9 RULES FOR PREVENTING PROJECT MELTDOWN
1. Know what the project is supposed to accomplish. This may seem obvious, but, trust me, people often have very different ideas about the goals, and then have very different yardsticks for measuring success. Get everyone on the same page.
2. Get the team together. When I say in #1 that everyone needs to be on the same page, make sure you know who “everyone” is. Name names. Set aside a specific space for the team to meet regularly, and make sure they have the resources to complete their assignments.
3. Name a steering committee. Every project has more than one stakeholder, and each primary stakeholder needs a presence on a project steering committee. The steering committee is there as a backstop to keep the project from veering off-course—don’t let it get bogged down in decisions that the project team should be making. Keep it focused on strategic issues and on smoothing the path for the team. The steering committee is the place for decisions and questions that the project team can’t answer or solve on their own.
4. Keep the steering committee as small and as senior as possible. Whenever possible, the CEO should lead the steering committee. That way, in the unlikely event that the steering committee can’t reach a decision by consensus, the CEO is there to make the call. Needless to say, once the decision has been made and communicated to the team, all steering committee members should support it.
5. Set realistic deadlines. Projects that have unrealistically tight deadlines often lead to burnout and staff turnover. Conversely, deadlines that are too loose or too far in the future lead to a lack of project focus. These are the projects most at risk of never reaching completion.
6. Celebrate success along the way. IT projects are hard, and in human services organizations we usually don’t relieve the team members of their other full-time responsibilities. Remember to thank them and to celebrate the victories.
7. Work through the challenges. There will inevitable be surprises and challenges along the way. Keep a level head, be flexible, and don’t panic. There is always a strategy to success.
8. Be attuned to the natural rhythm of projects. They start with enthusiasm, quickly move to steady state, and then, critically, move to a period of anxiety as the deadline or “go-live” date approaches. Be sensitive to where your team is on the time-line and support them appropriately. Be cautious when they are exuberant; be a cheering section during the steady-state period; be attentive and encouraging during the anxious times; and, celebrate with them when the project succeeds.
9. Align the project with the strategic and operational goals of the company. Your team needs to know that all of their hard work moves the organization forward in an important way. Remind them that even if they are working on implementing a work-flow project in the human resources department, it has an impact on the lives of the people served in your agency.