No matter how much planning you put into projects, things can get off track pretty easily. In fact, it’s standard practice to build buffers into the variables of a project to allow of delays and over-runs.
If you’re working on a project and it gets off track, here are some steps to get things back under control:
Renegotiate: The easiest action, when you can’t meet a deadline, is to renegotiate the due date. Flexibility is often built into a project’s time-lines.
Recover during later steps: If a project step takes longer than planned, examine time allocations for the remaining steps. Perhaps time can be saved in future steps so overall time for the project doesn’t need to increase.
Narrow the scope: Once you begin, you may find it takes longer to accomplish everything you planned. When time is critical, eliminate non-essentials to meet your deadline
Add resources: You may need to put more people or equipment on the project. This option increases the cost so it requires weighing the cost increase against the importance of the deadline.
Use substitutions: When an item is not available, substitute a comparable item to meet your deadline.
Look for other sources: When a supplier you are depending upon cannot deliver, within your time frame, look for other suppliers who can.
Accept partial delivery: Sometimes a supplier cannot deliver an entire order on time, but can deliver enough to keep the project moving forward. The remainder of the order can be delivered later.
Offer incentives: This calls for going beyond the terms of an agreement to get extra effort from a supplier or sub-contractor. You can use a bonus clause in a contract for on-time delivery, or a penalty clause for late delivery. Sometimes, simply buying someone lunch will motivate them to put forth extra effort.
Demand compliance: Sometimes you need to assert yourself. If you’re waiting on deliverables from others, demand they meet their time-line obligations. If necessary, go to a higher authority to get action.
David Allen says, regardless of task size, the human brain goes through a Natural Planning Model. This is the process we use daily to organize regular tasks: e.g., getting dressed or driving to work. We go ahead and complete them without much thought. We use the part of our brain that is conditioned for this natural type of planning.
Allen goes on to say, this is an ideal model for planning projects.
The five phases:
- Defining purpose and principles – Here’s where we ask “Why?” Answering this question defines the successful outcome, sets the boundaries, as well as focusing and motivating towards completion. You need to know where you’re going before you can plot the course.
- Outcome visioning – Allen says, if you can’t visualize the end result you will have trouble figuring out how to do it. He suggests going beyond mere completion and visualizing what “wildly successful” would look like.
- Brainstorming – Brainstorming generates the ideas for moving the project to completion. Allen recommends getting the ideas out of the head and onto paper. Writing serves to clear the mind enabling other ideas to come through. Writing also helps keep the focus on the project at hand.
- Organizing – Now that those ideas are out of your head and onto paper, start moving them around. Figure out which are the important pieces and sort by components, sequences and priorities.
- Identifying next actions – Of course, no GTD planning would be complete until Next Actions have been identified. What is the immediate action required to move the project forward on every front.
David Allen says this about the five phases, “Worked together, they create a whole model of how we get things done most effectively, with the least amount of effort. If any one of the five steps is done insufficiently, however, effectiveness can be severely limited.”
David likes to quote this 18th-century inscription from a church in Sussex, England:
A vision without a task is but a dream,
a task without a vision is drudgery,
a vision and a task is the hope of the world.