Pressure often comes from the disparity between expectations and reality. We can limit this disparity by limiting the perceived ups and downs that come with most projects. Here are some tactics for managing pressure by smoothing out the ups and downs. See "Managing Pressure: Communications and Expectations," Point Lookout for December 13, 2006, and "Managing Pressure: The Unexpected," Point Lookout for December 20, 2006, for more.
- Space milestones evenly
- It's common practice to divide project timelines into uneven segments distinguished by milestones, with some milestones identified as "major." This practice can undermine perceptions of progress, because people prefer steady forward progress to an uneven stream of equal-sized steps forward. This is true even if the achievements vary greatly in significance.
- Spacing milestones unevenly creates progress perception problems. To manage perceptions, let go of the distinction between kinds of milestones. Have more milestones, and space them fairly evenly.
- Milestones near deliveries are critical
- Gaps between milestones just prior to a delivery are especially costly, because they engender anxiety about a lack of real evidence that the project is healthy. Anxiety increases if preparations are underway for receiving the delivery.
- Idle time creates fear. Choose milestones that provide news during parts of the schedule when people might be susceptible to fear.
- Deliver usable capability at regular intervals
- Even when a schedule has evenly spaced milestones, customers, sponsors, and management can become anxious when the project delivers usable capability at irregular intervals. Milestones that don't "matter" to the customer have little positive impact on perceptions of progress.
- The psychological reason for this may be related to airline passengers' aversion to itineraries that have legs in them that go the "wrong way" even when those itineraries are faster. Milestones that don't "matter" represent cost and schedule without real progress. Schedule regular milestones that have customer impact.
- Help the customer with the post-delivery environment
- Difficulties in incorporating Spacing milestones unevenly
creates progress perception
problems. Have more
milestones, and space
them fairly evenly.the deliverables into ongoing operations can affect the customer's perception of the quality of the deliverables. And anxiety about the coming chaos is often reflected in perceptions of progress. Even deliverables that are 100% compliant with requirements will take the blame for internal difficulties in incorporating them organizationally.
- Do whatever you can to make incorporation easy. Automate any required conversions and prepare for transition training and help. These efforts are most effective if they're in the plan from the beginning, but add them later if necessary.
As a sponsor or a senior manager, you're uniquely positioned to smooth out the experience of these ups and downs. Establish review processes that ensure that these pressure-management strategies are used throughout the organization. Project plans should have evenly spaced, frequent milestones that deliver real value early and often. And establish after-action reviews for projects that recently passed through crises to enable project team learning.
Are your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!
Micromanagement is a common source of pressure. For insights on micromanagers and micromanaging, see "When Your Boss Is a Micromanager," Point Lookout for December 5, 2001; "There Are No Micromanagers," Point Lookout for January 7, 2004; "Are You Micromanaging Yourself?," Point Lookout for November 24, 2004; and "How to Tell If You Work for a Nanomanager," Point Lookout for March 7, 2007.
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His method is just as effective at work when the less powerful must deal with the powerful.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 27: Brainstorming and Speedstorming: II
- Recent research into the effectiveness of brainstorming has raised some questions. Motivated to examine alternatives, I ran into speedstorming. Here's Part II of an exploration of the properties of speedstorming. Available here and by RSS on February 27.
- And on March 6: A Pain Scale for Meetings
- Most meetings could be shorter, less frequent, and more productive than they are. Part of the problem is that we don't realize how much we do to get in our own way. If we track the incidents of dysfunctional activity, we can use the data to spot trends and take corrective action. Available here and by RSS on March 6.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
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