhance and optimize a company’s workforce by defining goals, measuring successes and pointing to problems.” Once complied, data needs to be made available to the workforce, explained in terms of what is working, what is costing too much in terms of return on investment, and what is clearly working.
Something as simple as a survey that checks on the understanding of your workforce could be instrumental in determining whether or not your employees truly have an understanding of the company goals.
McIver asks, “Does the company have a clear agreement and understanding of what it focuses on to measure success? If so, are employees aware of it?” If people aren’t sure what they’re working toward, they’ll be unable to self-correct. If your company’s success depends on client relationships, do your employees understand the role customer service plays in their role? If quality of product is the foundation of your reputation, focus ought to be on quality control. Perhaps your data shows that optimum success lies in attending to one specific, underutilized aspect of your sales process, like a follow-up email or personal call.
Making your employees aware of these procedural gems will increase everyone’s productivity. Other elements of interaction may also be important, but your whole team needs to understand which are key elements based on your research and results.
McIver explains that “The ongoing analytics process starts by prioritizing the items you can take action on, and defining what can potentially impact the business and its success.” Showing employees where to focus their efforts will ensure that what works keeps working and what is failing or wasteful is abandoned forthwith. “From there,” McIver continues, “those metrics should be shared with the team, personalized and frequently measured to see where a business is in relation to its goals.” With everyone on the same page, with the same vision in mind, and the same goals prioritized, your team can move forward in sync.
2. Course Correction: Warning Signs to Take Seriously
During the course of a project, whether that takes the form of a campaign or product release, there are clear indications that things are off track. Caught in time, these things can be corrected, but left to mature, these errors may be fatal.
In Red Flags That Indicate Your Project Is Headed For Failure by author Denise O’Berry writing for The Fast Track via QuickBase, O’Berry very succinctly narrows down red flags into three categories: Schedule, Cost, and People.
Schedule and cost ought to be the most straightforward metrics to check. If you’re over budget and behind schedule by significant margins, these are bound to be red flags of impending failure in any manager’s book. She does break it down, however, into clear indications of danger.
Scheduling, for example, needs to stay somewhat flexible. Unforeseen emergencies or complications arise in the best of projects. If, however, delays are not dealt with in a considered and thoughtful way, those delays could spell disaster. O’Berry explains, once delays occur, “stop the process and discuss what’s happening with the project sponsor and senior management team.” Follow frank discussion with “an action plan to manage expectations which will allow you to complete the project to the client’s satisfaction.” By acknowledging changes to a project schedule and updating expectations, Nasty surprises can make way for solutions and keep a project within acceptable scheduling parameters.
The cost of a project ballooning out of proportion is also a well-established indication of trouble. Of course there will be some budgetary modifications during any project, but knowing when to say “when” is an essential way to avoid a monetary—and project—explosion.
For example, O’Berry explains, “Having a project that’s used half the budget and only completed ten percent of the tasks” is clearly a problem. The solution to this particular red flag involves keeping a vigilant eye on the pocket book; stop the inflation before the balloon gets too engorged. When considering any higher than anticipated expenditure, ask whether this budgetary excesses legitimate, wasteful, or a sign that the original plan is flawed? O’Berry cautions, “Monitoring the budget from the outset will bring this red flag to light way before that happens to give you time to put the brakes on and figure how to course correct.” After all, producing anything without funding is difficult, if not impossible. It’s best not to get close to blowing up the budget in the first place.
In her final red flag section, O’Berry discusses the importance of having the right people working in the right projects—and how to tell when the initial placement may be flawed. When the aforementioned scheduling or budget is of track, the people doing your decision work might be the problem. She explains, when complications begin to surface, the real issue “could be anything from the Project Sponsor being disengaged to a senior leadership team that’s dysfunctional.” The remedy, as you consider who is doing what, is to recognize that “It’s important to make sure you have the right players in the right places to give you the best opportunity for success. This starts with your initial planning and continues through the duration of the project.” O’Berry echoes McIver, saying, “Communication and goal alignment are critical to minimizing the chance for failure.” Having everyone on the same page is important; having the right people on that page is essential.
3. Team Cohesion: Check on Your Leadership
As O’Berry explains, the people on your project are just as important as your schedule and budget. One of the most important people is your leader. If your team-lead or project manager isn’t meshing well with your people, you’ve got ship without a captain, a course without navigation, etc.
In an article for CIO titled 5 Signs That You Have a Great Project Manager, author and project management expert Colin Ellis writes about the importance of recognizing whether or not your project manager is adding or detracting from your team cohesion.
A good leader is imperative to success, but how do you know when you have a great manager, or a problem-person you need to fix before irrevocable damage occurs?
Ellis describes that some of the signs of an excellent project manager are evident in the initial interview. He suggests “ask candidates how they bounced back from a failure; how they manage project sponsors; or what original ideas they have to create great teams.” Great leaders need to know how to succeed even when plans fall through. They also need to know how to bounce back from failure. If you think you’ve hired well, next comes being able to access whether or not they are bringing the talent management skills to your table.
Checking in with their team can be tricky. If the team is failing expectations, it’s easy to place blame on their leadership. Knowing what to ask will help narrow down the true root of any team's interpersonal difficulties. Ellis starts by suggesting you ask whether or not a project manager is well liked. This may seem a petty thing for which to check, but as he points out, “In order to get anyone to do anything for you, you have to be a nice person.” Mutual respect will go a long way towards motivating people to do their best. Ellis explains, a great project manager will “speak to people in a way that they like to be spoken to, be clear about what needs to be achieved, be interested about their lives outside work and display a little vulnerability every now and again to demonstrate that you're human.” People will generally like the project manager they know is valuing their talents and contributions.
Great project managers are also sharing the load—both the work load and the blame load. They recognize that, as a leader, they are responsible for catching problems, keeping the team on task, and correcting errors as needed. They make sure corrections from above are delivered with solutions in focus, and “when the sun is out and the praise is beaming down, they ensure that the people who do the real work bask in it and are rewarded for it.” Recognition for success, mentor ship, respect, and responsibility are all signs that your project manager is a winner.
You’ve built a great team, and now that they’ve been working for a while—hopefully innovating and producing on the predetermined schedule and budgetary course—you should be able to see if things are on schedule, hitting benchmarks, under budget, and all within a culture of cohesion and teamwork.
If anything is awry, it’s not too late to get back on track. Conversely, if things are working like a well-oiled machine, it’s important to understand what’s succeeding so you and your team can keep at it.