Ah, the smell of a brand new project. It’s all shiny and gleaming in the sun. The team is ready to go. Your reporting software has been updated and you’ve memorized the lessons learned from the last project and can’t wait to try them out on the new project. The air is crackling with the buzz about how this one is going to be the ‘game-changer’ everyone has been talking about. This is the project that will take the company to new heights, open the door to unfathomable opportunity, and go down in history. Life is good.
Your morning’s start early, your days are long and your nights are late. You don’t even care that it takes extra time to update the project reporting software with the events of the day. You can’t wait to come in every day and move this game-changer forward. Team members are energized and delivering early. It’s standing room only at the weekly project status report meetings and you’re the recipient of high-five after high-five when you walk down the hallway.
But then you start to notice some subtle changes to the project. The crackling buzz that surrounded the project has dissipated and been replaced by some sparks of static electricity here and there. The term “game-changer” hasn’t been applied to your project for some time. Rather, it’s been relegated to “same ol’ game”. There are plenty of seats to be found at the weekly project status meeting…which is now held once a month. You come in late, take long lunches, and head home early. The last high-five you received was when you made the 20 foot shot from your desk into the wastebasket.
Your project succumbed to ‘the next best thing’. You know about the next best thing, right? It’s what your project used to be just six months ago when it started up. It’s the project that will take the company to new heights, open the door to unfathomable opportunity, and go down in history. Unfortunately, that opportunity has now shifted to Joe, the project manager across the hall who is busy updating his project report with the latest activity. You didn’t even it see it coming.
The following are three tell-tale signs that your project may be in trouble and soon to be another victim of ‘the next best thing’.
#1. Deteriorating Buzz
When this project first started up it was all the rage. There were long meetings talking about how important this project was to complete. There were differing opinions, arguments, and heated debates about the best way to go and implement the project. Team members were playing Monday morning quarterback over drinks in the evening and pontificating on the meetings that occurred during the day. It was a roller-coaster ride as back to back meetings kept everyone breathless running from one meeting to the next. Executives were involved and asking questions. Arbitrary, drop-dead dates were put on the table and the teams were challenged to be creative and industrious to meet these goals. The CEO scheduled a daily debrief to make sure he was up-to-speed on what was happening and that there were no roadblocks on the way to the project moving forward.One-by-one, all of this activity began to evaporate like the dew on the grass in the morning of a hot summer day.Keep your eyes open for these types of shifts on your projects. Sometimes, it’s not as much about what is being said about your project as it is what is NOT being said. If people are no longer asking questions, throwing out deadlines for you to refute, or presenting risks and challenges…than your project may be on the road of being another casualty of ‘the next best thing’. It’s hard to capture what’s NOT there with any project reporting software, so you need to rely on your experience and gut feelings as a project manager.
#2. Meeting Attendance Dries Up
There used to be a dozen people in the small conference room. There weren’t enough copies of handouts to give to everyone and they would have to share. Meetings were scheduled for an hour but they would run two hours and resulted in enough action items and next steps to fill the most robust project report. Then the makeup and nature of the meetings began to change as well. The first to go were the executives. They were busy working on ‘the next best thing’. Then, the functional managers disappeared leaving you with a couple of low-level resources that enjoyed coming to your meetings because they liked your jokes. There’s no longer a need for handouts as the meetings have gone from a couple of hours long to about five minutes where the question “does anybody need anything?” is met with a resounding “no, we’re good”. Meeting adjourned. When you see the above begin to occur, you can know that your project is assuredly in trouble.
#3. You’re Not a Rock Star Anymore
You used to be the central repository of everything good and vibrant related to your project. Managers came to you with questions – and you had answers. Resources came to you with risks – and you had mitigations. Stakeholders came to you with unreasonable demands – and you had pushback…along with facts to back it up project reporting software. Your reputation preceded you no matter which meeting you attended and people loved being plugged into your energy. It was a great show.But now, your calendar is wide open…a lot. Your emails have dropped from 150 per day to a dozen or so. Nobody asks you any questions and you haven’t had the opportunity to push back in a LONG time. The spotlight is now on Joe, the project manager across the hall.In today’s economy and work environment, everybody is a hired gun. You’ll get all the attention, direction, accolades and attaboys you want as long as you are providing value. When you are no longer providing value, you run the risk of your rock show being canceled. Always be mindful of when the value in your organization shifts to another project or to ‘the next best thing.’
What can you do when you see the buzz deteriorating about your project, meeting attendance drying up and your celebrity status shifting over to a has-been? First, get a reality check from the most senior person who knows the answer in your company on whether the project you are still working on is viable and important to your organization. If it is still important, talk to them about what you have noticed related to support and ask when they feel it will be reinvigorated. They may not even be aware of that happening and this one conversation will be all that is required to jumpstart things again. If it is going away, ask for permission to close the project out so you can apply your project management skills to ‘the next best thing!’