Eliminate Project Decelerators and Remove Barriers to Speed
We live in a time when everything keeps getting faster. That means your projects need to move too. Is your project cruising in the fast lane or stuck in traffic?

To keep a project moving fast, the project team, team leader and project sponsor all have to remove or prevent obstacles that may get in the way of the project's success.

The first step is to set up the project correctly so that it is built for speed and efficacy. This means getting the team aligned on what is required to do the project: setting up the project agreement and project plan together, and then agreeing on the overall project priorities.

Once a project is in motion, there are many things that can slow it down. Here are the most common project clogs to watch for:
"Feature creep"
Project agreement changes
Poor team dynamics
Over-scheduling people's time (for example, setting up a schedule where team members are working more than 60 hours per week for more than two weeks)
Inefficient business processes that the team must use to create their interim deliverables
Chaotic work environments

"Feature creep"
This is the disease of "we can make it better." There comes a time in every project when it's time to silence the engineer in your head and finish the project. To make decisions about suggested feature changes, we use what is called a change impact matrix. We also freeze the design of the product or service, including the set of features, at a specified time in the project. The earlier this is done, the faster your project will move. Save your future feature ideas as upgrade possibilities for later versions of the product or service.

Project Agreement changes
Let's face it, things happen. Customers change their minds about what they thought they wanted, market forces change, new threats and opportunities arise that make the goals of the project obsolete, and new priorities surface. All of these changes pull money and resources away from a project.

When a project is directed by the project agreement, project changes often mean a re-launch of the project. In my experience, it's better to spend half a day relaunching the project based on the new project agreement then to create a final deliverable that no one wants, or to attempt to complete a project with inadequate resources and lack of support from the project sponsor.

When you're developing a new project plan from the new project agreement, you may also be able to use the interim deliverables you've already created for the new project, ultimately shortening the project cycle time for the new project.

Poor team dynamics
An inability to work together towards a common goal comes from lack of commitment, lack of interaction, and a lack of interest in constructively resolving conflict. Many projects also lose and gain people during the execution of the project. When this happens, it is important that the team spend a half hour together developing their new team guidelines and meeting protocols. With any new people joining the team, it becomes a new team. Re-developing your guidelines and protocols is done for the same reason it is done initially - to facilitate working relationships, to create a way to positively interact, and to prevent destructive conflict.

When team members have to work on multiple projects or multiple tasks within the same project, there is a tendency to multi-task. People work quickly and efficiently when they work on one task to its completion, and don't juggle multiple tasks simultaneously. If people are working on multiple projects, it's best if they set aside blocks of time to focus on one task at a time.

Over-scheduling people's time
Sure, people are capable of doing the occasional marathon week to complete a project. If this becomes routine, however, they will find ways to get out of work responsibilities during the workday. We all need to take care of our basic living needs, such as dentist appointments, grocery shopping, and so on. We also have a need for socialization, connection with family, and time to relax and unwind.

If people are too over-scheduled because of project work, they will create ways to take care of their responsibilities while they are doing their project work. The next thing that will happen is they will get further behind, necessitating more over-scheduling. The best to prevent way to prevent this from happening is letting the team members create a schedule that they can do in a normal workweek. If things get in a crunch, do not require people to work more than one extended workweek at a time. This keeps the project moving along. If extended hours do become necessary, it's better if team members take turns during the crunch.

Inefficient business processes
It's the job of the project sponsor to knock down barriers so that the project team can work fast and efficiently. If the team gets stuck "mucking through the bureaucratic maze" to complete their interim deliverables, it will slow down the project and cause frustration due to their wasted time and effort. When the project sponsor identifies bureaucratic time wasters and gets rid of them, the entire team will operate more effectively.

Chaotic Work Environments
How long does it take you to find the information you need to get your job done? Office clutter, on your desk and on your computer, slows down project work. It is also distracting and causes multi-tasking.

To keep your work productive it is a good idea to have a "5 S" event with the team, both at the beginning of the project and as part of the project status reports. A "5 S" event is a technique adopted from the Japanese quality movement and it has been used effectively around the world to increase productivity.

The "5 S" approach stands for:
Sort - Only have items in your work area that you use on a daily basis. Everything else gets put away in its place. Create filing systems for quick retrieval - for both paper and electronic based information.
Straighten - Have a designated place for all moveable items, such as desktop organizers. Everything is labeled in macro-work areas, and there is a logical workf low for shared office machines, such as copiers and printers.
Shine - Everything in the area looks like "new" condition and operates perfectly. Recycle bins and waste baskets are emptied nightly.
Standardize - This includes visual controls for common areas, such as how to use the copier, and wall planning calendars.
Sustain - Have a daily and weekly system to keep up with the improvements that you have made.
All of these S's together lead to speed. Put your project pedal to the medal and make your projects faster and more effective.

Michelle LaBrosse, PMP, Chief Cheetah, www.cheetahpm.com