Continuous project improvement is a target for many organizations, but sustaining the focus over the long term can be difficult. Project teams may experience burnout after a period of time. People could become frustrated if improvements don’t happen as quickly as they hoped or if it seems their contributions aren’t being recognized. In some cases, PMs might find it tough to maintain forward momentum if daily tasks are the priority and project improvement activities must compete for any leftover time and attention.
If your team is facing challenges in improving project performance and streamlining activities, consider a few simple strategies. They aren’t time consuming or expensive, but they can be useful in reducing burnout, ensuring that everyone is on the same page, and keeping stakeholders working toward the same goals.
Keep a positive tone. Any group struggling to correct past performance problems runs the risk of encountering morale issues along the way. To keep everyone looking ahead, it’s critical that PMs and other senior leaders remain upbeat throughout the improvement process. Whether you’re working one-on-one with staff members or holding all-team meetings, be sure you portray an air of confidence and be steadfast in your belief that the group will be successful in sorting through the challenges. This helps others on the team keep their focus on achieving good results across a longer time horizon, rather than feeling defeated by today’s problems.
Maintain realistic expectations. Because most project professionals are self-driven high achievers, PMs should be mindful to ensure that performance improvement efforts don’t add unnecessarily to the team’s stress levels. No good will come from setting goals that are unreachable, or that cause people to fall behind in their day-to-day duties. Instead, acknowledge the group’s skill levels and workload constraints when setting expectations, and consider working with an experienced project consultant to help develop a realistic plan for improvement.
Celebrate successes. Team members can sometimes get lost in their task lists, zeroing in on what needs to be done to improve their performance and not taking the time to enjoy their accomplishments. In the midst of all the hard work, it’s important that PMs recognize and reward achievements as they happen. Project leaders should offer praise and kudos along the way, even if it’s as simple as a few minutes at the start of the weekly team meetings or through a group e-mail. You’ll make big strides toward maintaining the team’s enthusiasm and helping everyone see that their work really is paying off.
Make it a true team effort. Few things make people throw their hands up in frustration faster than the perception that they’re doing more work than their colleagues, or that they alone bear the burden of fixing past performance issues. The balancing act can be difficult for PMs, as project tasks often shift throughout the lifecycle, with some groups being busier during certain times than others. If your team members feel project improvement responsibilities haven’t been distributed fairly, consider boosting your communication efforts to clear up any misunderstandings. Outline the various goals during the next group meeting and discuss each person’s role in the big picture. Communication works best when it’s a long-term priority, so make a point to have team discussions whenever possible. Solicit the group’s opinion about which metrics are most in need of improvement. Are their attempts to implement changes getting pushback from other stakeholders—vendors or internal support departments, for example? When everyone is involved in the improvement process from start to finish, each person on the team will be much more committed to seeing the efforts through to a successful completion.