As published in Association Magazine
February/March 2013, page 10
It’s the question no employee ever wants to hear from their superior: “Why hasn’t this project been completed yet?”
Bob Seger may have provided the answer in his 1980 hit song, “Against the Wind,” when he simply said: “deadlines and commitments.”
The problem in today’s work environment is that there are simply too many deadlines and commitments for any association to run effectively and efficiently. Small projects quickly turn into bigger ones, with the infamous statement: “I want you to add [insert favour or task] to your project…it’s really easy and won’t impact a thing.” So now, what was supposed to take a month or even a quarter now takes twice as long, without any additional funding or resources. Yet, the train still inches down the track and now management is pushing even harder for additional items to be completed in the same time frame, with the same resource allocations and budget.
It’s a common denominator amongst big business today. Projects are simply taking far too long to complete. And the reasons are few but very simple, and quite visible to anyone who may take the time to stand up from the cubicle and look around.
For any project to have a reasonable chance of success—that is, coming in on time, on budget and, most importantly, on scope—it has to have that magic elixir called “Leadership”.
Leadership comes in two forms: the project leader and, perhaps most importantly, the sponsorship leader. The sponsor is the person at the top of the organization chart who is supposed to support the project manager’s decisions and remove roadblocks to ensure success.
The sponsor must believe in the project, engage and endorse the project manager, and not be the one to throw a monkey wrench into the works. The project manager must be free from the political game. Their job is to do what is right for the association and to bring forth issues that need to be addressed, or escalated to the sponsor for roadblock removal. Unfortunately, this leadership is missing in many of today’s associations.
Leadership makes projects move forward, avoiding the ‘circle syndrome’ of nothing getting done, deadlines being missed, and projects lasting forever.
If not, the following occurs, and you may even recognize these symptoms:
- The lack of consequences for something not getting done. We’ve all seen ‘Bob’ show up at a meeting without having his action item completed from the last project meeting. What happens to Bob? Most likely, nothing.
- The workplace where everything is a priority. Something MUST be a bigger priority here than everything else, yet no one knows what that is. Not prioritizing key initiatives is one of the leading roadblocks in any association.
- Everyone pulled in too many directions. For many employees, their “to do” lists read like the weekly grocery shopping list. Effective leaders should observe employee workloads and make necessary adjustments in order to ease the load.
- Project team meetings should be resolution meetings. Too many of these gabfests are simply update meetings. What actually gets done in an update meeting? Most often the team members update each other on the various status of items associated with the project, with the classic “that should be done in the next two weeks” explanation. Wrong answer. These updates should happen electronically between meetings, so that every team member knows that the upcoming meeting is a resolution and decision-making meeting.
It really isn’t that hard to move from the quicksand to the asphalt for any project team, leader or association. An audit of how your association actually runs and manages work projects can result in smooth sailing in the future, instead of just running against the wind.