As your projects get down to deadline there are three things that can cause major problems as you get down to the wire. If a team has problems delivering at some point, they can probably trace back some of the issues that they had in achieving their goal to these things.
- General time wasters – By this I mean all the conversations at the front end and back end of solutioning activities. It’s the hallway talk that’s more interesting than staying focused on the task that you’re trying to grind your way through. I think there’s a tendency in crunch time to reward small victories with the type of social interaction that most healthy working environments have on a day to day basis. It’s the 10 minutes here, 10 minutes there, snippets of conversation. Certainly you can’t pull all of the social out of the sprint to the finish because then it just becomes a miserable death march but I think you do need to be careful about trailing into things that are counterproductive that are ultimately going to set the whole team back. It’s really easy to do because oftentimes when you’re working in those sprints within a project team you’re required to have more interaction. This is because you’re having to solve more problems faster so you get this sort of cumulative effect.
- You need to be more focused on how you pursue your communications – This one is directly related to the first in the sense that you need to schedule your communications explicitly and better. One of the things that falls apart as you charge towards the finish line is that the framework for project execution that may have been sustaining progress for weeks and months prior to the deadline can sometimes start to fall apart. As people take on individual challenges that need to be run to ground in order to get them finished in time, they can become so wrapped up in them that they become hard to access by other members of the team. All the sudden you’re creating choke points because you aren’t enabling the types of solutioning activities that need to occur person to person. So as each person tries to complete their piece they’re effectively holding up everyone else’s progress on their pieces by virtue of not participating in answering a question that somebody has or whatever other type of interaction that is required to get it to the finish line. So I think making sure that productive team wide communication is kept up is crucial.
- Perfect is the enemy of the good – This is all too common with teams of high performers and the types of cultures that are often found in high performing environments. You end up with a collection of people, each of whom is focused on delivering their piece to the absolute best of their ability, and sometimes what the team would really benefit from is if that person would sacrifice their personal standards just a little bit to deliver something that’s good enough to achieve the requirement that the team has. This is something that you see all the time. Someone will obsess over a detail, specification, piece of a writing, or presentation in a way that is completely out of line with the value that that piece has to the final product. This is an absolute project killer because you need to, particularly as you’re trying to function against a deadline, have a common understanding of what good enough looks like. This gets back to what things needed to be identified at the beginning of the project but are really important in crunch time. You need to be able to identify: What are we focused on achieving here and how does what I’m dong play into the big picture?
So those are the big three things that I think get project teams in crunch time. Two of them are very clearly social communications sort of things and I think the third one is related to that as well. There’s oftentimes a sort of self-imposed social pressure to deliver these exceptional work products when maybe what the team needs is just to get an acceptable work product across the table. I’m curious what other people think and love to hear more.