We've all experienced calling someone on a cellphone, and the call breaks up or falls short because noise prevents us from hearing the speaker.
Like cell phones, projects also have noise issues. The best project managers know how to eliminate noise so a project can continue uninterrupted.
Below are six project noise generators—and how to stop them from interfering with your project.
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1. Avoid project enhancements that take projects off course
Once the requirements and project scope are clearly set, it's important to operate within those boundaries and not fold in additional enhancements that will affect timelines and deliverables.
Enhancement requests usually come from end users. If the request is easy to satisfy, like altering a screen layout or adding a data field edit, it likely can be added without much impact. But if the enhancement impacts multiple programs, it's time to redefine the project scope and timeline. Communicate it to all stakeholders, and make sure they are on board with any project changes.
2. Table disagreements
When two individuals butt heads in a meeting over, say, a system design, an application deployment plan, etc. stop the back-and-forth debate, table the discussion, and tell the individuals that you'll meet with them offline. This enables you to continue the meeting, and to respect the time of other attendees, who are either impatiently waiting for things to get back on track or see if the meeting will mercifully end.
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3. Document all approvals
Never approve a requirements spec to go forward into a system or application design without a firm sign off and agreement from your end users. Sometimes users will be willing to sign off, but there may be confusion about how applications or business processes will work. Don't let this happen. The best place to ensure that every business requirement is documented and clearly understood by everyone is on paper—before you start turning it into a full blown project.
4. Work on time management
If you need time to evaluate your project or to make decisions or adjustments, identify a quiet time during the day to think it through. Eliminate disruptions like emails and phone calls. This is traditional time management procedure—but many project managers don't do it. Do it.
5. Revise priorities
You can't control a change in business direction your boss makes. However, you can control your project timelines, resources, and how they will be impacted by these new priorities. When a priority change occurs, evaluate impact, and then define a new set of timelines for projects that were already underway. Communicate the impact to your staff and your superiors immediately.
One mistake newer project managers make is that they are so eager to please that they try to maintain the original timelines of their projects and just add new projects. The time to speak up about project impacts and the need to revise them is when change occurs—not later, when you start missing deadlines.
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6. Break-up staff turf wars
IT Departmental silos still exist. There are days when system programmers, database analysts, network specialists, application developers and QA will get into disputes or even turf wars. When you see this, break it up. If needed, speak to team members individually. Your project can't afford the distraction.
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Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturing company in the semiconductor industry. Mary is a keynote speaker and has more than 1,000 articles, research studies, and technology publications in print.