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PM-Foundations: What Makes Projects FUN?

This article originally appeared on PM-Foundations

If you have read several of my blogs, hopefully you have picked up on the fact that I am sincerely passionate about project delivery. I am always energized and motivated when a project delivers tangible benefits to an organization. I like project work so much that it spills over into my personal life. It is personally satisfying to evaluate the “before” and “after” on a home project , even if it is something as simple as planting a garden, painting a room, or cutting the grass. So what is it about projects that people enjoy? There must be something there, because people actually volunteer and/or seek out opportunities to be assigned to a project team. The intent of this post is to prompt some thoughts on the positive aspects of project work, and what you as the project manager can do to enhance team members’ experiences on a project.

What is fun about projects?

These are several of the aspects of project work that is inherently fun and rewarding for project team members.

  • Sense of accomplishment: There is a definite sense of accomplishment when a deliverable is completed, a milestone is achieved, or project is closed. When a project is closed you can observe benefits realized by the organization as a result of the team’s efforts. When a milestone is achieved you move on to a new phase in the project. In contrast, when you complete operational work, there is another “stack” of the same type of work right behind it, with no apparent end in sight.
  • Something Different: Projects provide opportunities for team members to be exposed to new technologies, business processes, and problems to solve. Exposure to new areas represents huge opportunities for team members to learn and develop both personally and professionally. For those of us that thrive on continuous learning, there is nothing better than being assigned to a new client or project.
  • Involves People: Small projects can be delivered by an individual, but the vast majority of projects involve a team of people assigned to accomplish a common goal. The people assigned to the project bring with them a diverse range of talents, experiences and perspectives/ideas. It is this diversity that ensures that the team’s unified efforts are much greater than the sum of its individual contributions. Assembling a diverse group of people as a new project team can be challenging (forming and storming) but it is ultimately very rewarding as the team starts to work well together (norming and performing). I personally find the broad spectrum of people I meet and work with during projects to be the most amazing element of being a project leader.
  • Recognition: All projects have a certain amount of visibility in the organization, otherwise the resources would not be assigned to it. With visibility comes recognition and potentially rewards when milestones are achieved and projects are successfully completed. Visibility can also result in negative consequences when projects are challenged or fail. Based upon my experiences there is far more upside potential associated with positive project outcomes, than risk of negative consequences associated with challenges or failures.
  • Projects End: By definition projects have a beginning and end. Admittedly, some projects are not as enjoyable as others, but at some point they all will come to an end (some more naturally than others). With the knowledge that the project will end, even the worst of projects can have their moments.

6 Ways Project Managers Can Make Projects More Fun

As a project manager, there are a number of things that you can do to establish a positive project environment, one that team members actually enjoy being a part of. These 6 tips are a combination of applying effective leadership skills, and implementing practical techniques to enhance the project environment. My experience has led me to the conclusion that in most cases creating a positive project environment translates into building a more productive and effective project team.

1. Focus on Teamwork: I spend a lot of time making sure the project team understands they are a team working towards a common objective, and not a bunch of individuals assigned to a project. Establishing a group that works as a team starts with making sure the team understands what we are trying to accomplish, and what success looks like. It also includes ensuring that everyone has internalized what their role is on the team, and how their role connects with the success of the overall project. There are things you can do to make sure the group feels like a team. Schedule regular team interactions (team meetings), provide meaningful project updates, and promote collaboration / interaction. Unless this group has worked together before, it takes some real work and focus on your part to make the group feel and interact like a team. Do not be discourage or give up as the team traverses through the forming and storming phases of creating a team. Your leadership can make a significant difference in terms of how the team works together.

2. Be Enthusiastic: Assuming you are like me, and really enjoy project work, make sure the team knows it. You need to consistently model the attitude and enthusiasm you want the team to feel throughout the project. If the project manager does not believe the team can be successful, who does? It is amazing how quickly the team will get discouraged when you display negative vibes about the project either verbally or non-verbally. The easiest way for me to model a positive and enthusiastic attitude during team interactions is to make sure I really do feel that way. When faced with difficult tasks or people, I remind myself what I enjoy about the challenge the project is providing, the team I am working with, and the opportunity to learn something new. This is a critical tip: do not ignore it.

3. Track & Communicate Priorities: This one sounds pretty straightforward, but it is amazing how quickly team members can get “lost in the weeds” or “in a funk” without timely and relevant information about the project. Team members must understand the team’s top priorities, and how these priorities tie to their individual work assignments. Priorities include upcoming milestones, task assignments, action items from team meetings, as well as high impact issues and risks. I try to keep this information simple and easy to consume / internalize ““ What did we accomplish last week? Where should we focus next week? What roadblocks need to be removed?

4. “Stretch” the Talent “: As the team is forming, it is important to get to know the individual team members. Not only do you need to understand their strengths and weaknesses, but also what are the things that motivate and energize them. If you have insights into team member’s professional development path, you can help align work with the areas where they have talents, are excited about, and/or desire to learn. Aligning work and responsibilities in a manner that gives people a chance to “step up” on the team goes on a long ways towards building a highly motivated team that delivers positive results. The opportunities on the team can be both in the form of specific work assignments, as well as roles (e.g., facilitation of team meetings, coordination of team events).

5. Purposeful Recognition: It is extremely important to recognize people’s contributions on the team. There are two categories of contributions that I recognize on the team, (1) efforts that help the team achieve its goals, and (2) efforts that demonstrate or promote teamwork. As the project manager, you are recognizing contributions that helped drive positive project outcomes based upon either the work that was performed, or the way in which it was performed. A significant amount of positive energy can be created on the team by recognizing the right efforts at the right time. The recognition does not need to be elaborate, but it must be sincere, and a bit of creativity helps generate a fun atmosphere on the team. When given the choice of recognizing an individual or a group effort, I generally opt for recognition of the group (sends the right message as a team, and ensures you do not unintentionally leave someone “off the list”).

6. Close the Project:When you have come this far with the team, do not forget to bring appropriate closure to the effort. Effectively facilitating the lessons learned process helps the team reflect on what was accomplished, how it was accomplished, and what would the team do differently on the next project. This is the opportunity for the team to have a real impact on how projects are completed within your organization in the form of implementing continuous improvement actions. The other important element of project closure is celebrating success. Facilitate a project celebration that helps team members feel good about was accomplished before they rush off to their next assignment.

About Steve Hart

Practice manager responsible for project leadership & delivery services for the Cardinal Solutions Group in the RTP area.

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