Projects almost always start with a clear goal in the minds of the stakeholders. They also usually come with a defined budget. Despite this, we live in a world where the agile methodology is used in the development process and focus and priorities shift amongst stakeholders as new information comes in and business conditions change. Managing the reconciliation between the original expectations and the actual outcome is an art. It’s on the PM to do this and do it well.
Projects originate from a vision that is expanded to a set of expectations. The scope is defined and the budget is granted. Teams startup, work collaboration begins, and work output becomes incrementally visible. This is usually when the customer is able to articulate new preferences, more thoughtful clarifications, and weave in changing business priorities. The project starts to evolve differently as changes start kicking in.
The project team’s goal is customer satisfaction within the budgeted timeline. At the end of the day, the last thing anyone wants is to disappoint on the sponsor’s original expectation, either by sticking with the original outcome at all costs or by bending too far away from the original vision.
Change is a natural part of the project evolution. Savvy PMs well versed in these scenarios have learned to work out win-win approaches, such as these “Jedi” arts and techniques.
Art #1 – Leverage project kickoff to set the stage for change management
- Arrange the project kickoff meeting with all key stakeholder decision makers and project leads. Walk through the vision, success goals, and high level scope.
- Take it a step further: With everyone gathered together, take time to walk through the project delivery process so that everyone knows the activities and decision points to expect during the life of the project. Highlight the prominent dependencies and challenges.
- In this context, define how decisions will be made and confirm the decision makers. This should be documented in the meeting notes.
Art #2 – Communicate regularly and inclusively during the project
- When changes are requested or key decisions are needed, call these out clearly on behalf of the project. Make it easy to see what needs action, from whom (as defined in the kickoff meeting), and when.
- Hold project meetings on a regular cadence. Always take time to recap the project’s goals, the upcoming milestones, action items, and work in focus. Take it one step further and recap the recent prominent changes and decisions (or decisions due). Highlight the prominent change decisions that move the project away from the original expectation. Include the recap in the meeting notes along with a meeting notes footer providing links to the project action item list, schedule, project repository, etc. Publish to all team members and stakeholders, inclusively.
- Build trust and credibility by following a consistent project delivery approach and publishing recaps on a regular cadence. It helps all team members stay accountable to the project by being well informed, even if they are not actively involved day to day. And most importantly, it enables all team members to follow the progress of the project at a level where change decisions are visible. This provides a record of how the project progressed and where it landed.
Art #3 – Conduct mini retrospectives on a regular basis
- Take a few minutes in the customer project meetings to check how things are going. Specifically call out how the project is meeting expectations and managing changes and decisions.
- Discuss improvement suggestions. Define specific actions to take. Revisit in the next retrospective. Note the improvements the team achieved and make the notes summary available to the project communications distribution list.
Jedi PMs set the stage for transparent change management, facilitate the changes along the way, and build the project’s change management history. At the finish line, it is a win-win result with the ability to demonstrate traceability between the original expectations and the actual outcome.
Image courtesy of Jeff Sheldon for Unsplash.