At the start of 2017 I set myself a goal of taking a six-kilometre run every week for the whole year. I have not been 100% successful, but most weeks you’ll see me down by the river with my running gear on.
With a few runs under my belt, I started to focus on my average pace per kilometre. I feel I have pushed myself well if I can run a kilometre on or just under six minutes. Not bad for an old bloke I reckon.
One of the challenges with maintaining my pace is feeling like I’m on target, only to find out at the end that I’m not. However, it’s too late to adjust things at the finish line! So, I started using a running app that gave me updates about my pace every kilometre. This is great, because I can see when I’ve run a slower kilometre, and pick up the pace in the next one to stay on track overall.
I reckon we can take this idea and apply it to our project work. How often have you been working on a project, or a project deliverable, and have realised close to the deadline that you have way more to do than anticipated? How often has this led to a mad flurry of urgent activity to get it across the line?
In his book, The Game Changer, Dr Jason Fox talks about the need to make progress visible when carrying out complex work. If we don’t, we often see a drop in performance, and a drop in motivation. A sense of progress keeps us on track and keeps us feeling motivated. But how can you effectively measure progress on projects if you manage them in a paper notepad, or even worse, in your head? I work with many clients who only use project tools to manage big projects. Many of the smaller projects get planned and managed in a less than ideal way, with inappropriate tools.
That does not mean you need to plan your projects in a complex tool like Microsoft Project, which is overkill for most people. What I am suggesting is to use tools that are fit for purpose – that will help you to plan the actions, timelines, deadlines and your progress against these.
As an example, the project milestone timeline above was created using a default Excel template called Project Timeline (you can search for templates as you open a new Excel spreadsheet). This is such a quick and simple way to map out the key deliverable dates for your project. There are also a host of other simple project management tools available online, that are designed to help your team collaborate on projects, including Microsoft Planner, Asana, Trello and Basecamp. All excellent tools designed to keep your team visually up to date on a project’s progress.
So, do yourself and your team a favour. Take some time out this week to plan a project. Make it visible. Then make it a priority to track your progress each week. Anticipate the potential blockages, and adjust your efforts as necessary to stay on track. It’s not rocket science, but it’s how they build rockets!