~ By Brad Egeland
I realise this is probably a hard question to ask yourself - or to ask the client. But the truth is, we can all get easily sidetracked and start focusing on the wrong thing. It's especially true if we tend to be fighting constant fires on a project.
Getting stuck in the fireman role as a PM on projects can lead to doing many things out of order or just plain wrong. It can become easy to lose sight of what has brought you success along the way and just get mired in the problem issues of the day. Why? That's what is screaming at you the loudest right now.
The key is to keep sticking to best practices. Yes, run down the issues. Yes, answer the customer questions. Yes, write that big press release the customer or your management is waiting for on the latest status of the big project rollout on which you're working.
You cannot ignore those critical requests from above. But if they aren't critical, then put them off. Keep in mind - you'll have to try to make that call on your own. Anything management wants right now; they will tell you it's critical even if it's not to those of us living in the real world.
As a project manager, what should you be focusing on today - right this very minute? Let's consider.
I say multitasking is overrated. I say you cannot do it and perform at the top of your game. So what's important today? What's important right now at 2:34 pm? What should I be doing now to get things done, to make progress on the project, to make my project customer happy? What is the top priority for me to tackle today or this afternoon?
Don't just zone out or do what feels best. Do what is the biggest priority. And if two or three things are big, pick one you can knock off quickly first. Then move to the next one.
Do you think about best practices on your project? Not just PM best practices, but overall business best practices? Are you well-prepared for your next status call? Will you be? Are you ready for your next team meeting? What does your team need from you right now?
If you're looking for something beneficial to do, try gathering everyone on the team together. Discuss internal lessons learned. Then see what you can think of to improve project performance and how you're all performing right now.
Is your project behind schedule? Maybe the focus is an issue? Does your team know what they should be doing? Are there any team members continually lagging behind on their tasks?
Perhaps they are overloaded with yours and other projects. Have a discussion - you may find you have the wrong resource. Or you may find you need an additional resource part-time to supplement their work.
What action can you take to improve your project right now? Present a business need to executive management and gain their buy-in for some much-needed assistance. Call the customer and see if there are any specific needs or concerns they feel need addressing. Meet your team to see if you have all bases covered at the moment. Take a full day away from other projects to do some catch-up, planning and strategising on this project.
Look around - maybe there's some potential work the client has mentioned that you could draw up a proposal for that would result in a change order - making everyone happy. (You and your company get more revenue. Your client gets a new need filled.)
Sometimes we get so bogged down in the daily activity of our project that we get tunnel vision. We're so overloaded with what we think we should be doing that we forget to stop and step back a couple of feet to figure out what we REALLY should be doing.
We end up going through the motions just trying to reach the finish line. We forget to look for those value-added moments, tasks and activities - those things that keep the customer coming back for more. Or we forget to look at those big-picture things that will help our project, our customer and the financial bottom line.
Planning happens at the beginning of the project. But it happens throughout the project as well. At least, it does if you want to maximise performance, profitability and customer satisfaction.
Right now, are you doing what you should be doing on your project? Are you doing the right things now to be as successful as possible when you're at closeout time on the engagement?
What about our readers? How do you decide what you really should be doing on your projects? Share your experiences in the comments below.