Published in “Project Times” website, December, 2015
As the year winds down, it is your best opportunity to leverage projects to close the year out with success. Many companies trail off after Thanksgiving and get back to focusing on projects in mid-January.
Thus, it is a significant opportunity to accelerate success by remaining focused. I’ve found that projects have a dramatic effect on results as project teams are responsible for increasing revenues, preparing for growth, accelerating cash flow, increasing efficiencies and improving margins. Fortunately or unfortunately, without project teams, results stall. Thus, it makes sense to kick it into high gear to finish the year out on a strong note. It also provides the opportunity to leapfrog the competition – not a bad way to end the year!
Thus, focusing on best practices and identifying ways to ramp up project focus is invaluable. A few of the top strategies include:
- Executive commitment: It starts at the top; thus, if executives are not committed to project success during the holidays, it will not occur. Project teams need to know that what they are doing is valued. No matter how good the individuals, it will not be effective without executive passion.
- Create year-end excitement: One of the best ways to generate year-end results is to create an exciting year-end goal. Explain why the goal has importance to the company’s success – and to the individual’s success. Ideally, the goal will have a time sensitive nature to it as that will generate a sense of urgency. Make sure it also creates excitement.
- Assign a champion: Since the project team members will be distracted with the typical holiday madness, the only way to ensure continued focus is to assign a champion. Choose someone who is excited about the project, the potential results and who appreciates the individuals on the team. Make sure this champion is dedicated to the project’s success and is able to devote substantial time to keeping the excitement alive and helping project team members with scheduling conflicts and in knocking down barriers. I’ve found that if someone takes action to what needs to be done, the team will be motivated to continue.
- Focus on the critical path: Although this is always a good idea, it is especially important to remain vigilant on the critical path during times of limited resources. In essence, focus on just those priorities that will have the largest impact and contribution to delivering the project milestones on time, on budget and successfully. Think success; not perfection.
- Build in flexibility: Of course, no matter how great a plan is developed, Murphy’s law will occur. The holidays will spur on additional occurrences of unexpected opportunities, distractions, and roadblocks. Thus, it is imperative to build flexibility into your plans. For example, if you know you need 5 people for a critical milestone step, do not be satisfied with 5 trained resources. Bring on an additional resource and get that person up-to-speed as a backup. The worst case scenario is that you’ll have spent time and money in preparing for an event that didn’t occur; however, I’ve found that 80% of the time, something will arise and you’ll be thrilled you have an extra mind to resolve an issue quicker or fill in at the last minute. There are ways to build flexibility into the process without spending exorbitant amounts of money. Cross-train. Ask your team what is likely to occur and ask them for ideas to build agility into the process. Make it fun.
- Plan for vacations: The most disruptive part of the holidays is that project team members will have vacations. It is important that people can rejuvenate and so being supportive of vacations is the mantra that my most successful clients follow. However, planning for them is essential to keep projects moving forward. Adjust project plans for what can be achieved including the vacation schedules. If vacation schedules impact a critical path task, look for alternatives. Bring additional resources up-to-speed. Bring on an expert for a particular task. There is always a solution!
- Plan in holiday activities: It is important to recognize that the holiday season exists. Remaining focused at the exclusion of all else will not yield long-term results. Make sure your project team can participate with holiday events and festivities. Plan in an extra event specifically for your project team. A simple gift exchange can create team comradery. Be creative and make it appropriate to the team members.
- Consider a project bonus: It doesn’t have to be significant. Oftentimes, a gesture such as 2 tickets to an event can go a long way. Generating excitement and momentum is integral to success. Think of it this way – what could be a better time to recognize your project team member’s contributions than during the holiday season.
- Communicate, communicate & communicate: Just as in real estate where location, location and location are the three most important attributes of a new house, communicate, communicate and communicate are the three most important attributes in achieving any desired objective. If all team members, supporters, sponsors and other related parties understand and value the project, it will succeed.
Since executives count on projects to deliver the vast majority of improvements to their company performance, closing out the year on a strong note can make a dramatic difference to the next year’s results. Consider following these simple, quick strategies to keep your projects focused – and delivering bottom line results – during this holiday season. And, more importantly, engaging your project team to not only deliver results but also provide a lift to project team member morale during the holiday season.