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Follow-Through – It’s not just for Sports

It is Sunday afternoon, and everything that you wanted to accomplish over the weekend has been checked off your list.

Now it is time to relax. You sit down on your sofa in front of the television and grab the remote. As you click through the channels you pause briefly on the final round of a golf championship. The last golfer up can win the game if he sinks the ball in no more than two strokes. You watch as he approaches the ball, swings, and makes a hole in one. You continue clicking through channels and decide to watch the final home game of your favorite baseball team’s five-game series. Your team needs one run to tie, two to win. Bottom of the ninth, bases are loaded. The pitch, the swing, the ball flies out of the park. Walk-off grand slam.

You think about the two wins you just witnessed, and you know that both the golfer and the batter had something in common — follow-through. A contributor to their success, it was the continuation of their swings – the fluid movement of their arms and body after contact with the ball – that helped them hit their marks. Of course, there are things both internal and external that will either help or interfere with a player’s game, but perfect follow-through is critical to ultimately achieving success. It is important in sports, and it is just as important in project management.

Project managers need to practice their craft the same as those who play sports. To channel and paraphrase Vince Lombardi, it is not enough to simply practice your follow-through to make it perfect – you have to practice follow-through perfectly. If you take the time to continually learn, polish, and practice your PM skills; if you ask for, receive, and act upon honest feedback from your stakeholders and team members; if you are mindful of your actions and the requirements of your project; and if you have the opportunity to manage or co-manage a steady stream of projects, you will find that follow-through skills become second nature.

A seasoned PM earns faith and trust from stakeholders that the project will be managed to the best of his or her abilities and that all requirements will be met on time and on budget. Visualize the circular ripples that move outward from a dropped stone’s contact with calm water. PMs can be perceived similarly as people who have a widening circle of influence as they lead and impact the project.

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So how does one perfectly practice follow-through? I believe key elements include (and are not limited to) organizational skills, timeliness, and communication.

Schedules and reminders are excellent ways to make sure you are following up and following through on outstanding tasks. Because everyone has a different way of staying organized, a project manager has to figure out what works best for him or her (sorry, there is no one magic method). Is Outlook your friend?

Then use it. Do you fare better when writing things down in a spiral notebook? Then use a pen and a notebook. Or do you rely on a specific project management application? No matter which tool or resource you depend on to help keep you organized, take advantage of it. And do not be afraid to try something else.

Do not lock yourself into a particular resource unless you are one hundred percent sold on it. You might find that a tool works well for one project but you need something else for a different project. Just as project management can be iterative, so is developing your project management tool kit.

Follow-through does not necessarily need to be immediate, but it does need to be timely. If after a meeting there are deliverables assigned and tasks that need follow-up, make sure you set a reminder to touch base with the team to insure they are on track to meet the required dates. Determine during the meeting when the next gathering should be held, and make sure the minutes/notes are sent out within a day or two after the meeting. Always keep in mind that your team and the stakeholders are busy people who will move on to the next task, production issue, project assignment, et cetera immediately after they leave the meeting. Your team needs gentle reminders from you to help keep your project on schedule.

Communication is a core component of follow-through. Whether it is a quick phone call, a one-on-one chat as you pass each other in the hall, or a scheduled fifteen-minute meeting, check in with your team and ask how things are progressing. Always offer to help or get assistance if they are running into issues meeting the agreed-upon deadline. And when the project has been closed and the lessons learned meeting concluded, please be sure to document the team’s and stakeholders’ input, and follow through on any resulting asks from them. It is worth its weight in gold to address their concerns and comments as soon as possible.

Approach your project as you would approach the batter’s box. Once the project is in motion (visualize the baseball in play), approach it with all of your hard-earned skills (the mastery of the swing of the bat), and follow through until the goal is attained (the home run).

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