Dear Project Coach:
“My project is over budget and over time. My project team is dysfunctional. My sponsor is getting nervous. We are managing by crisis. I don’t know where to begin to get this project back on track. Do I just accept the situation and hope to learn from these mistakes or is there something I can do to improve the project right now?”
Signed: Panic


Dear Panic:
Get a grip. Of course there is something you can do. What you need is the “Stop the World, I Need to Get Off for a While” approach. It is time to bring some rigour into the project. You need to reduce the degree of management by crisis and move into management through control.
Bring the entire team in for a 2-day meeting, follow these easy steps and you will get yourself back on track in no time:

  1. CLARIFY THE ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF EACH PROJECT TEAM MEMBER.
    It is important to document the rules and related responsibilities that are required to continue with the project so that each team member understands their role and what is expected of them. Everyone agrees to these. Surprisingly, many team members know little of each other’s skills and knowledge.
  2. AGREE ON SOME BASIC RULES OF OPERATING WITHIN THE TEAM TO MOVE YOU FORWARD ON THE TREMENDOUS AMOUNT OF WORK AHEAD.
    Establishing basic ground rules for operating will assist your team to keep on track and in focus during the major work ahead of them.These rules would include how the team will make decisions, that each person is responsible to advising the project manager when tasks are potentially slipping (before they fall behind), etc. You may find that your team discovers, at this point, that they have been missing roles and rules clarification and will now begin to realize that they are also missing scope agreement and a real project plan. The next steps will be much easier as a result.
  3. REVIEW THE ORIGINAL PROJECT SCOPE STATEMENT.
    Has it changed? Alternatively, was it ever very complete? Either write one or revise what has been developed to better reflect the expected project deliverables. Ensure you get your sponsor to sign off on any changes to the original document. If there was never a scope statement developed, ensure your sponsor signs off on this new one. It will form the basis for all future project changes.
  4. DEVELOP THE PROJECT PLAN FOR SUCCESSFUL EXECUTION.
    It is highly likely that no detailed project plan exists. A project plan starts with a work breakdown structure but becomes a project plan through the identification of task dependencies (establishing the predecessor/successor relationships). Too often, the project plans I audit lack sufficient detail to give clear direction. They tend to be “To Do Lists” rather than a project plan. Make sure that your plan identifies the duration of the task as well as any dependency relationships.
  5. PUT INTO PLACE REGULAR SCHEDULED MEETINGS…PROBABLY AT LEAST ON A WEEKLY BASIS.
    Start each meeting with a review of what each resource had planned to do over the past week versus what they actually completed. The second part of the meeting is to discuss issues around slippages in schedule and budget. Manage slippages and if not possible, use a change management process to approve required changes to the scope statement and consequently, the project plan.

Although these steps sound very basic…it is inevitably the basics that are missing which throws projects into crisis. Project management is not complex but it is a discipline. Let me know how you progress.
Signed: The Project Coach

Michael Stanleigh

Michael Stanleigh, CMC, CSP, CSM is the CEO of Business Improvement Architects. He works with leaders and their teams around the world to improve organizational performance by helping them to define their strategic direction, increase leadership performance, create cultures that drive innovation and improve project and quality management. Michael’s experience spans public and private sector organizations in over 20 different countries. He also delivers presentations to businesses and conferences throughout the world. In addition to his consulting practice and global speaking he has been featured and published in over 500 different magazines and industry publications. For more information about this article you may contact Michael Stanleigh at mstanleigh@bia.ca