One hallmark of nearly every project team is constant activity. Everyone is engaged and occupied with their tasks. They’re adjusting their workloads to ensure nothing falls behind and they maintain proactive communications across the various cross-functional sub-teams to move the project forward. But while these day-to-day efforts are an important component in success, PMs must be careful that they don’t confuse effort with the real bread and butter of project management: results.
Effort is easy to spot, and should be ongoing throughout the project. Everyone is typically working to complete their tasks and any downtime should be maximized to maintain productivity. When effort begins to go awry, however, it can have far-reaching negative consequences. A team that’s constantly too busy is one sign that efforts have overtaken results. Without enough time allocated to complete their work, team members may become frantic and inefficient. Look for tasks that are postponed numerous times, often resulting in late completion of key activities and impacts on the timeliness of downstream tasks.
Once the work is finished, is it up to the organization’s normal quality standards? A team that’s too busy may cut corners in their quest to stay on track. As productivity drops, it’s not uncommon for the level of quality to fade, too. Poor quality has the potential to lessen the value of the project in the long run, so any indicator that the team isn’t maintaining robust quality levels should be a warning flag.
Falling morale is sometimes an indicator that efforts are prioritized while results are not. When employees are swamped with work but don’t feel they’re making progress, it doesn’t take long for them to figure out that the team’s workload is simply too great (or too poorly managed) for them to make any meaningful headway. Good performers will often be the first to express frustration with the lack of results, so keep a close watch on their attitudes if you suspect the team is in trouble.
Results can be measured in a number of ways and may take different forms depending on the type of project. Reaching important milestones within the project is commonly the first way organizations know they’re on the right track. Has the team achieved everything that’s been expected of them up to this point? Have deadlines been consistently met? There may be legitimate reasons to resequence activities—unexpected supply chain challenges or inclement weather sometimes disrupt the schedule, for example—but key achievements should continue to align with the project plan.
Managing resource consumption is also a good metric to review when it comes to determining if results take precedence over effort. Is the team operating within the funding parameters that were set out for the project? Have expenditures been in line with expectations at each step along the way? Remember that budgets aren’t always about hard dollars. The use of other resources—support from internal departments, temporary staffing, travel, etc.—may also indicate if the team is delivering the project’s stated results or if efforts have morphed into their own monster.
Healthy communication channels are another measure of how well everyone is maintaining a focus on results, rather than effort. When panic mode sets in and effort becomes the team’s sole driver, communication drops off. Discussions among internal team members may become guarded, sometimes accusatory. If information sharing is robust and timely, if questions are answered quickly and concisely, and if feedback is solicited throughout the project, then it’s a good bet results are top of mind for the team and their efforts are in support of that, rather than the other way around.