- Guest Blog: How to Improve Project Performance
By Danielle Schwager
You can improve project performance through a combination of managerial skills and technological tools. Keep your team focused on the main goal of the project. Help them prioritize tasks and learn what is and isn’t working to achieve their goal. Communicate with your team every day and contact the client several times a week. Finally, leverage project management software to create consistent project plans and templates, communicate clearly, and automate time-tracking and billing.
For a deep dive into how to improve project performance, here are 12 expert tips.
1. Stay Focused on the Main Goal
Always keep in mind the big picture and purpose of the project. Periodically ask each team member how what he or she is doing is contributing to the main goal of the project. Develop an objective standard for measuring progress toward that goal, so that everyone can also evaluate their own work’s contribution. Train all team members to keep asking themselves if their activities move the group toward the main goal or away from it. This can lead to improved productivity as they cut less valuable activities.
2. Improve Project Planning and Quality
Carefully planning a project before work starts can ensure that you have accounted for every possible factor and resource. This often leads to a higher quality project, since it almost guarantees you won’t leave out details the client requires.
An effective project plan starts with an outline of the questions that always must be asked at the beginning of every project; these questions help you find specific and measurable goals for the project. Next, identify the project team members—possibly pulled from multiple disciplines, such as I.T. and marketing—and their department managers. Make sure all team members know their exact roles in the project. Then, put in place systems that allow team members to report their progress and that allow senior management to see the progress of the whole project.
Quality project management software allows you to start with a project template containing a standard set of tasks and risks. That way, you won’t forget important tasks, and you’ll estimate costs more accurately. Your team will also get used to what’s expected on each type of project.
3. Make Sure Everyone’s Committed to the Project
When someone has personally bought into working on a project, he or she will show more initiative, a sense of ownership, and accountability. They’ll also estimate timelines more accurately. So, seek and encourage commitment and enthusiasm.
At the beginning of a project, you should write up your own private evaluation of each team member, listing their abilities, knowledge, and past experience related to the project. Equally important, include their level of professionalism and how well they can be counted on. Finally, rate their enthusiasm. This inventory will help you lean on the team members who are most likely to buy into the project—which is more in the heart than in the head—and will visibly support it.
4. Stay in Touch with the Group—More Often
Rather than just communicating with your team just when you think you need to, it’s good to engage the entire group more often—even every day. You could use an electronic collaboration tool, such as a private Facebook page for the team or a communication app packaged in project management software.
It’s a good idea to get the team in the habit of hearing from you every morning: you can ask them how their work day is looking, if they have the resources they need, and how well they are focusing. If they learn to expect frequent communication and accountability, they should focus more and be more productive.
5. Distribute an Agenda Well Before Each Meeting
Sending an agenda before each important meeting helps both you and your team to be more productive during the meeting. It allows team members to prepare comments that everyone may need to hear, get their minds ready for a specific topic, and look up helpful information in advance. Plus, if your meetings gain a reputation for being productive, team members will attend more often, be more focused, and help finish meetings more quickly.
6. Communicate with The Customer Three Times a Week
Your project client needs almost as much engagement as your project team does. If a project is inherently slow or very small, communicating with a client once a week may be enough. But it’s vital to dialogue with customers more often when projects are bigger, under more scrutiny, or having frequent difficulties. In those circumstances, set up a schedule of three to four contacts per week and get the client used to those meetings being relevant and productive.
7. Help Prioritize Team Members’ Tasks
You should be the one to prioritize team members’ tasks. It’s essential to your team members’ productivity that you find out where they have any confusion about their tasks. And be committed to helping every team member resolve their confusion.
Since you’ve been in meetings with customers, sponsors, and other stakeholders, you know how each employee’s tasks fit into the whole, but they don’t. You’ll help them have more energy and focus if you sit down with each team member for a few minutes with a chart of the whole project. Show how their tasks fit into the plan. Their productivity will also improve or suffer based on how overwhelmed they feel, so find out if their time estimates of tasks match your estimates, and clear up any discrepancies.
8. Use Intuitive Time and Expense Technology
Provide an intuitive system to your team for recording project time: custom views for different roles, the ability to enter time for standard tasks with a click, time recorded in the best format for your circumstances, and so on. This will help you see the current time usage as accurately as possible. One solution, Kimble PSA, auto-populates timesheets from project schedules, vastly reducing the chance of consultants recording time to the wrong project.
If you don’t have software that is specifically designed for these tasks, consider trying demos of several popular software suites. Find one that provides the key functions you need and is intuitive to use, and implement it. That way, your team members won’t have any good excuse not to use it—and you’ll get much more current and actionable data on the progress of the project.
9. Communicate with Senior Management When Not Required To
Send senior management weekly status reports on major projects. A project management office (PMO) may be reporting to them to some extent, but you can keep them better informed yourself—and let them see you in action.
10. Report Project Status Professionally
Each of your different clients is likely to give you progress updates in different formats. But this hodgepodge of spreadsheets will just confuse senior management when you present to them. So, implement your PSA software with all your clients, so you can produce status reports in a consistent format. This allows senior managers to make apples-to-apples comparisons between different projects and make decisions about how to use company resources on each one.
11. Discuss Lessons Learned in the Middle of a Project
Instead of waiting until the end, lead two or three short lessons learned discussions during each project. Find out what’s working and what’s not, and help team members change course when needed. Productivity can seriously suffer through wasted time without this, if some team members are taking the wrong path on their tasks, which could be corrected in these meetings.
Despite your best efforts, some team members may be working more slowly because of confusion and not know how to express it, and these meetings can resolve that confusion. In addition, these corrections improve ongoing project quality, which improves customer satisfaction as you’re giving clients status updates.
12. Automate Billing
It’s easy to procrastinate on billing when deadlines get close. But timely and accurate billing makes projects more profitable. If you can build billing alerts into the project during the planning phase, you’ll errors later when things get busy. The best way to do this is to select and use PSA software to automate invoicing, which can even allow you to bill on multiple lines of contracts and other fine details.Because of improvements in technology, many of the ways you can improve your project performance and productivity involve software. Smart use of technology sets top project managers apart from the rest. If you need professional software that’ll improve your project performance—or you just want to test drive a new suite—you can request a free demo of Kimble. It can automate project templates, billing, communication, reporting, and much more.