Shabnam Gideon

Part 3: Revisit Your Past Self on the Reg

This is the last 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.

Check In

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 third set of tasks:

Part 3: Revisit your past self on the reg

Now that we understand the importance of setting your future self up for project management success, and how to keep that ball of success rolling, we turn some attention to the habit of continually reflecting back and reinforcing past decisions and actions.  

The notion and the effect is familiar: by looking at the past we can gauge where we are, reinforce things we’ve learned, and remind ourselves of tasks and details. It’s the actions, though, that, however critical they are to a project’s success, tend to put that pedantic spin on the role of project manager.

I’m here to declare once and for all we need to OWN that element of “pedantry,” and that as much as it hints as redundancy and even annoyance, when it is missing, our work and our projects suffer.

So let’s get comfortable with it, and understand why what seems like overcommunication is really just communication.

Overcommunicate

I’d venture to say that darn near every single meeting that is held either internally or with clients contains at least one decision or task that informs work to come. At its simplest, we’re talking a single task for a single person. But does that tell the full story? I’d argue that it doesn’t. If you extrapolate, you realize that there are many more potential components to that “single” task: who’s doing it, who else might be needed, what the details are (or what constitutes “done”), when it is due, whether there is a necessary subsequent task, whether anyone needs to be informed when it is done, any other impacts it might have, how the task will be managed, etc. That’s a lot of things to forget.

So, to help us remember, we practice the art of overcommunication:

1. Review, revisit, remind

Learn how to take good, actionable notes. Even better, teach your team to do it, too. At minimum, a task should have an assignee, a due date, a definition of “done” so you know when it’s complete, and a known next step. Review your notes immediately after a meeting to ensure you understand how to put each task into action, revisit tasks as a team to make sure your understandings are the same, and remind team members not only of tasks but also of your expectations for their completion.

An important counterpart to this is repeating the same process for your client, and the tasks or deliverables that may be needed from them. While they may have internal project management, it is still your job as agency PM to make sure you get what you need, and that may mean task managing for your client. Our simplest mechanism for this is a To Do in Basecamp, since that’s where we manage all client communication.

These simple steps ensure that meeting decisions or changes are not left to interpretation, and that your whole project team is still moving forward toward a common goal.

2. Follow up

After you’re done making your notes actionable, follow up on them in several ways:

  • Put them in your task management tool. We currently use Trello, and usually team members are responsible for their own task/card creation, but the PM should double check.
  • Remind team members occasionally of tasks prior to when they’re due. A task management tool is only as effective as we make it, and even the most detail-oriented folks sometimes need a reminder.
  • Remind your client of items due prior to needing them. Doing so reinforces process and ensures you get what you need when you need it.

3. Follow through

Be as diligent as you want your team members to be with the tasks assigned to you. This is leading by example, and it is one of the most effective keys to team success that I know.

In addition, and this gets recursive, you have to keep doing steps 1 and 2. Part of following through is repeating these actions over and over and over again and embracing the pedantries of this process.

Summary

All said, adding these steps to your PM practice enables you to manage projects for scope because they help you do a better job of keeping things on track in the first place. Plus, they help ensure that small deviations don’t snowball because you are always keenly aware of task statuses, dependencies, and consequences.

I’ll suggest that the big takeaways around revisiting your past self are these:

  • While it may seem redundant, overcommunicating is imperative, and would be missed (and maybe costly) if it were absent.
  • It may be helpful to consider that these practices are not over communication at all, but that they are merely communication at its best, and make us the type of communicator we want to be.
  • As with the parts 1 and 2 of this series, these are steps in a larger process of managing scope creep.

Thanks for checking out this series! Let us know if you have any questions or if you’d like us to write about something else in particular.


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