Savvy project managers are always looking for ways to improve their project results and performance and make their processes more efficient. One strategy that’s simple and effective—but is sometimes overlooked in favor of flashier approaches—is to listen to the team. The people working on project activities, whether it’s planning and executing tasks or handling support duties such as invoice processing and material procurement, often have the best perspectives on where challenges exist and what type of changes could be most effective in addressing those problems.
However, unless your team is made up of very bold and forthright individuals, there’s a good chance some of them won’t bring their concerns and suggestions to you on their own. They may see there are issues but not realize they’re widespread, or it’s possible they just aren’t comfortable speaking up without knowing that someone is open to hearing what they have to say.
If you want to be sure you’re getting as much useful input as possible, consider a few ways to increase your team’s participation. Their assessments of potential trouble spots and their ideas about improving planning and execution of future initiatives could be just what you need to boost your organization’s project results and overall performance.
Get task duration estimates directly from the people doing the work. In the early planning stages, PMs should be mindful to involve the right people in the process. When putting together task duration estimates, you need to talk with the individuals who will be responsible for completing each activity. You don’t want to base your plan on guesses, so get the group together and discuss how long each segment of the task list is likely to take. The resulting master schedule will be much more realistic and reliable.
Gather and process input from stakeholders in the field. In order to maintain an accurate, dynamic project schedule, information from those working on the front line—employees, contract workers, vendors, and consultants—is key. Ask them how the effort is progressing and if they’ve encountered any difficulties or unexpected issues. The schedule should then be updated with the new information so that tasks can be resequenced if necessary to maintain alignment with the target completion date.
Harvesting information from your project team doesn’t need to a cumbersome process. The right methodology and healthy communication channels will help make data sharing more consistent and complete, without adding additional work for the group.
Establish an easy way for everyone to give you data. You can’t count on full updates at every in-person meeting, so it’s important that team members can quickly send you the latest information when it’s available. For internal staff, this may translate into a document management system or other centralized platform. But if your organization doesn’t have technology dedicated to this function, you can still easily create an e-mail box where everyone can forward new data, questions, concerns, deviation alerts, and anything else the team needs to know. Assign a coordinator or two to process new messages, and either add the information to the latest status update or—if something requires additional action—send it to the right person.
Set up a regular schedule for team members to provide their status reports.If everyone knows when they’re supposed to forward progress information, they’re less likely to forget and you won’t need to track them down individually. Select a timeframe that makes sense given your resources and the complexity of your project. Some teams function well with updates spaced a couple of weeks apart, others may do better with reports that are more frequent, either weekly or even daily if appropriate. Either method can greatly impact your project results.