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  • Writer's pictureNathalie C. Chan King Choy

Follow-Through: Tackling 4 Categories of Friction

Updated: Dec 28, 2023

One man rolling a cyclinder with a man behind him pushing a cube with much friction, on a rough surface

In my October blog post “Follow-Through: 3 Unwritten Responsibilities of the Project Manager”, I covered my 3 pillars for effective follow-through from the first half of my 2023 PM West Conference presentation “Mastering the follow-through: deliver the Impact with your Ignited Innovative team.”

  • Understanding how to prioritize what to follow-through/follow-up on

  • Building a connection with teammates & stakeholders, and also between them

  • Motivating a culture of self-responsibility & making it easy to find the work


This month's post summarises the rest of the presentation - tackling 4 categories of friction and keeping up with the craziness, as new initiatives arise during project execution.


Even if we have a highly motivated, self-responsible team, who’s well connected with each other

and has a general sense of priorities, there will always be friction. We, as Project Managers, have an important role to play in reducing friction for our project teams, so they can focus on the execution. So, it helps if we break the friction down into categories, and then look at how to tackle each. My 4 categories are: Lack of clarity, Forgetfulness, Overwhelm, and Competing priorities.


Lack of Clarity


If it’s not clear what needs to be done, it’s either hard to get started or people bumble around wasting precious effort on related but not necessarily relevant tasks. Or, if it’s not clear who owns doing it, people are not likely to voluntarily pick it up, since our teams are usually very busy. To give the initiative the best chance at getting anywhere, let’s make sure it gets captured, with some detail around what was discussed - think Who, What, Where, When, Why? Capture the owner, the stakeholders, and the deadline. Make sure the owner knows why this is important, especially if they weren’t in the meeting/discussion when this action/initiative arose. If you know who’s supposed to do what, why, and by when, there’s a much higher likelihood of follow-through.


Forgetfulness


Forgetfulness and Overwhelm can be related, but I call out Forgetfulness separately because it’s the easier end to address. People just forget to do their actions and forget to look into the new initiatives. Having a central repository of action items that can be bookmarked, or making sure that important initiatives get captured & assigned as new tasks in the project tracker can help to reduce the number of balls that get dropped.


Overwhelm


Overwhelm is when people become really inefficient because they feel like they are drinking out of a fire hose. Often times, these team members are victims of their own success - everyone needs them, so they end up having exploding inboxes and chats. A lot of balls are at risk of getting dropped, because they can barely keep up with what’s coming at them. To get through to them, it takes Persistence and Prioritization.

  • Persistence: It will take several tries & different means to get their attention - email, chat, phone, relaying your message via someone who has their ear.

  • Prioritization: You need to know exactly what you need from them, in priority order, so you can make the most of their limited attention window when you get it.

Don’t forget to raise this overloaded resource issue to management, as it’s a long-term risk to any projects relying upon this overwhelmed individual.


Competing Priorities


Competing priorities is a tricky one – I work with a lot of cross-functional teams with participants from different business units. Each contributor might have a sense of priorities for how they should be allocating their effort, but those priorities might not match the rest of the team. So, we don’t have everyone pulling in the same direction at the same time. In the best case, we can ask a higher level of management to decide which of the competing priority 1 initiatives is higher priority than the other. Too often, we get the incredibly annoying management answer that they are all important, and we just have to find a way to make it work. We have to lean on our connections and communication skills to make this work: If you haven’t taken negotiation training, I highly recommend it. The general gist of negotiation: invest time in learning the background behind each person’s priorities. You’ll uncover what their real “must haves” are and where there is room to maneuver.


Conclusion


Once you know how to handle the 4 different categories of friction, you still have to be able to keep up with the craziness to lead your project team. A key piece of follow-through is following up, which can be difficult for Project Managers to keep up with. Leverage technology for effective follow-ups:

  • Create project dashboards that team members can bookmark for easy access to task details and project progress.

  • Automate reminders through email and calendar systems (e.g. delayed sending and zero-minute calendar appointments)

  • If your company uses Confluence, the Task Report macro can help you to aggregate tasks across your meetings into 1 central location that the team can bookmark.

  • Increase the visibility of important new initiatives that arise by ensuring they get into the project tracker.


Remember, understanding the nuances of follow-through is not just a skill; it's a strategic advantage in delivering impactful projects. If you found these insights valuable, you can book a training session for your PMO on this or similar topics by reaching out to info@kestrel-omnitech.com.


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