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Focus Your Project Teams With These Project Management Ideas

Organizations need to stay focused to perform at their peak. And for that to happen, individuals need to be focused on the important things. The challenges are a bit different depending on whether your teams are dedicated to one project and/or co-located, versus dispersed teams (sometimes volunteers) that might be working on multiple projects.

I was working on a project for a non-profit a few years back, and I noticed that things were dragging. Things just weren’t getting done. The same thing happened on a big project after a major deadline was hit, and the pressure was relaxed. In some situations, projects can have a certain ebb and flow, which makes those periods when everyone is crushing it bearable.

In the Agile world, scrum masters track the velocity — a measure of the amount of work that teams do in a sprint. When you have a dedicated team of constant size, there is value in that measure. But what happens when you have frequent fluctuations in the amount of work needed in a sprint, the size of the team changes, or people aren’t working full-time on the project? Here are some tips that will help.

Say no to low-value projects.

I’ve written about this before here, so I won’t belabor that point. I will say that teams know when they are working on something that doesn’t matter. And they can’t help but be demotivated.

Break longer projects into multiple projects with clear success criteria.

I love working on big projects. I love working on projects that matter. But when the project is so huge that it can’t be finished before half of your team goes through a life-changing transition, there is the likelihood that your project team will undergo multiple transitions during the life of the project. Some people just can’t commit to projects that are going to last five or ten years.

I understand that sometimes this won’t work. It’s hard to divide a project to actually build a bridge over the Mississippi into two projects that offer separate value. But when it comes to technology projects, it can often be done. The less predictable your project, the more important it is to divide it into smaller projects that each bring value to the table.

So, can you break your project into smaller projects and implement them sequentially? Or do you want to manage them as a program?

Over communicate the vision.

This is one of my favorite mantras, and yet, I still see teams working on activities and not really understanding why they are doing the work. Don’t assume your teams think like you do. Project team members can get so caught up in the details of doing the work, they lose sight of the vision.

You may have that ‘why?’ stuck in your head and think it is so obvious to everyone else, but that may not be the case. To understand how that could be, try clapping a well-known song, such as Happy Birthday, and seeing how many of your friends recognize the rhythm without the melody. When we know something well, we can think others do too. That may be a big mistake. Make sure everyone stays focused on the vision.

Break down your projects so that you can achieve the activities within one sprint.

Sometimes teams can work extremely hard on projects, but never seem to get things done. Eventually, it may come together in the end, but staying motivated is hard because nothing ever seems to get totally finished.

It’s like trying to spring clean your entire house without breaking it down into chunks that can actually be finished. The result is that your house is disastrously messy for a very long time.

Finishing activities is motivating. Celebrate those small wins. It starts with how you break the project down. I’ve written about how to do that here. The goal is to be able to finish something of consequence in each sprint. Not only will it motivate your team, but your client will feel better about paying the bill.

Use team meetings effectively.

I’ve heard all of the reasons that we should stop having meetings, and believe me, I’ve gotten frustrated by meetings many times. I think the problem is bad meetings.

Standing meetings, done well, can build commitment and keep the team engaged. Checkpoint Meetings are a time when teams gather to celebrate the accomplishments, identify the lessons that have been learned, review what it’s costing the client, and identify and analyze the project risks. Additionally, the team plans the work for the next sprint. Think of it as a combination of a retrospective and a sprint planning meeting.

While there are many suggestions that will help ensure your meetings are effective, here are three:

  • Start and stop meetings on time.
  • Create a plan to ensure your meeting succeeds.
  • Insist that participants engage. (Put unnecessary devices away.)

If you have unfocused project teams and none of this helps, give me a call and I’ll see if I can figure out a solution.

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