While planning is a primary focus of project management, project execution is typically both the longest and most visible phase of a project. The wise project manager proactively drives the execution of a project by establishing a rhythm. We hear a lot about rhythm in our daily lives. During post-game interviews, football coaches regularly attribute success or failure to the ability of their team to "get into a rhythm." In this context, perhaps we'd consider rhythm to be along the lines of making steady and consistent progress toward the end zone (sometimes described in football as "marching" down the field). Other examples of rhythm might be a drum major leading a marching band, or a conductor leading an orchestra. In both examples, these roles are essential in order to keep everyone on the same page and playing with the same tempo.
So how does rhythm relate to projects? Just like an orchestra conductor, a project manager needs to keep everyone on the same page with each other, and make sure key players "come in" at the right place. Just like the football team, the project team wants to execute with steady and consistent progress toward the goal. The key to both of these is making your project as consistent and as predictable as possible.
Consider the following regular events during project execution:
- Project Team Meetings
- Sponsor / Steering Committee Meetings
- Schedule Status (Actual vs. Planned) and Updates
- Budget Status (Actual vs. Planned) and Updates
- Status Reports
- Updates to the Team Site
- Management of risks and issues
Performing these processes with consistent quality and on a predictable schedule establishes the project rhythm. If these items are done inconsistently or sporadically, both the team and the stakeholders can get out of sync in terms of what is expected or what is being delivered. Let's take the example of the status report. What if I regularly change the days that it is delivered–one week I deliver the report on a Tuesday, and the following week I deliver it on a Thursday? Imagine the chaos!
- The Project Manager is asking the team for updates on different days and they might not be prepared.
- Trending from the status reports is more challenging since they may be different durations (or at least perceived different) and not "apples to apples."
- A project sponsor may be counting on your status report in order to report the status at the executive level. Not only might the change frustrate the sponsor, but this will also likely result in an additional ad hoc request for status, further disrupting the project rhythm.
It's obviously even worse if an expected project status report for the week is not delivered at all. Team members subconsciously may ask if what they are doing matters and if anyone even notices if a task is not completed. Everyone is very busy with many competing priorities, and they will prioritize the tasks that are being consistently measured, monitored, and reported.
Meetings are of even greater importance to rhythm. Regular meetings keep everyone on track with what is expected and also provide a forum where questions and issues can be raised. The regularly scheduled meeting also has the benefit of people thinking about your project, both before and after the meeting. Before the meeting, attendees may think through the issues or questions that they want to bring up. After the meeting, attendees may reflect back and think of new ideas or solutions.
What about a project manager's regular monthly Sponsor meeting? Does it help project rhythm if the project team knows when those occur? You bet it does! A Project Manager is likely to have preparation activities that involve the team providing input, so having some consistency around those activities is helpful. Furthermore, the team may have ideas of what should be presented, or of potential roadblocks that the Sponsor could help with.
In summary, project rhythm allows a project manager to get everyone on the same page and to keep everyone on the same page in the easiest manner possible. Even if a disruptive fire comes up, the project rhythm will allow the team to overcome the disruption and get back to normal.