Beware of Premature Project Celebrations

We’re always encouraged by project managers to celebrate the successful completion of projects, as it gives us a chance to reflect on the great work that was done and relax just a bit. What happens if the party starts too soon?

The training went great! It had been a long haul, but we had finally finished a release of long-anticipated, brand new software, and had successfully trained the first set of users. A full day had been set aside, and a top-notch training room with stadium seating, wireless connectivity, and audio that boomed from the ceiling had been procured. Each participant had their own machine and was able to follow the trainer’s every step through the application with total ease.

The trainer walked away from the session invigorated and positive about the experience. So much so that he congratulated the project team over email, setting off a ripple effect of virtual high-fives:

“Hey, great job everyone.”

“I knew we could do it,” the QA Manager quickly replied to all.

“Way to go team!” the technical lead chimed in.

“Great news everyone,” piled on the IT Manager.

Four or five more people chipped in their praise for the team’s awesome accomplishment, and it probably would have continued until I joined the conversation.

Now, I’m not a grump. I don’t like being the wet blanket and bringing everyone down. But, this celebration had to stop. It was premature…after all, it was only just a training. I’m not discounting the fact that the training went great. It did. But, it was only training. The software had yet to go commercial. It hadn’t yet been released into the wild where thousands of users would be hammering it multiple times per day in uncontrolled environments much less pristine than a state-of-the-art training room!

As the project manager of this release, my email went something like this: “Yes, nice job on the training everyone. Things went very smoothly. However, we still have ways to go before we can count this project a success. We will be rolling out to a smaller test group next week, to let them dig in and see if they can break things. After we fix those issues, we’ll continue to release to incrementally larger groups until the software is deployed throughout the country.”

I have no doubt my email caused some to roll their eyes. It may have been my imagination, but I might have even heard people mutter, “jerk” (and worse) under their breath when my email began floating around. That’s fine. It’s my job as project manager to keep everyone focused on the end game, and not allow a premature celebration to distract them.

Beware of Premature Project Celebrations

Beware of Premature Project Celebrations

When You Know a Celebration is Premature

You may wonder why I’m so against a party or a group high-five. I mean, cmon, a little celebration never hurt anyone, has it? It doesn’t if the software is 100% complete and operating as planned in the hands of end users. In this case, it wasn’t. If the training was the last of many, it might have been a milestone worth celebrating. It wasn’t exactly real world as of yet, because:

  • It was a Controlled and Moderated Environment  We’ve probably all sat through these types of training before, where connectivity is high-speed and seamless, equipment is top grade, and software is meticulously loaded with all of its supporting components. This is a great way to set anyone up for a successful experience with software (and is how it should be tested), but it doesn’t reflect what happens in the real world.
  • There was No Pressure  In the absence of an actual deadline that a customer would have using the application in the real world, there wasn’t any pressure.  Participants in a training session don’t work with real-time data or orders that needed to be placed before a certain time. Truth be known, I sat through this training and saw certain operations that didn’t quite work the way they were expected, but were quickly glossed over. Things like a record not saving the first time the Save button was clicked. Or, the application taking a long time to respond. One time it even locked up! But, it was okay because it was just training. Sure, the training as a whole was successful, but users in the real world would quickly become impatient if that happened.
  • There Was Still a Long Way to Go – Training the first set of users is just the beginning of a much longer journey. There are many more hoops to jump through and even mistakes to be made before a software deployment can truly be considered a success.
  • It Sent the Wrong Message – The message premature celebrations sends is the biggest reason why I hate them. Read between the lines just a bit and what everyone is saying is, “Hey, nice job everybody. Our work is done here. Let’s start disengaging from this project ASAP so we can go find something new, fresh, and exciting to work on!” After a celebration, people do actually begin to close the book on the project in their minds. If you don’t jump aside, you may even get trampled in the mad rush to the door that leads out of the project! It’s not that things go badly. It’s just that everyone has been working on it for some time and is ready for a change. Your challenge is to keep them engaged until it is 100% complete.

Why Be Careful of Premature Celebrations

The biggest reason to be wary of premature celebrations on your projects really has to do with the fact that they are contrary to maintaining a high level of engagement.  Think about the work that is yet to be done once the first set of users has been trained:

  • Support – A dedicated team of people need to be in a position to support the fledgling project. In the early days of a software release, all hands need to be on deck. There may be procedural questions or clarifications needed on how to use particular features. The support team should be 100% engaged and clearly educated in order to be able to provide support.
  • Bug Fixes – Bugs and issues will surface. Rather than put those in a long queue to be worked on at some point in the future, they need to be resolved immediately. You get one shot at a good first impression. Being unresponsive to issues can immediately blow that first impression.
  • Adoption  Your goal at this point in the software project is to get as many people on board with the new software as possible. This requires the effort of everyone behind the endeavor. A single training with ten people does not constitute adoption when there are thousands waiting in the wings. You need to make sure every process, procedure, training, and technology scale to support such adoption. Successful adoption requires the effort and support of the whole team.

Should you celebrate as a team once the project is done, or a major milestone has been achieved? Absolutely! But, it’s up to you as a project manager to set the expectations of what “done” means, or your team will set their own milestones and disengage accordingly. Acknowledge successes along the way (like a great training session), but save the big celebration for the end of the project. This will send the right message, keep everyone focused on the end game, and be that much more meaningful when everyone comes together for the real high-fives!

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