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Eight Frequently Overlooked Questions for Maximum Project Performance
By Richard L Grimes

The questions that follow are about issues that may be so subtle they are likely to be overlooked in the daily workings of a busy project. They can contribute positively or negatively to project performance and are hidden within typical project issues.

Question #1 – What are the job functions or work processes within the various project components that could tell us this portion of the project may not be running as smoothly as we think it is?

Project components are work groups like accounting, document control, safety, drug testing, filing documents, human resources, engineering, drafting, surveying, vendor relations, permitting, etc. A job function within the component called Project Accounting may be “Accounts Payable.”

We recommend you consider all functions in the project, not just the ones your experience tells you are the most important. Once you have identified all of the project functions, think about applying questions 2-6 within those job functions

Question #2 – What are the reliable indicators within those job functions or work processes that could tell us this isn’t a temporary aberration in performance and we need to pay attention?

Question #3 – What are the trip wires within those indicators that will tell us to act now?

Question #4 – Once we decide to act, where specifically should we apply the remedy so as not to create new problems while trying to fix the old ones? Or to apply a remedy in such as hap-hazard fashion that we waste time and project resources! (Tip: It’s always a good idea to look upstream to discover which events led to the problem, don’t just focus on the problem alone.)

Question #5 – If the problems are related to work performance beyond the issues of question #4, we must decide:

  • Is there too much work for the staff available?
    • Before saying, “There is too much work”, how do we know they are working as productively as possible? There is a difference between being productive and just being busy but can we tell the difference?
  • Are there invisible obstacles to optimal performance within our work processes? If we can identify and remove them, we may discover we DO have sufficient staff for the work.

  • If we are satisfied there are no hidden obstacles to optimal performance and the existing staff is fully productive, then we really need additional staff. If so, where exactly will we find competent help?

    • Who do we ask to help us find it?
    • How can we help them find the best fit for our project?

Question #6 – Once that competent help is found, how many days will it take to conduct interviews and select the ones we want?

  • What kind of questions must we ask to make sure they are a good fit for the position and existing work team?
  • How much latitude will we have in bringing them aboard the project?

Question #7 – Once selected, how many days will it take to get them here at the project?

  • Is there anything we can do to speed the process of getting them here?
  • Is there anything we can do in the interim to keep the work moving?

Question #8 – Once physically here, how many days will it take them to become productive?

  • What kind of tools or aids can we provide to speed their assimilation?

Eventually, we have them at work on the project many weeks or months after we decided we needed help. (Warning: the time-to-productivity lag will always be larger than you anticipate.) Meanwhile, the work is still getting behind and the payroll has swollen with the new hires.

There will be no significant improvement in productivity until they become assimilated into the project. The new ones are slowing down the older ones as they ask for help with questions about whom to call about an issue, where do we find the forms we need, who gets this, where do I find something, etc.

This on-the-job-training for the supplemental team members gets in the way of the older ones trying to maintain productivity. This increase in new staff actually may hurt, not help, the tension between team members.

All of the topics covered in this article apply to projects of any size. Since your professional reputation is based on project outcomes, it is worth taking a few minutes to consider them all.

Richard Grimes has used his 30+ years experience in training and operations management for private and public organizations as a foundation for his company, Outsource LLC.

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