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Jack's new glassesThis thought just came to me as I was having a discussion with my five-year-old son today. He had just been fitted with his new glasses – his first pair – and he asked me when it was going to be nighttime so he could take them off. It seems his eyes were very tired from getting used to the new change but he knew he had to keep them on and adjust to them till bedtime. And he agreed that he could see much better now that he had his new glasses.

The true need was there…his vision was tested, it was found to be poor, glasses were ordered and now he’s on the path to seeing better…albeit with tired eyes. But this scenario and discussion with Jack – our five year old – started me thinking about our own project vision – how we see things on our project and what ‘corrections’ we may need from time to time in order to see things more clearly, make correct assumptions and take proper action. If we sit back and do nothing, we run the risk of not seeing everything or at least not seeing everything as we should. What then? Well, logic tells the experienced project manager that poor project vision can lead to bad estimates, incorrect planned tasks, effort focused in the wrong area and overall miscommunication happening on the project.

How do we improve our project vision? Or more importantly – because it probably started out 20/20 at the beginning of the project – how do we get it back to 20/20 and in focus mid-way through a long engagement?

I realize this isn’t always a problem, but on long projects we can get unfocused – or at least focused on details that are taking our big picture focus off of the important things – like the end goals of the project and what we need to be doing to get to that successful end point. How do we do that? For me, it’s a four step process…

manage projects like a proStep 1 – Revisit the project SOW / charter / mission statement

First, go back to the basic documents of the project – whatever you have or were given at handoff that tells the story of what the project is supposed to be about and what is the intended outcome/solution. Meet with your team. Are you on the right track? Have you missed any details that you can see clearly now that were otherwise blurry or you were blind to at the beginning of the project? It’s easy to overlook things…go back now and assess.

Step 2 – Sit down with the schedule

Next – and again with your project team…and the project customer if appropriate – go through the project schedule. Review what’s been accomplished, what’s happening now, and what’s left to do for the remainder of the engagement. Does the planned work still match up well with the project mission and statement of work?

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Step 3 – Assess the customer

The next step is to meet with the customer. If you feel like the project has gotten a little off track – enough so that you’re at this point where you feel you need to re-assess or adjust your project vision – then meet with the customer to get their perspective. Do they feel the project is on the right course? Any concerns as to overall focus, missed project requirements, concerns over functionality, or possibly any grumblings from the future end users and customer subject matter experts (SMEs)? Now is definitely the time to air these out if any corrective action needs to happen. By all means, make it now before it’s far too late and far too expensive.

Step 4 – Gauge the overall project health

Finally, taking into account what you’ve learned in steps 1 through 3 and including a review of the resource forecast and budget health and forecast, what’s the overall project health? Is there more corrective action that needs to happen? If project health is in any way poor right now – if any red lights are going off – make them known now and work with the team and customer to come up with corrective action. Hopefully it won’t be necessary, but while we’re assessing and correcting our project vision at this point, it’s definitely a good idea to take stock of the overall project health and determine what tweaks may need to be made either in tasks, assignments, skill sets, or how the project is being run in general.

Summary

Into each project a little rain must fall. And when that rain is heavy or contains hail or turns to snow, we can get off track – sometimes way off track. Issues and risks get in the way and we need to do our best to get back on track and focused on what we were tasked to do. Deliver a successful project to our project client. These steps should help us get there…

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