Improving Project Management Performance – Job Huddles
By Dave Nielsen
Of all the forms of meetings in the project plan, perhaps the biggest bang for your buck is the job huddle. The job huddle should be used as a tool to bring a project back on track, or to prevent it from going off track when it’s trending in that direction. If all facets of your project are on schedule and on budget, don’t waste time holding them — they’ll just be viewed as punishment for meeting the goals you set for the team (“the beatings will continue until morale improves … “).
Job huddles are informal meetings held for the purpose of reviewing progress for the previous period’s work and identifying any issues or problems that are blocking progress. They originated with football huddles — when the team on offense forms a circle and the next play is discussed with the team, with the quarterback leading the discussion. They are particularly effective in football because it’s the only opportunity the players have to communicate with one another.
The next play is not the only thing players discuss in these huddles; observations about field conditions and weaknesses displayed by the defense on the opposing team (e.g. the cornerback is favoring his right leg) are also shared and the information is analyzed by the quarterback with a view to improving the chances for the success of the next play. Unlike projects in the business world, football teams don’t have the luxury of a set plan which they can execute unaltered to achieve success. They’re behind the 8 ball from the get go; the other team’s job is to put them there! That’s why, with relatively few exceptions (the “no huddle” offense) teams will use huddles from the first play of the game to the last play.
Job huddles can be an effective way of addressing changing conditions and sharing information in the project environment, however there are other methods for achieving this information sharing. Team members are often collocated so have every opportunity to communicate with one another, share tips, help each other out, and generally improve the team’s performance, unlike their counterparts on the football field. It’s when the other methods for sharing information, and implementing slight changes to the plan aren’t working that job huddles can be helpful.
The project manager should evaluate team performance to determine the necessity for job huddles. Some signs that job huddles may be necessary:
- The team isn’t meeting its objectives — deadlines are being missed.
- There is conflict on the team
- You’re getting conflicting information from the team, for example some members inform you that a tool is working, others tell you it isn’t
- Some members of the team are meeting their objectives, others aren’t
- There are an unusually high number of defects being produced by the team
If your team is experiencing any one, or a combination, of these symptoms its time to implement job huddles.
When to Meet
You will already be holding project review meetings with the team, probably on a weekly basis, where the team has an opportunity to raise issues that block progress, identify new risks, share information that can improve performance, and update you on their progress. Your job huddles need to be more frequent (for the same reasons that the football team hold their huddles before every play).
I’ve found that daily job huddles is a good frequency to start with. If issues arise with any degree of frequency which must be addressed before the next day, you may find you’ll need more frequent huddles. I would not advise holding job huddles more frequently than twice a day. If issues are arising so frequently that twice daily huddles are not sufficient to address them, its time to invest in some team building so that issues are addressed on the fly, or they are escalated to you on the fly.
Job huddles should address a project need. As such, they are an ideal corrective action when project performance doesn’t measure up because of problems with the team. When team performance improves so that the project is back on track, give the team a break and suspend the job huddles, or make them less frequent.
Where to Meet
Job huddles should typically last no more than ½ hour, with 15 minutes being a good median time to work with, so you shouldn’t have to waste everyone’s time bringing them into a meeting room to conduct the meeting. This is a good meeting to hold “around the water cooler”, or “around the file cabinets” (I’ve personally seen them used to very good effect around filing cabinets). The key here is to hold the meeting at a location that is handy to the teams work stations, so that time isn’t wasted in getting to and from the meeting place, or wasted in waiting for stragglers. Don’t worry about the lack of chairs. Standing for the duration of the meeting will tend to have the effect of making the meeting briefer because participants are more likely to stay focused and less likely to engage in debates.
What to Discuss
Job huddles should articulate issues that are hindering project progress. These are issues which other team members engaged in the huddle may be able to address, or issues that have to be escalated to you to address. Keep the agenda informal. Follow a general format if you wish — start by providing any updates to the team which have occurred since your last huddle or team meeting, then have each team member or group lead, provide you with a thumb-nail sketch of their progress to date. The progress updates should conclude with an assessment of the status of the work. Will the work finish on schedule?
Will the work products meet the quality standards set for them? Encourage the team to share any issues which would increase the risk of not completing the work on time, or to established standards. Technical issues should first be the responsibility of the team to resolve. If the team can’t resolve the issue internally, it should be escalated to you to resolve. Be sure to record any action items with its owner and a due date. Be sure that action items assigned by you are committed to by the owner.
You’ll find that job huddles can be a very effective tool in improving team performance providing they are used correctly and that blocking issues are raised and resolved in a timely fashion.
Dave is a principal with three O Project Solutions, the vendors of AceIt©. Dave was also the key architect responsible for the creation of the product. AceIt© has prepared Project Managers from around the world to pass their PMP® exams. You can find endorsements from some of his customers on three O’s web site (http://www.threeo.ca/).