Staying on top of projects requires communication and accountability

project management

We found out projects that we thought were done, weren’t. Other projects weren’t done profitably. How do we get control?

THOUGHTS OF THE DAY: Build tools to track your work. Use checks and balances. Hold a weekly project review meeting. Formally hand off every job at the beginning and at the end. Make profitability an accountability with teeth.

Build a standard job summary form. Include job title, customer name and contact, who sold it, date received in-house, date due, amount budgeted, who’s in charge, who else is assigned to work the job and an overall description. Make a binder for each job. Make the job summary the cover page.

Build a standard checklist of job stages by going through the last six months of work. Include initial handoff from sales to operations, assigning tasks, progress reviews/phase completions, roll out to customer, confirm customer satisfaction, invoice and collect payment.

Match the budget to job stages. If both materials and labor are needed on a job, break out the budget for both categories. As the job unfolds ensure everyone understands how much of the budget is used and how much is still available. Include a reserve for things going wrong and a budget for profit.

It’s hard to keep an eye on how things are going overall when you’re in the trenches dealing with details. Separate the tasks. Assign responsibility for keeping track of all jobs. Keep a chart up on the wall, where everyone can see it. Show every job in-house, including those yet to start and those waiting for customer approval.

quality control

Assign someone, not in operations, to report on quality. Have that person report to the top of the organization. Give authority to gather customer feedback and marshal resources when needed to get things fixed.

Make it clear you don’t want problems glossed over. Encourage open and robust discussion about what works and what doesn’t. Failure is inevitable and OK, so long as people learn from their mistakes and fix the problems.

Assign someone to periodically review all jobs and look for themes — jobs completed on time, jobs that had problems, jobs that were in budget and jobs that broke the bank. Search for insights on what work is most and least profitable, which teams are succeeding or struggling.

Include managers and staff in weekly project review meetings. Relay top-line information. Review the scheduling chart.

Hold follow-up meetings to get into details. Avoid the temptation to try to resolve everything at once in the main weekly review. Stick to a timetable. Meetings that go over can waste time and disrupt plans.

Use email to gather updates and identify needs. Have a quick daily update meeting with top managers. Ensure problems get addressed before they get out of hand. Fix issues that can blow the schedule, harm quality or eat into profitability.

Before starting a job, get sales and operations together to discuss what has been sold. Make sure everyone in operations signs off and takes ownership. Once operations takes over, they own the problem. If there are concerns about what was sold, get that out on the table before starting work. Make sales go back to the customer to renegotiate before investing a significant amount of time and effort in the project.

goals

Focus everyone on the same set of goals: a job well done, a happy customer, company profitability. Set measurable goals for every job to drive this home.

Measures of a job well done can include how smoothly the job went, how many things had to be re-done, how close to schedule each phase was. Customer happiness can be rated through a follow-up phone call to the customer: how well did the job meet the customer’s expectations, was it received on time? Involve finance in profitability questions: was the job within budget, how legitimate were excess charges, did the customer accept and pay for up-charges?

Use a 4-point scale to rate each question. Anything less than a 3 should be closely examined for learning opportunities.

Make it clear that top scores matter by including them as part of the review process and bonus calculations. Avoid debate and finger-pointing by assigning ownership: sales, operations or finance. Consider an overall bonus for everyone when things go right all around.

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Try “How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work” by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey.

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