CEO @polarnotion. CTO @newstorycharity. Coowner @tenrocket & @sharpp. Run fast. Stay strong. Go boldly forward. Godspeed :: morgan@polarnotion.com

Keeping Projects on Track

A team’s ability to keep projects on track and moving forward is crucial. Regardless of the team, surprises and hangups will pop up along the way. When a project gets off track, trying to understand ‘why’ is a common pursuit. Unfortunately, questions that explain past decisions do not drive the conversation forward.

Foregoing why a misalignment occurred, a more effective question is, “What do you need to get back on track?” A solution oriented approach, this question illuminates a path forward. There are four solutions to being offtrack. The solutions include: simplify, clarify, increase expertise, and extend timeline.

When a project is off track, most people will default to adding more time. Unfortunately, time alone will rarely make it better. The following unpacks alternatives and provides a framework for forward momentum.

Simplicity

How can we simplify and still hit the target?

Simplifying the solution is the easiest way to make up for lost time. It’s not a matter of cutting corners. It is about assessing the work to and removing unnecessary complexity. Simplicity is the first solution because it rarely requires outside inspiration or help. If the solution accomplishes the goal, why should it be any harder than necessary?

Clarity

Will an increase in understanding result in an increase in efficiency?

This is common in cross-disciplinary projects. A deeper understand of priorities and expectations can go a long way. Building technology, communication between designers and developers can be instrumental in removing obstacles. 15 minutes of a web designer explaining their intentions can save hours, days, or even weeks.
When eye-glasses have smudges, removing the blemishes can bring more into perspective.

Expertise

How would someone with more specialized expertise approach the solution?

Experience is a magnificent teacher. In times of struggle, leaning on those with more experience can pay dividends. Experienced professionals have more tools, strategies, and tactics. Their experience reveals trends and patterns that can speed up impact.

Time

Given that simplicity, clarity, and expertise have failed… How much more time?

Adding time to a project should be a last resort. Exhaust all other options first. From there, it’s important to determine how much more time is necessary and how that time will be spent. The greatest concerns with adding more time is it’s ability to create future problems. Missing deadlines will compound with other timelines and commitments.

Holiday season is a great example. With a mid-November deadline, an extension would likely bleed into Thanksgiving. Without resolution, the project would get bounced around December. Team members would juggle it with their previously scheduled holiday travels. Next thing you know, it’s January and you aren’t too much further along.


This shared language can rally a team and keep the trains running on time. Getting off track is inevitable. It can be a sign of trouble or a sign of real innovation. More important than reasons or excuses, the team should understand what it takes to fix it.