Shabnam Gideon

Part 2: Keep Your Present Self on the Ball

This is the second article in a series devoted to answering the question of how to keep projects on scope and within budget. In this series, we discuss how we mitigate and handle scope creep during each phase of a project.

Stay On The Ball

There’s a whole choreography to the dance of managing a project for scope. This orchestration begins well before you even have a scope, in fact, and continues on as a regular, deliberate practice throughout the project, all the way to whatever the end is.

For the sake of the series, I’ve broken it down into these key tasks:

  1. Set your future self up for success
  2. Keep your present self on the ball
  3. Revisit your past self on the reg

This week, we look at the second set of tasks:

Part 2: Keep your present self on the ball

Separate from day-to-day task management, there are a few practices we’ve learned and developed over the years that help us manage the intangibles and unpredictables, and these fall somewhere on the spectrum between project management and self leadership.

This is a very important point: while one can stay very true to the principles and processes of pure project management, the objectivity of that approach often and very unfortunately abandons the subjectivity required to navigate all of the relationships involved. It’s only when we cultivate both that we can succeed at both, and that, at least in our world, is what enables us to stay focused on the process AND the people.

This set of softer skills, which are the underpinning of keeping oneself aware, proactive, and effective throughout, can be grouped into one primary axiom:

Commit to Transparency

We all know what it means to act transparently. I want to encourage everyone, not just those in a PM role, to get yourself re-energized by the freedom that transparency affords. I think we’re sometimes afraid to be open and honest, whether because of the status quo, or first-time jitters, or because we’re afraid of how the client will react, or just because it’s something we all struggle with personally and professionally.

But I can say that committing to transparency in communication internally and externally with clients at Focus Lab has opened more doors, created more client successes, and forged more lines of communication than ever would have occurred without it (and without revealing all of our secret sauce).

“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.”

- Thomas Jefferson

So, what should you do? Explore the uncomfortable moments to find out why you’re fearful of saying something. Find ways to reframe those moments in a way that’s constructive and proactive. Talk with your coworkers and your boss about what’s acceptable and where the hard lines really are. Figure out how much of the secret sauce you’re willing to share, and where you have to draw the line. Be unafraid to not know things, or to ask for clarification.

The last part of general transparency is a little more concrete: be really honest with yourself and with your team about realistic expectations and about setbacks. It’s so easy to mentally minimize the impact that certain events can have on a project timeline. Don’t be tempted! Speak up when the impact is real, and elevate that beyond yourself to the rest of the team so that the accountability for it is shared.

Here are a few ways to create the conditions under which real transparency is possible:

Keep lists

For a given project, we’re talking lists on lists on lists. Use a list to structure your day, and use additional lists to turn meeting notes into actionable items. Arguably, every project meeting should result in a list of to-dos, even if the the only to-do is to put the meeting notes in a shared location. For us, meeting notes transform into project tasks, internal tasks, individual tasks, Trello cards, documentation, calendar events and reminders, due dates, and more. In fact, each person who attended the meeting should walk away with some piece of documentation at the least. (If they don’t, then did they need to be there in the first place?)

How do lists relate to transparency? Lists are about creating full awareness of all that’s happening in a project. Only when you have full awareness is transparency (with yourself, and with your clients, if you so choose) truly enabled.

Estimate and quantify

We work within a weekly cadence, meaning we have client meetings every week, and we deliver every week. That means that every week the opportunity exists for new considerations or changes to be introduced.

By listing out each one and taking an estimating eye to them, we can gauge the true impact that a given change has, or that a group of changes has as a whole. This is also your opportunity to exercise transparency: by sharing the fact that you are taking an estimating approach with your client. This sets the stage for their awareness that all changes are subject to critical review and consideration, and creates more of a two-way conversation around the subject.

It’s important to have this “scoping” level awareness throughout the project because it enables you to spot scope creep the moment it arises. If your lists are organized, you will know the minute the number of requested changes exceeds your original scope, and you have the documentation to back it up.

Plus, if you have this level of detailed insight into the potential impact, and you’ve maintained transparency throughout, you have two more tools in your PM arsenal: a list of unscoped/unincluded items, AND the meat of an argument for a project extension.

Call audibles

I’ve alluded to this already: do not be afraid to raise flags when and where they are due. At the moment you are aware your project team has hit a real snag, let your client know something. At the moment you learn of new requirements, call attention to the fact that they are new and thereto unaccounted for. Be vocal, so that your position is known; that level of awareness paves the way for easy, informed conversations.

Lastly, know when something you planned to do isn’t necessary, and make the call to not do it. I think this is one thing that enables us to be nimble and responsive: if we find an exercise we planned for isn’t going to serve the end product, we discuss that with the client, and with their go-ahead, we strike it from the plan to divert that time to where it’s better suited.

“Only when you have full awareness is transparency...truly enabled. ”

Summary

I know this was a heady post. I hope you walk away understanding these points:

  1. Maintaining transparency furthers both internal and external awareness of a given project’s real status.
  2. A few key actions to creating the conditions for transparency are: keeping lists, estimating and quantifying, and calling audibles.
  3. Having the level of detail and awareness afforded by those key actions yields up-to-the minute clarity on the status of a project.
  4. Combining a commitment to transparency with that level of clarity enables you to speak freely and with authority as to the reality of a given project status, and to discuss adjustments with accuracy (and without surprises).

Stay tuned for the third and last in the series, Revisit Your Past Self On The Reg, where we expound the virtues of the art of overcommunication.

Thanks for reading!


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