Skip to main content

Why Your Project Needs Momentum

Does your project have momentum? That sense of movement – and confidence – that you will deliver the project on time? If so, congratulations! Momentum is important in sustaining motivation in projects and other fields.

It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop. — Confucius

Momentum Matters In Political Campaigns.

In American presidential elections, momentum has played an important factor. According to Winning Campaigns, new ideas are a key ingredient in fostering momentum. In the early 1990s, Newt Gingrich pioneered two new ideas: a nationally unified campaign for Congress and the “Contract with America.” Both of these concepts were new to the world of Congressional politics. Whether you agree or disagree with the Gingrich’s objectives, his campaign’s creative approach created a sense of momentum quite distinct from his opponents.

Lesson: New ideas can give your project team a renewed sense of energy.

Lack of Momentum Slows Productivity in IT Projects

The early days and weeks of your project set the tone for the rest of the project. Slow starts on projects have many explanations: poor leadership, anxiety about embarking on a difficult project or project ambiguity. If a project suffers from a combination of all of those factors, the likelihood of project failure increases substantially.

In seeking to understand and improve project momentum, you don’t just have to take my word for it. R. Ryan Nelson and Karen J. Jansen, researchers at the University of Virginia, researched 51 IT projects to look at the effects of momentum. I will be sharing some of the key insights from their article, “Mapping and Managing Momentum in IT Projects,” with you.

In an analysis of a $2.5 million IT project at the College Board, low momentum was “…attributed to team formation issues and spending too much time in the “fuzzy front-end” waiting for approval.” This poor sense of momentum can be addressed and improved – see the suggestions at the end of this article.

Lesson: Slow and uncertain project beginnings hurt morale on IT projects. Use the ideas from the “7 ways to add momentum to your project” section to ensure your project starts well.

7 Ways to Add Momentum to Your Project

1. Add “easy wins” early in the project.

Assign easy tasks to your project team members in the early stages of the project. This will give your project team positive feelings about the project – vital goodwill that you may need to call on later as the project becomes more demanding.

2. Launch The Project With A Bang!

Have you ever watched how major Hollywood movies are marketed prior to release? There are trailers, interviews with the actors, and reviews. These efforts are designed to maximize box office earnings in the first week (or weekend). Hollywood understands the importance of momentum.

Sending out an email is not enough to give a project momentum. According to the University of Virginia study, you can start a project with strong momentum in several ways: “kickoff meetings, announcements, endorsements by executive sponsors, and social interactions.”

3. Improve your habits for daily momentum.

As the project manager, your personal leadership and habits set the tone for the project. For more consistent results, I suggest developing new habits that you practice every day to improve your results.

I recommend designing the first hour of your day with care. You can start the day by taking care of yourself (e.g. get exercise or read a book that you enjoy) or working on business goals. If you choose to work on business for the first hour of day, choose an important task (i.e. do NOT catch up on email when you start the day).

4. Plan to improve project social cohesion.

Despite the abstract models used in some project management software, project team members are not robots. Our feelings and relationships influence our performance. As you design the project’s launch, look for opportunities to build social cohesion – for example, organize an off-site lunch so that everyone can get better acquainted.

If your project brings together people who have never worked together, giving attention to social cohesion is even more important.

Tip: Your project team can also bond over shared training experiences. Take a course or read a book.

5. All deadlines matter.

Delivering work to deadline is a fundamental project discipline. Yet, how often do we see that discipline violated? Not surprisingly, the University of Virginia study found that missed deadlines tend to undermine momentum. Reiterate the important of deadlines on each and every project you lead.

6. Set a positive tone for your project.

Leadership includes setting the tone and expectations of your project. This involves resisting the urge to join in complaints and gossip from others – there’s no need to add fuel to that fire. Instead, you can set a positive tone by smiling more (simple, effective and free) and offering solutions rather than getting fixated on problems.

7. Be ready to rescue a project that starts to lose momentum.

Few people enjoy planning for the worst. Nonetheless, your project may encounter so many challenges that you lose momentum. You may start to see everyone become discouraged. When this happens, take action to foster a new sense of energy or momentum.

You can also the project sponsor to give a presentation reiterating the project’s benefits, for example. You can also take an individual approach and visit with each person on the project – a great approach for those with strong people skills.
Lack of project momentum increases the chances of project failure. On the other hand, a sense of project momentum not only improves the project’s chance of success, but it also makes everyone happier. Project team happiness is not necessarily the goal of your project but let’s admit that we all enjoy working with happy people.

How did you harness the power of momentum in your projects? Was it a factor that you planned from the beginning or an opportunity that you took advantage of when it occurred?

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

Comments (3)