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So You Have Been Assigned a Project – Part 2 (Running Your Project)
By Chris Fortier

You have put in a significant amount of work planning the big project. You have your mission, goal, timeline, work plan, and budget. Most importantly, you have the approval to get started. How do you get off on the right note? Think about these steps:

Hire the right people.

As in many businesses, the human element is the most important. Humans enjoy face-to-face contact, as we get the most context out of this sort of interaction. Here is another point where the project can go from fantastic to horrid without the right planning. Before you place an announcement, list out the specialized roles you need on your team. How many subject-matter experts do you need for which topics? Who do you need to perform highly specialized tasks? Who will represent your customer or end user? Before looking at résumés, make sure these roles are clearly defined—they should reflect what will each person be expected to accomplish. Hire candidates according to the roles you identified in the planning process.

Orient your team and set the expectations.

Congratulations, you have set up your team! Now, you will need to orient them. If you have a smaller team, feel free to call up each person to congratulate them and give a brief introduction to the group with a little background on the problem. This is a personal touch that builds rapport and also empowers the new team member to start thinking about solutions before the first meeting.

Be sure to lay out your expectations, such as (a) how will the group interact with one another, (b) who will the person approach if they have questions, (c) how to moderate conflicts, (d) meeting schedule, (e) homework expectations, and (f) other time commitments. These will go a long way to preventing future confusion and establishing trust as you are laying out how everything will work up front.

Stick to your commitments and expectations (as much as you can).

Sometimes the parameters of a project will change and frustrate everyone involved. Your team members do not need you randomly changing the expectations. If you have to reread your expectations and rules for the group, do so regularly. Encourage your team members to speak up if an assignment is taking more time or resources than originally anticipated.
However, external forces can disrupt your project’s scope, timeline, or final product. You should anticipate it.

Check in regularly.

You need to stay on top of the project’s operations and keep in touch with your team’s tasks, issues, and accomplishments. This will assist you when deciding how to adjust workloads, timelines, team memberships, and expectations. While individual conversations may be the best way to figure out where your team members are going, large teams may require meetings in order to make better use of your time.

Keep an open communication channel with your customer.

Customer service matters! Your team will encounter questions about something in the customer’s thinking. What does XYZ stand for? You are noting these processes, what are they? Such questions mean the difference between a product the customer will want and one that may end your service with him or her. While you may be able to put together a list of basic questions for your customer to answer that orients your team on the customer, the case, and the expectations, you will not think up of every question by yourself before getting into the work.

At the end, evaluate.

This information is important for not only you to evaluate your leadership style and ability to adapt to challenges, but to evaluate how your organization interacts with the customer. Ask questions with the intent to find hidden issues, silos (insider thinking), and other challenges. Don’t forget to ask questions with the intent to find out what went right so that you can replicate what works in future projects. Keep the questions short and simple and know that 1-10 ratings will get more responses than open ended textboxes.

Chris Fortier is the President of the Young Lawyers Conference and has served in many capacities with the Virginia State Bar and the American Bar Association. He works for the Social Security Administration in Falls Church, Virginia. His remarks do not reflect the opinions of SSA or the Federal Government. He prepared this work on his own time.