As you climb higher and higher on that precarious corporate ladder, you’ll eventually get to the point where you are depending on other people to get work done for a deadline you are responsible for. An example of this would be if you are leading a team doing software design, and you are responsible of having all of the designs done by a certain date. You are responsible for the end result (all of the designs done), but you need your team to actually write the designs for this to happen. What happens if your team doesn’t make the deadline? Who gets the blame? This is a simple answer: You.
With this idea firmly in mind, how do you prevent missing a deadline? This is another simple answer, and yet many people don’t follow it: Be proactive. What does this mean? Well, I find that a good amount of the time a deadline is missed because the team lead does not check to see if their team is on track until the last minute.
Finding out that three designs aren’t going to be done the day before the deadline is due is not going to do you any good, as it is too late to do anything about it. However, if in this same situation you were to check a week or two before the deadline was due, the outcome might be different. This is being proactive. For our purposes, we can define it as taking action with enough time before your deadline is due to correct any problems.
The following are three things that you can do to be proactive on your projects as a team lead:
- Have regular meetings – Not just every once and awhile on the fly, but scheduled meetings. This means that your team knows that you have a meeting at a certain time on a certain day every week. For instance, you could have a 10:00 AM meeting every Monday to kick off the week and make sure everybody knows what they should be working on. Also, you could have a meeting at 3:00 PM on Friday to wrap up the week.
You don’t have to go overboard and have a meeting everyday (unless you’re in really deep trouble), but I’ve found once or twice a week to be effective. Make sure that you have a structure to the meeting as well, and it’s not just everybody standing around randomly talking. You need to conduct it and have a clear agenda when you go in for what you want to get out of it.
- Keep a tracking spreadsheet – This is another important organization tool: The tracking spreadsheet. Yes, it is a pain to maintain. However, it will save you from a lot of problems in the future. With this spreadsheet, you can see your team’s progress at a glance. This makes it easy to go into a meeting with them and ask questions about who is slipping or who is going to be ahead of schedule and why.
This can save your deadlines by allowing people who are ahead of schedule to help pick up the slack of those who are falling behind. Also, this is good for meetings with your boss so that you can give them an easy to understand overview of how your team is progressing. The key point to remember here is to make sure your tracking spreadsheet is up to date.
It does you no good if you have one, and yet nobody has updated it for a week. If your team is responsible for updating, remind them to update at the end of everyday (or whatever works for you, I just find the end of the day to be effective). If you are responsible for updating it, make sure you set aside a certain amount of time to do it everyday.
- Check in individually – Even if you have regular meetings, you should have informal progress checks with each of your team members. This doesn’t mean that you have a schedule a specific time for this, this can be as simple as stopping by their cube and asking them how they are doing.
This way you don’t have to find out about a problem that happened on Tuesday at your regular Friday meeting. By performing these progress checks, you relay a message to your team that you are right there with them in the trenches, and that you are there to help if they have any questions. Also, as stated above, this allows you to take action immediately on a problem instead of having someone waste their time working on it for days at a time.
Linking to the point above, if you find a change in someone’s progress as you talk to them, update the tracking spreadsheet immediately after you get back to your desk. This way you can see how that change is going to impact the rest of the team and your final deadline.
These are just three ways I’ve found that help me to be Proactive. There are probably lots of other ways specific to your work situation that can also help you out. A good way to think about your deadline situation is this: Whoever is holding you responsible for your deadline probably looks at your project as something of a black box. They don’t want to know the fine details, they just know what they want to see come out of it.
With this in mind, you want to deal with any problems that arise inside that box, rather than outside of it, so that when your finished product comes out the end result is what this person is looking for.