Stay on track for project success

You are driving for hours to an important meeting; the conversations and decisions today could have you popping champagne in celebration of your dream coming true, you have done everything you can to be ready for this moment. You have planned the route you will take, you have assembled your best team to have beside you, you have practiced your presentation several times, you even have notes just in case of brain fog…

Project management for system implementations is no different. You must know where you are going, how you are going to get there and who is going to help you along the way. Being prepared with a great plan sets the team up for success.  There will be issues and you will need to be able to navigate safely and respond quickly to stay on track.

Although most organisations have an abundance of systems, tools and skills to get the job done, project leaders continue to experience familiar problems like – we didn’t expect that to go wrong; where has the money gone; why do you need more time; how did this happen; why are we only hearing about it now.

Most of these problems can be avoided if you have planned regular check points along the way, you communicate regularly, and the team understands what to do if something does go wrong.

Be aware of warning signs

Both your own intuition and project data are key in interpreting if something may be wrong. Together they trigger thoughts, decisions and actions. There are normally warning signs around engagement, performance and financials. We don’t want to talk about it or highlight it in a report as it could reflect poorly on our position and credibility and thus our ability to get things done. However, turning a blind eye to what could be a storm ahead is doing a  disservice to yourself and other key stakeholders involved in your project.

Look for behaviours like – team members not completing tasks on time; conversations are excuse based; stakeholders are last minute apologies to attend meetings; group brainstorming has been replaced with silence; suppliers are unable to commit to dates; budget forecasts and actual effort required to complete the work are telling conflicting stories; there is confusion about what is happening next.

Assess the possible damage

When you see storm clouds, you will pack an umbrella to stay dry in case of rain. Understanding project warning signs that you may be heading for a storm is just the first part of the process, assessing the possible damage and the actions you need to take is the next thing to do.

Could your project continue if a key project team member left to join another organisation? Do you still have enough budget to deliver everything you set out to do? Could it make headlines in the media and cause reputation harm?

Prepare a report with the help of your team of all the things that could go wrong, what action is required to get back on track and who is responsible. Share your report with key stakeholders to get their support and approval to adjust the plan. At this point in time there is minimal impact to budget, time and deliverables because you identified something was going wrong, reacted quickly and the team can continue getting the job done.

Steps to recover

Oops, you weren’t as prepared as you thought, the storm has hit and need to recover from the damage. You may have experienced something out of your control or it could be you didn’t get the support you needed to react when the warning signs were presented. At this point being calm and methodical is critical for keeping your team and stakeholders focused on what is important.

Step 1 – Call it out. Seek support from your project sponsor (the person paying for the project). Tell the people that matter what has gone wrong and how you intend to handle it. Get the team together to collaborate and design your recovery strategies. What has to change? How will we stay united? Who is doing what now?

Step 2 – Pause to replan. There will need to be significant changes made to your plan – what deliverables are a priority and what can be left for another time; is there additional budget needed to do this work; who will remain in the team, who will go and who will join us; and how will we keep our stakeholders engaged and accepting of the changes. Initially monitor progress daily and communicate the small wins as this builds confidence the actions you have taken are working, things are getting back on track.

Step 3 – Engage a coach. Seek support from an independent project management expert to provide advice so the project doesn’t experience a repeat of the problem. You do not have to be everything to everyone and know all the answers.

No matter how long your journey, how you are going to get there, or who is involved – you must have a GPS setting and process alerts in place to stay on track for project success? Do not dismiss the warning signs, they are there to trigger a response – make sure it is the right one!

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