Preparing a project to be successful is one of the most important tasks of a project manager. There are so many times where we endure what we anticipate and planned around, all because someone didn’t dot, their i’s, cross their t’s, or read their simple instructions. Have you ever made the assumption that since you have provided a qualified person all of the necessary tools to complete the task, only to have them fail at it? This seems to be something we face everyday. We try to make adjustments – put the words in bold, make sure all instructions are clear and full, you know the drill. And still people fail to do what is expected.
I am sorry to say that there are certain instances when I am one of those frustrating people. If I have deemed a task a bit less urgent, or if I am interested in it, I tend to get my hands into it a bit, fumble around in it to learn my way, then go back to the instructions. It fuels my curiosity and helps me understand something more fully. I don’t do it intentionally, its just what happens kind of automatically. Sometimes I figure it out without using the instructions. The challenge is, what do I do with the extra screw? I’ve put together furniture and got to the end, only to see that homeless piece of metal sitting in its package. Was it an extra? Was it needed somewhere and I missed it? Do I need to disassemble and re-do this? Ugghhh. Being unsure when responsible surely is a highway leading to anxiety.
I wonder if we should have a new test when hiring people for strict office compliance roles. Maybe to test these folks’ ability to follow instructions we should give them the test of assembling store bought furniture where assembly is required. We can see how well they follow these clear step by step instructions. If they jump ahead and do not stick to the instructions, maybe we will need to provide additional support to them knowing that they are pre-disposed to make more errors than the person who does not follow the tried and true instructions.
Knowing that some people may not do the prep work nor follow the checklist for a project makes it tricky for a project manager. They will not always have a project so detailed out where the strict adherer to instructions will succeed. How do we make something clearer, while making it more likely to be read? How can we make sure what is read is more clear? Of course the answers will vary dependent on the recipient, but what do we do when there are many recipients? How can we make it easier for everyone to be successful on the project?
Consider the different types of resources a project manager can provide – documentation, like checklists, instructions, before and after photo examples, and more. You can also provide specific, deductive titles/explanations of items supported with reminders. Other resources you could provide are one on one or group phone calls with a project expert, pre-project calls, progress calls during the project, and more. There are so many tools at a project manager’s disposal. Another item to consider are how to address items that we anticipate will be misunderstood, despite having the proper documentation. Taking steps here can help as well. Being set up for success plays a major role in how simple success is achieved.
As with most good things, there are costs associated with improvements. The continuous pursuit of reducing risk can drive up compliance and consistency. It can also drive up costs. The simpler you make something, the less it should cost you, especially if you have strict instruction followers. Stay mindful if the improvement investment yields the desired return. Adding process to eliminate a risk in one project may make a standard, more common project more difficult to accomplish successfully. Think about most franchises and how simple they make it for someone to succeed at getting many orders of burgers and fries out to their customers in just a handful of minutes. Keep success simple.
And finally, before we convict all of the non-instruction followers, remember many projects have unforeseen issues, and the creative thinker who tinkers a bit is often the person who overcomes these challenges effortlessly. Keep them happy too. Its tough to make something perfect. Sometimes we need people for their very skill that frustrates us. Forgiving them makes their help a bit easier to swallow. Combining compliance with creativity makes success a bit easier to achieve.