Despite your best efforts, managing a project can quickly spiral out of control. If this has happened to you before, it may have even made you a little wary of taking on any new project management responsibilities.
You don t have to be worried. Project management isn t impossible. Scott Johnson, CEO of the "TopTenREVIEWS Gold Award" winner, @task, recently gave CIO Magazine a list of the warning signs that your project is going downhill. If you can spot the warning signs early, you can make corrections and get back on track.
So what are these warning signs?
Disinterest: I ll get right on it *yawn*
If none of your employees believe in the plan or aren t interested in the results, then it ll be hard to motivate them to get their tasks done well and on time. The basis for good work is being invested in the project and caring about the results.
Make sure that everybody involved understands just what you are trying to accomplish and the benefits that will result from it. Often, you may have to give people reasons for accomplishing a simple task even if they don t understand the overall goal of the project.
Lack of Communication: I never got that email
This is pretty obvious in any work setting, let alone project management. If people don t understand what they should be doing, you can t expect them to do it. But this goes beyond giving an accurate agenda; your employees must also be able to communicate problems and results back to you and you need to give encouragement.
Even though it s often important to have a record of communication, you should also encourage your employees to communicate in person as much as possible and then send reminders and reports through email. By interacting personally, all of you will improve morale, a team atmosphere and communication skills.
Momentum: How much longer will this take?
Even adults can have short attention spans, and this is especially true in work settings. If a task is extremely repetitive or menial, your employees will quickly lose interest. If people can t see the light at the end of the tunnel, they start to give up.
This means that a project should be made up of a bunch of shorter tasks that can be easily tracked and accomplished. Never have the only reward be the completion of the entire project. You should also give frequent encouragement and rewards for finishing on time. This will help maintain the pace of the project and help everyone involved stick with it until completion.
The Keep-It-Quiet Culture: If it s not good news I don t want to hear it
In an effort to keep morale high and avoid complainers, many workplaces mandate that bad news be kept to a minimum. While this sounds nice, it can actually hurt your project management. If people are taught to keep problems to themselves, they can't be addressed and fixed.
This doesn t mean that you should have everyone complain loudly about the smallest hurdles, but you should cultivate an environment where people know they can come to you or other leaders with problems and get assistance.
Overusing the Overtime: Yep, I m staying late again tonight
If you have scheduled a project correctly, there should be little or no need for employees to work overtime. However, the first thing employers do when trying to compensate for a failing project is assign overtime in an effort to catch up.
This is an indicator of bigger problems, whether it is unreasonable schedules or unmotivated employees, but it should be taken seriously. If your project requires a lot of overtime, you should step back and analyze where the source of the problem is, in the schedule or with the employees. Don t keep assigning more overtime. Everyone will get burned out and it will create a frenzied atmosphere in the workplace.
Bringing in Help: Hey, could I borrow a couple of your guys for a few days?
Much like the overtime dilemma, if you need more resources or people than you originally planned, it means your project is spiraling out of control. There are several problems with this approach. Other projects will suffer if you are moving people around, employees get tired of being shuffled about and extra resources could put you over budget.
If you need significantly more resources than you planned for, it may be time to completely rethink and replan the entire project.
Going Over Budget: I m not telling the boss, you tell him
Going over budget can be attributed to both your funds and your schedule. You should have planned out the project well, but if you are still not following your projected money and labor usage plan, you might be veering off course.
Pay close attention to how things are following the plan and the budget; little deviations are expected, but if you are coming significantly above or below your budget and schedule you may have bigger problems than a bounced check.
Missing the Mark: When was the deadline again?
You can t expect people to maintain momentum without multiple, small milestones in the overall completion of the project. But if you are consistently missing the deadlines for these smaller tasks, it may be a sign of bigger problems. If there are too many missed deadlines, complications may arise for later tasks.
Staying on schedule is important, so pay close attention to those project milestones. Create measurable goals to determine where you are in the project and stick with them.
Changing Your Focus: You know, I think we should take this in a whole new direction
If you want to complete a project on time, you can t change the goals in the middle of the project. This can include downsizing the scope of the project or even enlarging it. If you have to start adding or subtracting components of your project halfway through, you know something larger is going wrong.
You may have noticed that many of these warning signs overlap or happen in pairs. That s why they are important to know. If you recognize one, you ll also know what else to look for when troubleshooting the project.
And don t immediately give up when you see one of these problems. By identifying the signs of project failure early, you can actually prevent the failure. Forewarned is forearmed. Just by being aware of them, you re already a step ahead.
You will also want to look into using an online project management site because it can help you avoid or rectify a lot of the problems mentioned above. Online project management sites allow you to schedule tasks and expenditures, communicate with employees, submit and receive progress reports, notify employees of schedule changes and keep managers up to date on the progress of your projects. Online project management software can also help employees stay interested and informed about a project because they can stay organized and easily see how things are going.
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