Did you take the opportunity afforded by the Christmas and New Year holidays to take stock of your project? The Christmas and New Year holiday season is often a good time to take stock of your project because there is a certain amount of downtime. Lots of people take holiday so it’s harder to organise meetings or implement changes. From a systems perspective, change freezes apply across the year end to protect critical year end processes.
Rather than waste that time, I use it to look at how the project has performed up to now and what changes I want to see for the New Year. I try to think of my project as a person and think about what my project would like for Christmas. A more engaged sponsor? A reporting schedule more aligned to the practicalities of the project and business it is serving? New skills for my team? Less changing in requirements? What would your project have liked for Christmas?
I undertake my own internal review of what has gone before and look ahead to the challenges and opportunities of the new year. Sometimes this is a solo thing. At other times I have got my management team together for a half day during the holiday period. They key is to focus on taking stock and then looking forward to apply the lessons. For each area or ‘present’ I develop an action plan.
Most project communications during the year run the risk of getting lost in the daily deluge of e-mails. And most people will have a load of unread e-mails in their inbox on the first working day back after the holiday. However, most of them will have last year’s date. Your first e-mail of the year will be among the first of the year. A well crafted subject line will be sure to pique interest and get it both opened and read.
This is your golden opportunity to communicate the output from your stock taking and planning exercise. Celebrate the successes, learn from the mistakes and problems without allocating blame, and set out your stall for the future. Communicate your action plans and set out your expectations of everyone on the team.
Once you get in to the pattern of a reporting cycle it can be hellishly difficult to change. People’s diaries get full so it’s hard to re-arrange key meetings like steering groups etc. However, calendars are often reset for the new year and with clear diaries it may be possible to re-jig your project’s regular meeting schedule into something more practical for the challenges that lie ahead. It’s also a great opportunity to diarise th action plans you came up with in your review.
Investment opportunity – for your people
For many organisations the new year is the start of the budget year. Whilst it is way too late to create your budget or get it approved, it is the time to start applying that budget for maximum effect. As part of my budgeting I spend a lot of time on the investment element. I’m not talking about the investment that your project represents for the organisation. I’m talking about the investment opportunity that working on your project represents to the project team.
Part of developing a high performing and well motivated team is to ensure the team is proactively provided with opportunities to develop and use their skills and experience. You need to ensure your training and development budget is used to maximum and timely effect and supported by practical on the job mentoring and training from you and your management team. I try to get any training budget spent early for two reasons:
- To leverage the training throughout the rest of the year
- To ensure it doesn’t get cut if there is a cost squeeze later in the year
But I can’t emphasise enough the multiplying impact your approach to mentoring, on the job training and reinforcement of training messages can have to that budget. Some of your team may not get or need formal paid for training, but everyone can benefit from these other aspects.
Investment opportunity – for yourself
The final element of the taking stock exercise is one of self assessment. What did I do well and what could I have done better. Where do I need to invest in my own training and development to achieve my own personal objectives. Many people that are employed by organisations tend to only consider this as part of the corporate objective setting/appraisal/personal development process. Whilst this process should be part of the picture, your own needs and goals may not be wholly congruent with those the organisation may set for you. You have to take responsibility for your own career and development. If the organisation can help, particularly with funding and on the job training or mentoring, so much the better.
But can you really afford to leave it to the organisation alone? I think not. In today’s world there are plenty of opportunities to make what you want of your career. The only thing stopping you is…. You! If you haven’t done it already, set aside some time for your own personal taking stock. It’s your career, take responsibility for it.