Project Management Planning for Disjointed Teams

Nov 17 2016 read
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If you work at a digital agency or consulting firm, you probably grapple with competing priorities on a daily basis. If your definition of “busy” feels more like “frazzled” (i.e. you and your team typically scramble to finish projects at what feels like the last minute) then it’s time to take a step back, breath, and reevaluate the entire process - starting with your project plan. Not only is the project plan the basis of what needs to get done in your project, but it also identifies who’s responsible for what and when. As your team grows, it’ll become more difficult to execute without clear priorities and a plan to meet them. That’s why project planning is so critical for delivering work that's on time and on budget. To get you started, here’s an overview of what might be standing in your way when it comes to successful project planning, what you can do to fix it, and the tools that can help.

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The problem: ambiguity

When there aren’t clear goals with exact tasks assigned to specific people, deliverables become cloudy. The ambiguity of what needs to get done and by whom erodes accountability since no one has an individual claim to any one task or milestone. The result? Projects that have gaps and holes (which you scramble to fix at the last minute). Ambiguity doesn’t just hurt accountability, it can also lead people to feel overwhelmed, which hampers confidence - let me explain. When the scope of a project seems huge because it hasn’t been broken down into proper tasks and milestones, people don’t know where to start, and that’s usually because they’re not even sure what’s on, or should be on, their plate. That uncertainty makes them less confident in their decision making and eagerness to tackle to-do's, costing your project time and money as things get pushed to the back-burner or, veer off course. For example, if your team had an objective to develop a branding strategy for a new product - that might seem straight forward at the start, but it actually leaves out essential details. In fact, once people started trying to tackle the project, they'd probably feel like the objective raises more questions than it answers. That would leave a lot of folks unsure about who’s responsible for what, what data is needed, and so on, putting the breaks on progress and paralyzing your entire project.

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The solution: get specific

How do you knick problems like this in the butt before they happen? With a simple technique called if/then planning, which Heidi Grant Halvorson, Director of Columbia’s Business School’s Motivation Science Center discusses in the Harvard Business Review. This method helps individuals and teams close the gap between intention and action. It’ll allow you to clearly express your team’s goals and then create a trigger for execution, so that you can significantly improve follow through on commitments. Actually, one study in HBR found that if/then planners submitted weekly reports 6.5 hours earlier on average, compared to non planners. The best way to do this is with smart technology, where you can set up automatic triggers that follow progressions for things like tasks and milestones. If you’re not using business automation software to do this, you should at least map out scenarios like “if X happens, I will do Y”. This way of thinking works in concert with people’s neurological wiring and will help you stay on track, and know what to do next. When you think about and plan your goals this way, it establishes powerful mental triggers for action.

Break it down: your project plan

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For disjointed teams, how do you harness the power of if/then statements to translate intention into a detailed plan for action? While you can find a technology platform to automatically connect all the dots and build a project plan for you and your team in one centralized place, you can also do this manually by writing out tasks and dependencies in a spreadsheet. To create a project plan, you’ll need to:

  1. Establish a high-level goal (i.e. what your client wants accomplished)

  2. Break down the goal into manageable chunks, like milestones and tasks (subgoals). You need to clearly define specific subgoals so that team members get a clear picture of what’s involved in achieving that goal (i.e. collect the data needed to do a competitive analysis, solicit feedback from the team and client about competitive advantage, assess competing priorities and decide what trade-offs will be made, etc).

  3. The next step is filling in the details once subgoals have been established. Teams need to identify the specific actions required, who will carry them out, and when. This way, everyone knows who is accountable for what, and there’s less room for confusion that bogs down the process.

  4. Finally, convert the action items into clear if/then statements (i.e. if it’s Tuesday morning, then Alana will submit details on our competitive analysis). This ensures that expectations are understood by everyone and that a mental trigger is established for Alana. Armor this with smart automation technology, and you’ll be lightyears ahead of your competitors.

This process or workflow builds a habit because, when people become more deliberate in their planning, it strengthens the power of the mental trigger. Like building any habit, this isn’t a one-time process. As circumstances change, your plans need to change too, or they won’t have the desired impact. That’s why using a platform that lets you plan in the traditional Gantt style, while providing the flexibility of an agile approach, is great. It’ll give you the flexibility you need to deliver successful projects with a collaborative team. If you're curious about how other companies like yours with this issue went from chaos to collaboration, check this out.

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