In our last post in our series looking at project management for law firms, we discussed the role of metrics in assessing whether your project is going according to plan. In particular, we questioned the effectiveness of goal-oriented metrics, which simply tell you whether or not you have hit a target at a specific point, in helping to pull a project back on course if things go wrong.
If things start to deviate away from your plan, you want to know as early as possible. Waiting until a certain point to measure performance so far, only to discover something has gone wrong, is already too late. Knowledge that something has gone wrong is no use unless you have time and scope to rectify it.
Predictive metrics, on the other hand, measures actions and behaviours which lead to a certain goal. To achieve goal A, people in your team might have to complete tasks X and Y. If one of those isn’t completed, you know goal A probably isn’t going to be achieved. But the important thing is you have some degree of forewarning, and therefore the chance to achieve the milestone still.
For all the planning and plotting that goes into project management, nothing ever goes without a hitch. Therefore a great deal of the skill that goes into project management, on top of robust forecasting and calculating, is knowing how to roll with the punches when the problems hit. Getting a project back on track when things start to go wrong requires knowing how to spot problems early, agile thinking, good communication and, in most situations, a sense of humour.
But the important thing is, unless you want to go way over budget or schedule and attract the wrath of clients, you have to do all you can to deliver the project according to plan. Here are five things to do to get a derailing project back on track.
Be ready for hard work.
If you are right on top of your predictive metrics, you should be able to spot potential issues early enough to minimise the work needed to put things right. But let’s be honest, any kind of additional task can feel like a burden, even if it is just chasing up a team member to make sure they have completed a task you set. The burden of hard work keeping a project on track largely falls to the project lead, and the further things slip away from the plan, the harder the work required to drag things back becomes.
Throw available resources at the issue
One of the great truths of project management is that problems will only multiply if left unresolved. If you don’t get things right at point A, the work required by point B will be doubled as the domino effect kicks in. Just as you might have to put in some serious overtime to get a problem sorted, be prepared to throw resources at an issue to nip it in the bud before it has a chance to escalate.
Take a second look at scheduling
Time is one of the biggest factors to manage in a project. There is just so much that can go wrong – chains of tasks that require others to be completed before they start can be thrown into chaos if just one falls behind, and mistakes in anticipating timescales for tasks can be brutally exposed in practice.
Flexibility is key here. If an issue is spotted in the schedule, get your creative thinking cap on and change it. If the way different tasks can be queued up can be changed, try it, and if anything can be done in a shorter timeframe, even if it means extra resources, do it rather than risk the knock-on effect of delays.
Tackle issues as a team
Project management can feel like a lonely place when things go wrong. Like a doomed football manager whose team sits at the foot of the table, you feel all the weight of responsibility rests on you. But the truth is, you are unlikely to drag a project back onto schedule and budget once it starts to slip all by yourself. You find out who your friends are in a crisis, and this is where you need your team to pull around you and show their mettle. Don’t be afraid to delegate and ask for help.
The temptation might be to try to keep any issues hidden from your client in the hope that you can sort things out by the time they need to know. This only risks the problems being mountain-sized by the time the client becomes aware of them, instead of a mere mole hill. Honesty really is the best policy – if you think there is a risk of deadlines being missed or the overall project going over budget, sit down with your client and talk it through. Be honest about why it is happening and what you are doing about it. You may be able to negotiate changes to the original proposition with them.