When project team members fail to complete tasks on time, it’s tempting to believe it is because they don’t want to. Somehow, however hard we try, we can’t help thinking that they don’t care about the project as much as we do.
This is very unlikely to be true. If you have started the project off correctly, built a shared vision of the future and discussed the project’s objectives, then the project team probably cares as much as you do about making it a success. It’s really important for team harmony (and for your own sanity) to consider some other reasons why project team members don’t deliver what they promised.
Below we discuss five reasons why deadlines may be missed – and the great news is that you can work with your project team members to do something about all of them, which improves the likelihood that future milestones will be completed on time.
1. Poor time management skills
Some people just aren’t very good at being organized. Project managers often fail to realize this, partly because we are so organized. When you thrive on lists, Gantt charts and spreadsheets it is difficult to remember that other people don’t think like that.
Tasks are often delivered late because the person responsible didn’t have the time management skills required to get the job done on time. They got side-tracked, or worked on something more fun, or prioritized work from another manager, or simply didn’t realize that time was passing and that they needed to get a move on.
Solution: If you identify someone in your project team with poor time management skills, work with them to come up with strategies to help them stay organized. Time management training may help, but experience shows that going on a course doesn’t help people adopt long-term strategies for doing things differently. Sometimes you just have to accept that a person works how they work. Monitor the task closely and ask for regular updates.
2. Poor estimating skills
Someone with poor estimating skills is not going to be able to adequately plan the time required to do the work you have requested. Equally, someone who is too enthusiastic (if there is such a thing) will also struggle, if they have jumped at the opportunity to get started without fully evaluating the work and preparing a considered estimate.
Estimating isn’t always a formal process. You may ask a team member to do a task and they may agree without really knowing what they have signed up to. That’s on-the-fly estimating: saying yes to something without understanding the scope of the task.
Solution: Don’t put team members on the spot when asking for estimates. Give them time to reflect and consider their response. Ask them to check their estimates with someone more experienced. Try different ways of estimating as a group. Look back at the data in your enterprise project management tool to use past performance to validate the estimates. Then build those final figures into your plan.
3. Low subject matter expertise
A team member who has subject matter expertise can complete a task in a much shorter time than someone who has just started working in that field. For example, an experienced payroll clerk could test a process in advance of new payroll software being implemented much faster than someone who has only recently started in the department. Novices don’t always know what they don’t know, so if someone tells them a task will take two days, they will probably believe them. However, they may need four days to properly get the job done.
Solution: Pair up a less experienced member of the team with someone who has a lot of domain expertise. Build extra time into the estimates if the work is being done by a novice.
4. Failure to see the big picture
What is important to you is not always important to others. If the links between a task and the overall project schedule are not clear, you could find team members delivering tasks late because they didn’t know how important they were. This happens because the big picture isn’t clear, and individuals cannot see how their tasks fit into the whole.
Solution: Make sure that everyone understands the importance of their tasks. It is also worth explaining to people about the critical path so that everyone pulls together to ensure critical tasks are completed to schedule.
5. No organizational network
Subject matter expertise also applies to knowledge about the company. A member of your project team who has been at the organization for ten years will know who to ask, even if they can’t complete the task themselves without help. Experienced staff have a network of contacts and they know how to use company processes to get things done.
Solution: You can’t always choose people who have been in the company a long time, and sometimes you would deliberately want to include new members of staff on the team. Build your own network of contacts so that if someone is struggling, you can help them navigate through the organization. If you are new yourself, tap into your manager’s network, or that of a colleague.
This article was inspired by Ben Snyder’s book, Everything’s a Project: 70 Lessons from Successful Project-Driven Organizations.
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