When you first stepped out of that meeting, it seemed like the project would be delivered on time. Everyone agreed on their roles (for once), you outlined the tasks to be completed and made a resolution to action certain elements immediately. The project seemed straightforward. Until everyone returned to their desks, and other tasks got in the way.
As a manager, you’ll be familiar with the all-too-common ‘This task took longer than anticipated’ or ‘There were unexpected delays’. When team members are unable to complete their tasks in a reasonable amount of time, it slows down the rest of the team, hinders your capacity to deliver on time and the necessary reallocation can be a management nightmare.
As always, the best defence is a good offence – managing expectations from the beginning, so your team knows the importance of working on time. We’ve found that these simple strategies are useful in ensuring your team follows through after the meeting.
Set firm deadlines
Teams respond best when the deadline is clear and fixed from the beginning. However, if the scope of your project is rather large, it can be easy to look forward to the overall deadline and put individual tasks off until tomorrow. That’s why it’s important to break down the project into sections or individual tasks. It may seem pointless or time-intensive to set deadlines for every task, but you cannot argue with the results. With clear dates and consistent reinforcement, your team knows what is expected of them, and when. This enables them to more adequately allocate their time, and as a result, balance their own schedules to ensure everything is completed by each deadline.
Put the ‘manage’ back in management
As a manager, you’re required to use your organisational and interpersonal skills to empower your team to complete the project. The Harvard Business Review recommends executing a one-page summary of your meetings to record discussion, stay on top of who is assigned to what, and to help keep the project at the top of everyone’s priority list.
The next step is to follow up on your team, both individually and as a whole. Keep an updated record of who has delivered what and whether it was on time. Being aware of the team’s delivery rate can be a motivating factor, but also remember that individual encouragement is necessary – especially if it’s only one or two team members lagging.
When you actively ensure that your team is invested in the project, they are more likely to understand the importance of what they are doing, and thus follow through with the necessary tasks. Remind your team of their overarching goal, as well as the smaller, short-term aims. Generating this interest will often lead to self-accountability, as no one wants to let the team down.
Ensuring that your management style holds team members responsible is important, but leave room for flexibility. We’ve all struggled to balance multiple demands at once. When someone is floundering, remember that success is often better achieved by a gentle reminder and offers of assistance. As a manager, you are the role model for both the delivery of the project, and the way in which the team responds to potential setbacks.
You can learn to master these strategies for managing teams and projects with the theory provided throughout a postgraduate diploma in project management. While it can seem like an uphill battle, ensuring your team is informed and well-prepared will take much of the stress out of your next project.