Having Trouble with a Project? Beat the Drum!

Agility Consulting |

By Ben Baran, Ph.D., Agility Analytics Practice Leader 

snareConsider one of your current projects. Is it on track? Is it progressing at the right pace? Chances are that it’s probably not. And the odds are even greater that it’s not progressing faster than expected.

The research and practice on managing projects is fairly clear: To get results, people need to be held accountable for doing their part, on a regular basis. This is what I think of as the “drumbeat” of organizational change and project management.

What might that look like?

As I mentioned last month, I’ve had a front-row seat to the birth of a startup during the past four months. During that time, I’ve been encouraging the team of three co-founders to set in motion a series of routines that help them drive effectiveness and efficiency.

Every week, I’ve had them rate their team on the 15 capabilities of The Agile Model®. I’ve also had them answer a series of open-ended questions about what they think is going well and how they could improve. They then use their responses—which have all been submitted independently, so they aren’t biased by each other’s responses—to fuel productive meetings about their direction and progress. I originally only asked to participate in this way during the first four months of their existence, but they’ve liked this process so much that they’ve asked to continue.

Because this happens every single week, it’s a consistent drumbeat. It holds them accountable. It’s a beacon of stability in their otherwise volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world.

How is this agile? This rhythm is their agile heartbeat because it forces them to discuss explicitly what’s going well and what’s not. It provides a framework for them to organize how they’re sensing and responding to the VUCA they face.

Agility isn’t about “winging it” or just going whichever way the wind blows. So if you want to get a project back on track, try “beating the drum.” Specifically, try to:

  1. Hold structured meetings in a systematic, organized way. Ask Mike Richardson, our Team Agility Practice Leader, about his scrum template, for example.
  2. Involve everyone in the meeting to establish accountability. Most people don’t like to look unprepared publicly, so when they know they’re going to need to report on their progress on a specific activity at a certain time, they tend to get moving.
  3. Turn up—or down—the heat on a project by adjusting the frequency of your review meetings. To encourage more rapid progress, less time between reviews generally helps.
  4. Incorporate feedback from everyone involved both about the project and about the structure of your meetings. Weave agility into the fabric of how you meet, communicate and behave.

We’re all creatures of habit. But we can use that to our advantage by building agile habits and even agile routines. And sometimes we can get quick results by simply paying more attention to the way we’re talking about our projects—and how often those conversations occur.

Beat the drum!

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