PART 3—(The Project Starts Slowly)

We see this all over the world and it is one of the most common problems clients talk about: our projects start slowly.

Reasons for these slow starts vary, and some are highly contradictory. For example, some complain that there is too much time, while others complain that there isn’t enough time. Other common reasons given are that there are unanswered questions, they don’t know enough about the project, or there are not enough people on the project team.

Sometimes, the reasons given pertain to the work done in previous phases. Maybe the work was incomplete or inadequate. The bottom line, though, is that projects typically fall behind because the pace was not set at the beginning of the project. Even though people are busily working, no real progress is being made on the project.

The Solution

Luckily, the solution of slow starts to your projects is fairly simple and straightforward, and something project managers can implement immediately.

Step 1: Weekly Status Meetings

To set pace from the beginning, hold weekly status meetings. Do not wait until you assemble your full team. Instead, meet with the team members you do have every week, from the time they are assigned. As you acquire new team members, bring them up to speed on the project.

During status meetings, team members will ask questions and raise issues, especially those who are new to the project. New team members, from their low context perspective, often notice issues others do not because they aren’t yet making assumptions about the project.

Assign the task of investigating to the person who first voiced the issue or question. The team quickly gathers information about the project with this process. What’s more, each member is taking action and moving the project forward.

Step 2: Weekly Status Reports

That brings us to status reports; create a weekly status report for the first eight weeks of your project. This goes against our typical advice of creating monthly status reports. However, in the beginning of a project, weekly status reports help establish pace by incorporating these four questions:

  1. What did we do last week?
  2. What are we going to do next week?
  3. What are the problems?
  4. What are we doing about the problems?

By defining the plan for the following week, the project manager effectively makes a promise to the organization: I am responsible for X next week. This commitment creates a sense of urgency toward solving problems and following through to take the promised action. In addition, the team builds a feeling of momentum when it can point to the previous week’s accomplishments.

Step 3: Formal Planning

Once you have 80 percent of your team in place, begin formal planning. You will discover that building the first 80 percent of your team happens much more quickly than the final 20 percent. As you incorporate the final 20 percent of your team, you can bring them up to speed. Use one-on-one meetings and weekly status reports to accomplish this.

Step 4: Deliver Tasks Early

The best project managers establish a tone of immediately reporting whenever a task is completed. In general, if an employee finishes a task two days before deadline, he or she does not tell the project manager and then, during the weekly status meeting, reports that the task was completed on time.

Creating a culture that emphasizes early delivery helps build a time reserve that you can spend on problem solving later. Every task ticked off of the To Do List moves a dependent task further up the list. As you near the end of the project, a time reserve leaves room for problem solving without jeopardizing the due date.

Follow these four steps to set the pace and get your project started quickly and effectively.

For the entire Ask Cadence  – Project Problem podcast series, visit iTunes.