One of the most defining things about the role of a project manager is that you often have to be comfortable being the “bad guy,” but it’s still no fun! Since it is typically our responsibility to make sure your team meet the deadlines, and make things happen the way that they are supposed to, plus on budget, PMs frequently monitor the workflow of other team members and will, from time to time, have to step in and course correct or apply some pressure to make sure all of the needs of the project are being met.
Making sure that deadlines are observed is one of the biggest challenges for PMs, largely due in part to the fact that even though you can support your team in a hundred ways, you can’t do someone’s work FOR them, and you probably don’t have time to sit around all day watching people to make sure they will get their work done on time. So, how do you set your team and yourself up for success and avoid launching into “bad cop” mode or micromanaging people to meet their deadlines? Here are a few things you can do:
1. Set Clear Expectations From The Start
You should have several opportunities at the beginning of a project to clearly communicate to your team when the work is expected to be complete. Deadlines should be one of the first things mentioned during kickoff meetings and project onboarding, and your Statement of Work, Project Plan, or any documentation that the team has access to should clearly state any relevant deadlines. At kickoff, I like to distribute a brief to the team that outlines key objectives and milestones with deadlines attached – and I will always make sure that there is no confusion about who is responsible for which items.
During kickoff meetings I also ask and make sure that there is no confusion. Simply closing your meeting/huddle by asking “Does everyone know what they’re doing and when it’s due?” never hurts! Hopefully you’ve also built a relationship with your team wherein they know they can always speak up or ask you if something is not clear.
2. Be A Team Player
Speaking of relationships, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: so much of project management is about trust, honesty, and making sure that your project team is comfortable coming to you with issues before they become PROBLEMS. The best way to build these relationships is to be ON the team, instead of positioning yourself as the deadline-wielding overlord. Simply framing your role as one of support rather than punishment can go a long way.
Make sure you communicate to your team daily, via words and actions, that you are there to help them succeed, not to watch them flounder and fail. People will also be motivated to meet deadlines when they feel a responsibility to contribute to the success of the whole team, rather than just getting stuff done to avoid a scolding from the PM.
3. Check Up On It
I’ve written before about the importance of checking in – whether it’s daily, weekly, or monthly – with your projects and your people. These check-ins are incredibly important when it comes to the pace of a project and making sure you are on target to meet your deadlines. A simple check-in daily or weekly with your team to make sure they aren’t running behind is essential. The benefits of checking in also go two ways: this gives the team member a chance to raise any concerns they have about timing, (and they’ll be honest with you if you’ve established the right kind of relationship,) and it also gives you, as the PM, a clear picture of where you stand and if there are any worries about work potentially not being ready on time. This can be informal, even done via IM or a quick in-person conversation.
4. Show The BIG Picture
Frequently, when projects have lagged or deadlines have been missed, I look back and realize a factor was that the team or individual didn’t fully grasp the importance or value of the deadline to the agency or to the client. Again, right from kickoff, make sure that your team knows how each piece of the project fits together to achieve the end result, product, or goal, and highlight the importance of each milestone to your overall success. Sometimes it can be easy when you’re working on a million things to deemphasize the importance of one ticket. If a person has a sense of how their contribution affects the whole, they will often be more likely to deliver on time. This is another item you can add to your kickoff protocol – reinforce the idea that every small task matters and the goals can’t be met without total buy-in from each player.
5. Make Sure The Information Is Always Available
As we all know, there are as many different kinds of software and systems for project management as there are project managers – but one thing they should all have in common is a way for your team to easily access information when they need it. This includes tasks, deadlines, and any other pertinent details to completing the work well and on time. In addition to distributing a project plan or brief at kickoff, make sure that you have documented the information in a place where folks can easily find it. This is your insurance policy against things like “well I didn’t know when it was due!” or “I wasn’t sure how long I had.” Personally, I like to create to-do lists for each member of the team that simply outline tasks and deadlines, using Trello. This way I know that everyone has access to their list no matter where they are.
6. Maintain A Healthy Workload
Sometimes, things get crazy. This is an unavoidable reality of project-based work, and hey, it keeps life interesting, right? Even though there will be some busy weeks and maybe even some overtime here and there, it’s your responsibility as a project manager to make sure your team’s workload is manageable and that it’s realistic for them to meet any deadlines. Frazzled, overworked employees are way more likely to lose interest and enthusiasm for the work, make sloppy mistakes, or forget things.
Although no one can guarantee smooth sailing all of the time, try to use your weekly/monthly planning sessions to make sure that everyone’s workload is manageable, and try to foresee traffic jams and overload before it’s too late. If you watch out for your team and make sure they are being given ample time and resources to get their work done, it will surely minimize the amount of time your have to spend micromanaging people for things, or worse, apologizing to clients for blown deadlines.
If you’ve read any of my previous articles, you know by now that I am constantly reiterating the importance of relationships, honesty, and trust when it comes to project management. Sometimes, especially in digital agencies and shops, it’s easy to forget that project management isn’t all about spreadsheets and forecasting tools. In fact, I believe that most of the skills needed to excel in this job aren’t technical, but rather innate. When it comes to championing your team to get work done on time, this is more true than ever. Hopefully with these tips you will save yourself some time by not having to chase people down for their work.
What Do You Think?
Do you have any other ideas? What do you do to make sure your team meet the deadlines? Tell me in the comments!