Ace World War I fighter pilot and pioneering airline and auto industry executive Eddie Rickenbacker once said, “I can give you a six-word formula for success: Think things through, then follow through.”
Many decades later, the same stalwart advice holds true for modern-day project management—the likelihood for success relies much more heavily on the project maintenance (or the ‘follow-through’) than on the initial plan itself. Executives and project managers need to keep in mind that a project needs to have on-going support and room to grow, or it will wither and die on the vine or soon thereafter. With that in mind, here are three critical steps to creating a killer plan for project maintenance:
When a project manager is handed the reins to an important initiative, there is often a great temptation to pull a Gollum and hold that project close, like the fabled ‘Lord of the Rings’ character and his own Precious, and not let anyone else near it. This would be a mistake.
While it’s natural—even good management practice—to have a care that too many cooks will spoil the stew, or the input of too many outside voices may slow or halt a project’s progression, project maintenance relies on keeping up energy and interest surrounding the project as it moves forward. Instead, project managers need to focus on project maintenance collaboration by: finding out who the project’s main stakeholders and other interested parties are and notifying them of major developments and meetings; using document-sharing technology to ensure that the parts of the project that could use input are available to review; lay out a timeline that takes into account potential (small) delays, but also sets reasonable and relatively firm deadlines for completing set goals within the project.
Avoiding a communication breakdown is critical to keeping up the momentum on project maintenance. In this age of attention deficit and too much work on all our plates, it is easy for team members or even valued stakeholders on a project to turn their heads to other projects or tasks that come across their transom, once a project has passed from the planning stages.
It should be the role of the project manager, or a team member that they deem responsible and organized to communicate both major and minor deadlines for input and task completion as the project moves ahead, as well as to communicate positive advances for the projects or key contributions, that will in turn keep goodwill high and focus turned to maintaining the goals of the project. It is also important to communicate the over-arching goals of the project as a whole, in its entirety, so that team members who are heads-down focused on one aspect can better grasp the scope and the importance of what they are working on.
While it is true that a failure to plan is a plan for failure, the fact remains that issues emerge and plans change. No one without an oracle’s foresight can know what hurdles or potholes will change the course of a project over many years, or even months or weeks. Therefore, a well-developed project maintenance plan must be one that flexes and adapts to meet changes, and even incorporate them into meeting one’s goals. While putting in place an initial plan is essential, that plan should take into account the changes—financial, technological, economic, and industry-specific—that could alter maintenance of the project, or even its ultimate objectives. The best plans are those that not only take into account the possibility of change, but are flexible and expandable enough to exploit those changes as they occur.