Don’t Fear the Follow-Up Project

Follow-up projects arise for any number of reasons. Organizations may need to respond to evolving market pressures, or internal factors—growth or a merger or acquisition, for example—could bring new requirements. For PMP®s, follow-up projects sometimes present challenges not seen in other project scenarios, and executing them can prove to be surprisingly difficult. By understanding the pitfalls and gaining mastery over these common trouble spots, your team’s follow-up projects will be much more successful.

The challenges

One of the biggest difficulties in a follow-up project is the budget. Funding may be particularly contentious for follow-up efforts because the organization’s leadership team and the original project’s sponsors are likely to see this as simply an extension of the earlier activities. They may (erroneously) assume that any excess from the original budget will be enough to cover the costs, or that the follow-up project doesn’t require any formal budget at all.

Hammering out a realistic timeframe can also be a hurdle. If those outside the project office believe the follow-up project isn’t a full-fledged effort, it’s common for them to assume the start date will be almost immediate and the schedule short. Of course, what they often don’t take into account is that every follow-up project is a complete project in its own right. It must be fit into the workflow alongside all the other projects already in the pipeline.

Resource allocations can be a tough sell for a project office that had planned to devote its labor assets to other projects once the original effort was complete. As with funding, obtaining additional approvals for any necessary resources, whether labor or materials, can be difficult if the leadership team considers the follow-up project to be nothing more than an extension of the original project.

The strategies

Many of the issues behind the follow-up project’s budget, timeframe, and resource allocation can be addressed during the initial planning phase and early team discussions. It’s critical that PMP®s be firm in their approach that, even though this follow-up project originated in an earlier effort, this is its own project. It has a discrete set of complexities and all activities must follow the normal process.

Be sure the usual discussions take place to define the scope, create a workable budget, obtain the necessary approvals, and develop a timeline and sequence for all activities. The tendency in some organizations is to simply continue as if the original project had been expanded. This is sure to lead to problems, where expectations aren’t properly set or results properly measured. Instead, set the stage for success by ensuring everyone is on the same page before you begin.

The project team should know that everyone will be held accountable for the correct and timely execution of the activities that fall within their area of responsibility. Driving this kind of engagement is vital in a follow-up project because there’s a very real risk that team members and stakeholders may not prioritize their involvement in what could be seen as something less than a viable, self-contained project.

Status updates and other normal communications should be carried out, even if the follow-up project’s scope is small or its timeline is expected to be relatively short in duration. If weekly project meetings and progress reports would be standard practice for the team, then seek to follow that routine as much as is reasonable.

Apply stringent project controls just as you normally would with any other project. Even when major surprises are unlikely, you never know when a delay in the availability of materials or a weather event could throw the project’s progress into turmoil.

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