People like Sprinting to finish projects faster

One of the challenges of a project manager is to keep the project on time, and the weapon of choice is usually the project meeting.  I confess I have been to some mind numbing project meetings which review all the future actions, get every ones agreement as to deadlines and then…….the deadlines get missed.  Irrespective of the frequency of the meetings, the strength of admonitions to hit deadlines, the seniority of those delivering them …. the deadlines were still missed.

In my experience these problems are both rooted in lack of recognition of the human element.

In a small business the root is often the challenge of fitting the project or change initiative work around the day job.  Most jobs involve relatively short term work horizon (often a week or less) so  that project plans with time horizons of several weeks are out of alignment with the usual work patterns and soon get forgotten.

In a large business which can put dedicated people on a project the challenge is often  associated with the perception of risk especially if a person is being measured largely in connection with the project.    A Harvard Business Review Blog suggests short term actions are perceived to be more positive (and thus less risk) than longer term actions.  According to Carol Muller (in the same blog) positive tasks tend to generate action whilst more negative (longer term) ones tend to attract inaction.

So longer term actions seem to be a potential problem with projects and if one is to believe another blog only 20% of people do any serious planning in their own lives … so personal experience is not helping..

The solution to this challenge is to take an idea from the Agile

planning philosophy called a “Sprint”.  This is where the focus is on completing a project using a number of “Sprints”.  Each Sprint focusses on  tasks required over a short interval (a week or less).  When you combine a number of “Sprints” together perhaps for  different projects or sub-projects then you end up with something I  call   a “Control Room” and it can be highly effective..

A “Control Room” is a short 15-30 minute stand up meeting (often a couple of times per week) which focuses on the actions and co-ordination necessary for the “Sprints” over a relatively short period.  The idea is to explicitly list out the tasks to be done, identify and resolve any conflicts or road blocks and set priorities if required and perhaps most important … confirm completion of tasks from earlier “Sprints”    The Control Room works well to co-ordinate diverse  individuals (and groups) with differing “day job” pressures and where there are a number of sub-projects using the same resources,  although each business needs to find out the best time horizon for the Control Room to cover, long enough to make it worthwhile but short enough to engage people.  In it’s best implementation a Control Room also keeps the end objective visible to all and to this end a white board and a set format can be helpful.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

By keeping the time horizon short the immediacy is high and tasks tend to take a bigger share of people’s minds.  The format also gives the same satisfaction as ticking items of a ToDo list by generating small, encouraging wins as each task is completed. A Sprint or Control Room does put more emphasis on project managers and leaders keeping the longer horizon items organised, but if the project is running to time this is usually not arduous.

Using Control Room type techniques Business Transformers Ltd has regularly halved project duration and cut costs by 15-20% , in multi-project custom build environments, whilst increasing individual and team satisfaction.

Sprints or Control Rooms might add a little work for project managers and leaders, but they are often more understandable and engaging for the individuals that actually have to do the work!


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