Project Management How To Get Projects Back On Track

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today on thought rock live we have Julie

room Julie is the director of

development for my muse mine uses a

sister company to thought rock and be

wise and she's going to seeking to us

today about project management how to

get projects back on track even though

we don't like to admit it projects

sometimes go off the rails how do we get

them back on track as efficiently as

effectively as possible how do we keep

our cool in confidence while redirecting

projects towards success so Julie will

talk about how to spot early warning

signs get projects back on track when

they are off and what you need to do to

rescue those projects so key learnings

coming out of today will be how to

manage bumpy projects didn't know there

was such a thing how to reinstate

confidence in clients and get them back

on board and how to focus and motivate

internal teams kind of reminds me I was

golf in one day and somebody said boy

you're really good with that three iron

getting out of the rough and I said

that's because I have a lot of practice

in Julie's case she manages a lot of

projects and not a lot of them go off

track but she does know like to do so

looking forward to the day's session

turn it over to you Julie thank you John

and welcome everybody thanks for for

tuning in so what I'd like to do is

start with a real-world example so a

case study I always find when we put

things into into real-world scenarios we

can we can understand them a little

better so we've got our friend Sarah

Sarah began work on a new project she'd

established a great rapport with a

client she'd assembled her internal team

created a timeline with buffer confirmed

the work could be done within three

months and on budget in short well

prepared and set up for success well we

can insert my name here or probably most

of us on the call I'm assuming we all go

into our projects with the best of

intentions with positivity and hopefully

excitement that things will go well and

we'll have some fun oftentimes you feel

well prepared and confident and look

forward to the projects coming to life

and for me that's the really fun part of

the job

okay fast forward to six months later

we've got Sarah over budget projects

only fifty percent complete the clients

lost complete confidence confidence in

Sarah to get the world done her internal

team now is frustrated and they're

saying they just want to get the project

over with how did this happen how at

what point did serious project go off

track so we'll take a look at the

possible reasons that this happened and

how a project that was set up for

success in the exact opposite direction

and let's face it most of us on this

call can insert our names in here too

we've all of us has had this happen

where we we start out with something

great and then we're stepping back

thinking where did I go wrong and we

have to ask ourselves that question

because as project managers it's our job

and responsibility to identify this the

trick is to identify this so we get back

on track not at the end of a project and

it can be done so here we have some

words to live and to work by so so let's

look at how we think we all want to

knock it out of the park we all want our

projects to run seamlessly with no bumps

or obstacles no bumpy projects and they

do exist but what we need to see that is

managing those bumps and those obstacles

successfully is actually knocking out of

knocking it out of the park that's part

of success it's how we navigate through

the ebbs and flows that's where our

success lies it's not in perfection

because I have yet to run a project that

runs perfectly it's it's I have to flag

a potential risk or two or x 10 or 11 to

make sure the project goes from start to

finish and is done meeting expectations

that's the job that's why we need our

pms so this is why i put these quotes up

here let's stop telling ourselves that

the next project will run smoother than

the one before and let's get better at

identifying risk in in the one that

you're in and most importantly how to

communicate that risk and and I'll get

into detail about that later on so these

are just some ideas to to change our way

of thinking

so warning challenges ahead so now that

I've tried to put the thought in your

head that no project will ever run

without a bump or two in the road how do

we identify possible risks that can take

us on track off track and and what are

the signs that that should cause us to

step back and reassess our project in

the in the potential impacts to it I'd

like to take a minute to first note that

that risk does not equal fault or blame

risk factors are our situations that

happen that we that we must manage

finger-pointing does little to help in

fact it often does the opposite so let's

take away the the association with with

risk and blame um noting noting that a

project may be in jeopardy through

status reports that refine defined roles

and tasks and accountability that's

identifying risk documenting a project

timeline that will be at risk if the

design team for example does not issue

an approval by April twentieth that's

noting a risk complaining that the

design team is not doing their job to

people on your team that's just gossip

that's not noting a risk so we have to

think about that what are the warning

signs and how do we convey them

whisperers and blame game it doesn't

work honest focused talking that'll do

it with with the appropriate parties not

about the appropriate parties so what

are the factors that can put our

projects at risk we have several and

it's very easy to say yes insufficient

time that'll put my my project at risk

they didn't give me enough time we over

committed on the timeline and yeah it

that will put your project at risk will

it make it fail not necessarily I can't

stress enough how quickly this one needs

to be communicated think about it your

clients your the people you're reporting

to they book meetings deliverables etc

around your project dings a presentation

roll out a conference these may all be


of your project and you don't even know

it people make commitments to their

directors their boss CEOs etc based on

what you tell them if you're not giving

them the honest truth about what you can

meet and what you can't well that's

that's a danger sign so the sooner a

projects timeline slippage is discussed

the better that's what I'm trying to say

um but going prepared how don't go in

and say we can't meet the timeline how

do you put it back on track will you

have a clear plan on what you can

deliver for a certain date talk to your

internal team collaborate with them see

what's realistic for your team to

accomplish for example can the deliverer

will be met if you put more reasons

resources on it is it impossible to meet

the deadline then see if there's a

critical piece of the overall project

that could be rolled out rather than the

entire project open communication and a

willingness to be flexible can get you

back on track from this one take a how

do we get this done approach with your

team rather than just get it done take

accountability when speaking to your

client offer suggestions not excuses so

again yes timeline slippage can

certainly put a project at risk but if

you go in with solutions driven if you

sometimes find solutions without even

going to the client great um

underestimated budget these are two

Biggie's again same as the above flag

this one quickly no one wants to hear at

the end of a project how much over

budget you are for the first time flag

it early and you may find ways to stop

the problem before it's snowballs and

you've eaten up your entire budget again

this is a good one to run internally

first if you have external clients um

can we use less resources and still

produce quality where can we cut you

know you could ask yourself these

questions sometimes this one does turn

into a lessons learned but flagging it

early will help things stopped from

going way out of proportion not

addressing this will cause a budget to

spiral out of control rather than just

going over budget and there is a

difference between the two

wrong resources and perhaps wrong

resources is not is not the right

terminology the wrong resource for the

project um it doesn't matter how

talented somebody is it was they do if

your skill set isn't necessarily

appropriate for the project yeah you're

going to find challenges and that might

put the project at risk what you can do

in this case is if possible change

different people working on the project

or mentoring are checkpoints really take

a take a hands-on approach where you're

really fostering a learning and this one

again it's a tricky one to get around

but if if you can um it you can do it if

you would dress it early if you if you

pretend that everything's right on a

project and every person on the project

even if they're not working well if you

pretend they are it's putting your head

in the sand on this one is is not going

to work address the problem address the

person do what you need to do to get it

back on track we've got another biggie

is a disengagement from key stakeholders

I'll give you an example this happens

all the time new management comes in and

decides that yeah not so much a high

priority project anymore not really

interested and this is a project that

you were working on very steadily

everything was going well and then the

buy-in just doesn't seem to be there

what you can do is find out if you need

to realign the project it refocused sit

maybe engage the key stakeholder who is

disengaged offer to make a presentation

as to why this initiative was undertaken

in the first place and why it was

considered important stress the benefits

stress the what's in it for me to the

stakeholder what I would suggest is

offer to do it before it's asked many

times when new management comes in

they'll say well why are we doing this

what's the point of doing that if you

can offer that up first maybe you've

addressed an argument that will never be

um scope creep

that's another one ah to a client in a

PM have two very different ideas of

let's say what revisions are I'll use as

an example me personally I think it's

last-minute tweaks to a product that's

just about approved a client may see

this as an opportunity to read work and

entirely change the concept huge huge

disconnect that can result in budget and

timeline overages the way to get this

one under control is from the very

beginning regular checkpoints sign-off

sirki raise this risk even before it

happens before any major part of a

project is undertaken explain what is

involved and what is not document this

it's really this this one you you can

raise this risk even before it happens I

can't stress that enough if scope creep

still happens this is where as a p.m.

you need to have a difficult

conversation and that is part of our job

I've actually seen learning programs

based on how to have difficult

conversations it's okay to say we can't

do that for this timeline for this

budget what about a version two one of

my favorite sayings is we can do

anything given the time in the budget

it's okay to have those conversations

unidentified that risks basically this

is you didn't mention any of the above

when they were happening now it's past

the point where they'll just go away or

work themselves out this one happens all

the time this is often when things need

to be escalated now escalating is not

necessarily a bad thing and is

absolutely needed at times but no client

should be ever saying why wasn't I told

about this so this is one of the biggest

reasons in my career I've seen projects

go off track no one spoke up again goes

back to the difficult conversations

believe me your conversation is much

less difficult when you do speak up

unforeseen changes this one happens i'm

going to to give a real world example

you're working on systems training

rollout and the system is now slated for

a complete overhaul everything you've

worked on will be obsolete in about a

year what do you do you keep working

with your head down saying well we were

something to do this project we should

just finish it no the best thing to do

is ask how you can help rather then well

what can I do it when changes happens

it's cliche but be part of the solution

and I'd like to add stomping work on a

project does not make it a failure

sometimes it makes good sense so there

you have some of the warning signs so

again we don't like to admit this but

projects do go off the track all the

time and can do so several times

throughout a projects lifestyle cycle

but that doesn't mean the project will

fail it just means you have to address

that issue and get it back on track so

let's go back to Sarah for a moment from

our case study so what happened to Sarah

a client had a new manager who wasn't

engaged skill set of some of the

resources weren't a good match and

responsibilities and accountabilities

we're not clear people don't know what

they don't know people can't deliver

what they don't know they had to UM none

of this as you can see his timeline or

budget related but they all have a huge

huge impact on it three months behind

and only fifty percent completed if you

remember from the earlier slide somebody

has to justify that and there will be a

dollar amount so when we what we need to

do is look at what the earlier tips and

tricks the client had a new manager who

wasn't engaged he approvals and reviews

were not happening when they needed to

he didn't care um created communication

issues nobody was delivering things on

time etc it doesn't matter I hear this a

lot too um if you get along with your

client I've heard that a lot that the

client the client really likes me

um it's great if your client likes you

it's great if your team likes you it's

not necessary for running a smooth

project what they have to do is be able

to rely on you and have confidence in

you and NASA that's key but if you're

not providing the proper work if

deliveries aren't clear if

accountabilities are stated if people

again don't know what they don't know

and you've got a team of people both

internal and external shrugging your

shoulders yeah it's uh it's not going to

work but again all goes back to over

communication and identifying all those

risks and speaking up and when things

have really gone off track like with

with Sarah where she's just found

herself in in a real situation this is

when to make things simple people

process technology go back to this it's

been a cornerstone of idol I'm sure you

all know so so when projects do go

straight regroup and look at these three

basic things any successful project

needs a balance of these three elements

get the balance solid and you'll be okay

it sounds simple but there is work to do

so we have our people who's a part of

the project what are their roles do they

have the skills required to do the work

are they empowered to do the work do

they understand what's required do you

have commitment and buy-in from

everybody without this your project will

go off track you have to identify if

you've got the right people working on

the right project critical process is

there a process or processes in place

for your project is everyone aware of

the processes have they been clarified

can they be followed and adhered to

easily and effectively if there are no

processes in place why and how to

implement them technology

this like processes means different

things depending on your industry and

and where you work but do you have the

needed technology to make your processes

at work or to build your project or

enable your team I kind of look at this

one as a tools in technology I've

clearly simplified these three ideas for

this purpose but for me I find the more

difficult and complex of situation the

more simple you need to be so sure we

did have a question actually oh maybe a

couple the first was you talked about

people making sure you have the right

people do you have any suggested

techniques or tools to do that sure um

and and that's you know what I

appreciate that that question it's a

good one I think a lot of us and I've

been guilty of it in the past is that

you've got a project you have a very

aggressive timeline it's starting right

away who's free that's probably the

worst mistake you can make who's who's

free who can do this project what you

need to do is make sure that it's a good

match for their skill set if it's

something arm very highly technical and

you're putting somebody who's really

great with the soft skills on it it's

not going to work well can it work yes

but but it again your project might go

off track as they'll they'll struggle so

the more you can match a particular

skill and and that basically just means

knowing who you have working for you do

you have someone who excels in certain

types of writing in certain types of

design in certain types of technology

built it really depends on your project

but whose skill set matches and if

they're not free or they're busy with

something else for the moment how can

you stagger it my best best advice for

this and John you might have more to

give but is is not putting somebody on a

project based first and foremost if

they're available yeah for sure

since you asked my opinion probably

mistake but the other thing that I've

seen it that works well for really large

projects and most large organizations

would have access to some kind of a tool

it is also to look at people from a

personality aptitude perspective so who

are the leaders there were the doers who

are the communicators and we have a

personality profiling tool that we've

used in the past actually which will

will develop a team profiles when you

assemble the team you basically tell the

software here's our team that's been

assembled they've all done that

personality profile it'll come back and

say yeah you're missing a taskmaster for

not in those words but but for lack of a

better explanation or near communication

skills are lacking in on this project

team so so there's two dimensions or

more but from a people perspective right

you're looking at competencies and those

are based on skills and aptitudes as

well as and I couldn't agree more

because particularly if you're talking

about a large project that usually means

a lot of people working on it and if you

have some personalities that simply

aren't going to work well together

you're going to have trouble I can yeah

so that is a great tool okay very good

uh there's a spot a quick question here

Julie yeah when you talked about

technology yes you mentioned

communication do you have any

suggestions or observations about

communication tools that work well on

projects again it's a it does depend on

on how large the team is on the

organization I mean having worked both

with local teams and with remote teams

there's so many ways you can stay in

touch and and really create a workspace

obviously when you're when you're all in

in the same place weekly meetings in

person etc that's great for remote

teams uh there's lots and lots of

software out there that can have video

meetings I highly highly recommend that

it gives everybody a sense of belonging

when you can see people's faces I don't

know why it just sort of makes things

seem a little more personal lots of

tools out there if you're talking about

again remote teams skype different types

of messaging stools instant messaging

tools go to meetings are fabulous to

keep everybody looking at the same thing

on the same page all the WebEx out there

things like that especially if you need

to get buy-in from either client or

internal and getting together in the

same room is not is not always an option

those kind of tools which allow people

to see each other and to see the exact

same thing in real time are I think

they're really vital that's that is

there any any other questions on right

now here no we're good to go okay okay

so uh Sarah's Sarah's project where did

Sarah's project falter and how could

this been avoid it so people wrong

resources and no Buy in from new

management process no one knew what they

were doing and where were the

accountabilities ever documented again

this affected timeline and budget how

are these even being tracked so how to

rescue a project like this we're going

to go back to people processes and

technology because there's there's no

one solution as every project has its

special nuances it's unique however if

you do identify risks early on and

ensure you don't bury your head you'll

get things on track if they do slip in a

major way such as Sarah's ah go back to

basics and identify where your problems

lie and I really do recommend this make

a chart of what went wrong and classify

it under people processes and technology

you don't need to share it necessarily

either with your internal team of the

client you can

if it's written in an appropriate way um

but it is astounding how things how

clear things can become when you write

it down and categorize what happened

what category is it in and a recommended

solution I can't stress enough again

it's not about blame at this point and

it doesn't mean you should hesitate for

making difficult decisions if you need

to completely refocus the project if you

need to take somebody off of the project

but assigning blame is reactive is this

is more of a cause and a solution and

it's a much better approach so although

it does take some time to document what

happened and what category it's in and

what your solution is I find writing it

down it's an exercise that helps you

solve it so it in short doing the

upfront work as we all know saves you

work down the down the road and really

if your projects going off-track take

the people process technology chart it

and it the solutions will start becoming

clear okay getting clients back on board

um clients will forgive you for errors

and mistakes if you deliver great

customer service but the irony is if

you're delivering great customer service

a lot of the miscommunication of

mistakes are avoided in Sarah's case her

client luck lost confidence in her um I

think it might have been different in

this case study if Sarah had offered her

help to get the new managers buy-in or

if she had engaged in a really Frank

honest discussion about the issues that

were happening with the internal team

but had identified to her client

solutions on how she was going to

address it it was no secret to the

client that there were challenges as

deliverables were not meeting

expectations so I'm wondering if Sarah

had a followed processes that ensured

everyone on the team knew what their

responsibilities were if she wouldn't

have been in a very different place six

months from now the project may have

stalled due to lack of buy-in that does

happen sometimes but the point is Sarah

would have done everything in her power

to have managed it and would have

minimized the negative impact so again

we go back to the basics of

flag things early identify risks and

have open communication motive ree

motivating internal teams now we don't

want to forget about that our clients

are important but our teams are are

equally as important and we really need

to avoid the just get it done mentality

if enthusiasm is contagious and so is

frustration if you're a PM and you're

leading a call saying I know what a pain

this project is or okay I know you're

all sick of working on this project but

we have to get it done then you're

setting a tone that it that your whole

team is going to follow I think p.m.

sometimes mistake this is empathy it's

not it's really really toxic so the PM

sets the tone and it is your job to keep

the team engaged and re-engage them when

you need to the way to do this is

through collaboration and I put this as

a bullet point because it's not to be

confused with a complaint session and

sometimes that happens and the way to

turn me focus on what is in your power

and work with it focus on what was going

right and why and elicit feedback that's

actionable and proactive um for instance

you're getting feedback like this

project is a disaster well what can we

do to change that or I hate this project

what needs to happen for you to enjoy

working on it again all the clients a

nightmare well what in particular are

you finding challenging saying I know I

know I understand that that doesn't

necessarily again it's not empathy it's

it it's it's a negative very contagious

toxic thing okay you're struggling how

do we take that back how do we how do we

make this experience more empowering for

you and also when people are pressed in

a proactive way for feedback you might

find the anger dissipating and solutions

emerging and and that's that's my advice

on on getting your team back next time

uh what I'll be talking about in in june

i believe it is is

this will be happening with Sarah's

project likely is a post mortems without

blame and that's how to when a project

doesn't go that well and you were in a

position to explain why how to conduct

one of those meetings and and that's

another thing to think about to get your

project back on track if you just

haven't what I would suggest is

conducting a again post-mortem without

blame which is documenting everything

that happens start to finish where

things went off track where things could

have been changed and how it's going to

be done better in the future so that

that is my my presentation on how to get

project back on track well we do have

some questions Julie okay so question

number one how would how would you

manage when your sponsor disengages or

cancels your update meetings etc that's

a great question because it does happen

again Proactive people are busy and I

think people sometimes think well you

know it's just an update right we I know

what's going on what i would do is don't

cancel the meetings it's critical to

have to have those meetings i would

again contact the sponsors explain you

know how busy they are or how time

challenged etc ask if there's a better

time if there's not a better time sent

continue to have the meetings internally

even if you have to with obviously

there's other people working on the

project have the meeting with all other

key players and then document it and put

it down in a status report if you

absolutely cannot get that person into a

meeting at least have it documented

somehow but never cancel the update

meetings that would be my that would be

my advice very good critical excellent I

had another question here is do you as a

project manager communicate to the rest

of the team their responsibility for

keeping the project

crap um yes and no I mean it's some the

PM is there as far as I'm concerned the

pants there to make sure things are on

track I like to think people are

responsible for their own deadlines um

it gives them a sense of accountability

at a sense of ownership what I do is a

PM know is I do like to check in may be

a day or two before let's say it's a

short timeline a day or two before

deliverable is do or if it's a longer

larger initiative a week or two say

how's it going are we still good for

this time do you need anything from me

it's uh I kind of see it as I'm I'm the

person that people will come to when

they need things so I instead of

micromanaging what I like to do is reach

out to people gently remind them of

their dates and have them confirm one

way or the other yes I'm okay or no I

think I'm struggling i need this this

and this to get my target again um

conversation and often it depends on how

big the project is in your relationship

but backed up with an email isn't a bad

idea either okay we have another

question I might do some interpretation

here it's a I'll read the question to

you what kind of la's do you suggest we

have with internal teams for projects to

go successfully and in ola Julie if you

remember from your idle work is an

operating level agreement so if I

interpret this correctly what it means

is if a projects for example in the IT

world going across departments then what

kind of agreements do you need in place

across those departments to make sure it

goes well yeah that's that's tricky um

and it can be done I mean I've worked on

projects that go across across several

departments what you need and John feel

free to free to jump in because I know

this is your area of expertise what I

typically do is any kind of master

timeline or master accountabilities less

stays with me and I try and break things


that that are specific to that

department and have everybody be a piece

of the puzzle but focus mostly on their

responsibilities I'm not sure if that

answers the question now yeah I think

partly the other thing I would say is

i'm not sure that there are standard

operating level agreements that would

exist over time that would really

pertain to projects but it harkens back

to another question it and really comes

back to stakeholders and sponsors so at

the project kickoff stage it's really

important that the rules are identified

the time requirements are identified and

then these stakeholders and managers

commit that time and then the second

piece that i would say is from a

communications perspective good old peer

pressure work so the regular reporting

that you talked about if there's a risk

to the project and that risk is being

created because somebody or some

department is unable to meet their

commitments then you can in a non blame

kind of fashion raise that issue and say

hey I always come back when you talk

about people process technologies

whenever I'm trying to mitigate

something like a project going bad I

always try to communicate it from a

process perspective so I'm pretty

unlikely to go back and say you know the

problem is this person is not you know

they didn't make their commitment or

they didn't perform this task on time or

they're consistently not performing

their tasks on time I'd go back to

process and say the process is that we

assign people with devale ability and

the right skill set and we don't seem to

follow the process right so so you avoid

that conflict where you know you're

calling somebody out saying hey you're

not doing your job not doing your job

with respect to this project and you

really put it back to a process in a non

blame and you may talk more about that

in your next presentation okay exactly

yeah I mean you don't want to disempower

anybody regardless

their skill set or their their role in

the project that's for sure great

exactly all right I don't see any other

questions Julie I think I'll ramble on

for one more moment about a couple

things and just watch for other

questions but thank you everyone for

tuning in today a quick reminder next

week is bringing 2012 into focus through

goal setting and Helene Egan will be

presenting that topic she was well very

well received last time so he didn't

have a chance to listen to her on a

previous thought rock live session we so

be sure to tune in tell your friends and

colleagues welcome to join us same time

same bat Channel I don't see any other

questions Julie if you just throw the

last screen and we'll leave that up for

a few minutes as wada may have mentioned

these webcasts are recorded and will

send a link out to everyone so if you

found this useful but think one of your

colleagues might find it as or more

useful please feel free to share that

link thank you again for attending and

everyone I hope you have a great day a

quick comment very helpful topic thanks

well you're welcome thanks to all of

those of you who posed questions yeah

thanks from Kevin as well so there you

go thank you