If you’ve ever run into problems in a project, you probably noticed it wasn’t just a single issue that needed to be resolved. Trouble has a way of snowballing, starting out small before it grows into something big enough to bring progress to a halt. It’s also possible for problems to jump across the project spectrum, even seeping into other efforts in the organization’s portfolio. Project management consulting firms are often called in when these challenges grow so vast that the project team can no longer control them and the initiative is on the brink of failure.
Because project teams are typically very busy, the most common approach to solving any type of problem is to address the immediate concern and move on. But though things may appear resolved in the near term, there could be downstream impacts that haven’t yet bubbled to the surface. Each of these will require additional time to fix if left to fester.
The delay of a single task can push an entire sequence of activities back. A budget overrun on one line item may require pulling money from another area of the project, potentially leading to a drop in quality wherever the shortfall eventually lands. Too few workers assigned to critical-path tasks could cause secondary paths to also founder.
To avoid poor project outcomes, PMs need to look beyond the challenges in front of them to see where deeper issues may also need to be addressed. By starting with a couple of key tips, you will soon be on the road to stopping the project ripple effect.
Begin with a good look at your communication strategy. Gaps in the communication chain make it easy for problems to grow. In most cases, someone knew things were going wrong early in the process but they didn’t send that information to the person who could fix it, or to others who might also encounter impacts from the issue. Ask yourself a few questions:
- Does a culture of communication exist within your project team?
- Are people comfortable sharing information and have you given them a way to do it efficiently?
- Are group meetings held regularly and are team members encouraged to ask questions or voice concerns during them?
Simply put, the project team must have an easy way to share data. PMs need to emphasize the importance of communication and they should work to build and nurture healthy information flows. Where silos or other barriers exist, the assistance of an external consultancy can often be useful in developing alternate communication techniques to encourage data sharing across these boundaries.
Now consider the effectiveness of your project controls. Stopping the chain reaction of trouble requires early intervention. The first benefit of a strong project control process is that it affords PMs the ability to address a brewing situation before it becomes a time-sensitive emergency. In addition, developing a resolution earlier means there’s less chance the problem will have an opportunity to propagate throughout the project.
If you’ve had project controls in place for a long time, they may need some tweaks to keep pace with the size, scope, and complexity of the projects your team executes. You may discover your project control process isn’t applied consistently, or that team members misinterpret the information your control process generates. Problems that come to light only after they’ve started to cause trickle-down issues are a warning flag that it’s time to reassess how well your process is actually working. An outside project management team can help to evaluate your control process and provide guidance on implementing more effective tools and techniques.