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LPM, Part 6: Execution

Once your project plan is ready, it’s time to execute. Team members have their assignments and responsibilities, and start to work through their tasks. The project manager, meanwhile, needs to perform a sort of routine maintenance, monitoring progress and dealing with any problems that surface.

Get a GRIP

Team members need to know what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and why team collaboration is essential to completing a project. During the execution stage, you can rely on a handy mnemonic device, GRIP, to maintain a “grip” on your project. These elements of GRIP should be on team members’ minds as they work.

Goal Clarity:

Do team members understand the client’s goals, the project’s goals, and how to mesh their personal goals with these larger goals?

Role Clarity:

What are each team member’s responsibilities? How do their responsibilities intersect and fit into their skillset? What is the leadership and reporting structure? Are team members aware of the chain of command?

Interactions:

What methods of communicating are team members using? Are these methods effective, or can they be improved? How is communication organized? How are feedback complications handled?

Processes:

Are work processes clear? Is team member performance consistent across all levels and tasks? Are resources allocated well? What methods are used to identify problems early and solve them quickly?

If you’ve created a comprehensive plan, the GRIP will serve to keep you and your team focused. You’ll be able to work more efficiently, make fewer mistakes, easily adjust to changing circumstances, and keep morale high.

Delegation

A good legal project manager also knows when and how to delegate a task to a subordinate. When assigning tasks, match a team member’s skillset to appropriate tasks with appropriate difficulty level. Delegation is a balancing act. Give someone work that’s too easy, they will be unmotivated. Give someone work that’s too difficult, and they will be frustrated and the project may stall waiting for them. Work should feel fulfilling, and should test someone’s capabilities. Know your team, and find out what kinds of work will challenge them but not overwhelm them. Every team member will have different strengths and weaknesses; emphasize the strengths, but keep weaknesses in mind as you delegate.

Along the same lines, consider also the level of autonomy to allow a team member. For certain people in certain circumstances, a short leash may be wise. This will not always be the case. Choosing people who can operate with a greater level of independence might be better, depending on the tasks and the personnel assigned to those tasks. Each delegation situation will be unique, so always communicate what work you need and how you want a team member to handle it.

Feedback

At the execution stage, prompt and unambiguous feedback is essential.

A project manager needs to be able to provide both constructive criticism and positive reinforcement as real-time feedback for decisions and actions of any team member. A project manager should emphasize what a team member does right, or what they could do better. Don’t wait to give feedback; the most effective feedback occurs as close to the event as possible.

Be specific when giving feedback and differentiate between the impact of a team member’s actions, and what their intent may have been. People often make mistakes when they’re trying to make something succeed, so the real impact of a decision is important, and intent not as relevant to effective feedback. Clearly communicate your expectations, how a team member should meet them, and what the team member can improve upon going forward.

Communication

Our old friend communication is perhaps the most critical at the execution stage. Your technology tools play a big role here. Leverage email, intranet messages, memos, and software platforms with communication tools. Use them to augment day-to-day and moment-to-moment communication. These tools are especially important as you execute tasks, adjust your plan in real time, and move toward project completion.

With the latest technology tools aiding communication, it can be tempting to view these as the best way to communicate. But there is still a place for the old standby: meetings. Meetings are valuable for discussing project milestones and any systemic problems. There is real value in face-to-face conversations for dealing with anything from cascading problems in workflow to a dispute between individual team members. Ideally, in the planning stage you laid out a meeting schedule and target issues to discuss at meetings. Even if you did not, there will certainly be problems to talk about and work through as a unit. Having said that, avoid over-reliance on meetings. Too many meetings without enough weighty issues to anchor them will frustrate team members and run up costs. A meeting can also run off the rails if it lacks a clear intent and organization.

Going Forward

The execution stage is when the project goes from the abstract to the concrete. Delegate tasks based on your prior plans, use technology tools to assist and direct workflow, and have a clear, organized communication and feedback plan. The next stage, monitoring and measurement, actually occurs at the same time as execution. Monitoring and measuring goals and processes is how you improve your project framework for the future. See you then.

This is part 6 of a series on Legal Project Management. Click for part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, or part 5, or skip to part 7 or part 8.

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