Creating a Sense of Urgency

Without a sense of urgency, desire loses its value.

Jim Rohn

No matter what kind of project you are managing – whether it is a technology upgrade, a process overhaul, a vendor integration, or anything in between – you should always have a project owner. The project owner is the business lead who is accountable for project success. Once the project is completed, the outcomes transition to the project owner and the work becomes part of the normal day-to-day activities.

As you might have guessed, the project owners have a lot of skin in the game to get things done. Many times they are self-motivated and are being held accountable by their project sponsors. They sometimes are the main champions for the work and helped get the project pushed through the portfolio approval process.

But other times – and even if they were the ones who worked hard to get the project approved – they do not seem to have a sense of urgency to dedicate the time, resources, and money to moving the project forward, making decisions, or taking action.

There can be many reasons for this apparent inaction. Maybe their time is not allocated 100% to the project and they are too busy to give the project the attention it deserves. Perhaps they are not getting strong messages from their project sponsors that the work is a priority. Or maybe they do not understand their role as the business lead and think that others will take the reins.

Whatever the reason is, as the project manager, you can help diagnose the specific issues, clarify roles, and create a sense of urgency where it does not seem to exist. It is discouraging to everyone to keep getting delayed or for there to be a lack of momentum with the project. If you do not get your main stakeholders on board, then you are wasting your and your extended teams’ time.

Here are a few ways to create a sense of urgency with your project owner.

  • Use the typical project management toolscharter, project plan – to align on the work that needs to get done, and ask your project owners to either commit to it or adjust if they do not think it is realistic based on other priorities.
  • Clarify their role as the project owner – whether it is expertise they need to provide, tasks that they own, content they need to create, decisions they need to make, and/or deadlines they need to hit – so they know ahead of time where they need to spend their time
  • Explain whether the project timeline is interdependent with other projects, and show the impacts of any delays or changes in scope to whatever else is going on in the organization so that the project owners know how their work affects others.
  • Set up time to meet on a regular basis – definitely with the team and perhaps separately with the project owner – to keep things on track and make progress and risks visible via a project dashboard so that everyone stays informed and accountable.
  • Ask your project sponsor to visibly support the project and to hold the project owners accountable to meet the initial timeline and scope set – not accepting delay after delay, regardless of the reason.
  • Have a heart-to-heart with your project owner, pointing out the unproductive behaviors you see using specific examples, and explaining the effects each delay has on project progress, interdependent work, and team morale.
  • Know that there is only so much you can do as the project manager, and be ready to recommend you put the project on hold or save it for another time when people are able to commit themselves to getting work done.

Some people need more handholding than others, and that’s okay. But you should not be not working harder than your project owners, especially when they are not showing that the project is a priority for them. So try using some of these techniques to make sure they understand what the project work is, what their role is, and how any delays affect the team and/or other projects. And then it is up to them to dedicate the time to meet the project goals.

It is not enough to want to do something, or talk about how great of an idea it is. They must actually take action and get things done, and it is your job to guide them along the way.

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