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Got Speed? Seven Project Jams and How Avoid Them

  • December 10, 2007
  • By Michelle LaBrosse
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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:

  1. "Feature creep"
  2. Project agreement changes
  3. Poor team dynamics
  4. Multi-tasking
  5. Over-scheduling people's time (for example, setting up a schedule where team members are working more than 60 hours per week for more than two weeks)
  6. Inefficient business processes that the team must use to create their interim deliverables
  7. Chaotic work environments

"Feature Creep"

This is the disease of "we can make it better." 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, use what is called a change impact matrix. 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.

Project Agreement Changes

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 also may 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

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 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.

Multi-Tasking

When team members 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 people are working on multiple projects, it's best if they set aside blocks of time to focus on one task at a time.

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 to prevent way to prevent this from happening is letting 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 do become necessary, it's better if team members take turns during the crunch.

Inefficient Business Processes

It's the project sponsor's job 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.

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 "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 it's in "new" condition 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 that you have made.

Do Your Reality Checks and Go!

Before you start your next project, take the time to create your project plan at the beginning and continue to do reality checks along the way to see whether any project jams are slowing you down. When you're tuned in, you can 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 metal. 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 the market leader for Project Management training and professional development. In 2006, The Project Management Institute, www.pmi.org, selected Michelle as one of the 25 Most Influential Women in Project Management in the World, and she was only one of two women selected from the training and education industry. Michelle is a graduate of the Harvard Business School's Owner & President Management program for entrepreneurs, and is the author of Cheetah Project Management and Cheetah Negotiations.





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