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Eyes on Target

“Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.”
-Alexander Graham Bell

One of the toughest challenges a project manager has is to make sure the team is continually focused on the right tasks at just the right time. It is not really either one of those tasks that is very difficult. It is striking the precise balance to make both happen in tandem that is often extremely difficult to achieve. In my experience this can be accomplished via three techniques we will call the three C’s:

Cadence, Critical Path & Control.

Step #1 Cadence: The real power of cadence is in the habits it forms. Establishing the pace—, the rhythm of the project—is a key goal when establishing a productive working energy with your team. Set up a consistent meeting schedule, one that makes sense for your team—perhaps once a week or even once a day depending on the required velocity of the project. The goal is to get the team in the cadence of the Deming Cycle, Plan-Do-Check-Act until the task is done.

Step #2 Critical Path: The importance of understanding the critical path is the ability to keep the schedule in context of its priority. All tasks are not created equal, and often the most pressing tasks are not the ones that receive our proper attention. So often we attack the tasks that are low hanging fruit or the ones that fit into the rhythm of the project dynamics. And by default, we frequently leave for last the tasks most critical to overall project success. Even more, team members do not always have the same sense of urgency or situational awareness as the project leader or other key stakeholders who may be higher up the organizational food chain. By leading your team to the critical path, and keeping them on it, you can focus on the right tasks at the right time and establish a cadence to accelerate your project execution velocity.

Step #3 Control: The final step in the process is establishing control— a good grip on the team, the project, and the cadence as you stay focused on the critical path. This is very much akin to being a race car driver and knowing when to press on the gas or when to apply the brakes. If you find that your project is loaded with complexity consider separating out your weekly meetings into two: one for task updates and the other devoted strictly to critical thinking & project issues. When updating tasks, keep your team focused on the amount of time remaining to complete a task. When focusing on critical thinking & issues, keep your team focused on the facts and the scope of what the project is trying to achieve.

Give the three C’s a try on your next project. Set that cadence right out of the gate, find the critical path and grip that steering wheel for establishing good control of your processes. If you do this well you will keep your team in a productive rhythm, you will stay laser focused on the goals and you will ultimately achieve that sweet success which is to deliver just the right tasks at just the right time.

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