Working with teams whose members are spread across offices (or even continents) can make it extremely difficult to gauge and manage project momentum. Momentum isn’t motivation; it’s a separate factor. In fact, it’s often momentum that comes into play when team motivation might be flagging.
Project momentum is what makes it easy for team members to get things done even when they have bigger challenges to tackle; it’s what keeps the project’s wheels oiled and spinning, even when team members take time out.
While team motivation might be highest at the beginning and end of a project, momentum will, ideally, be consistent or growing throughout. This means when motivation levels dip, momentum can carry the team through, keeping individuals productive, and your project on track. Momentum can be especially valuable when your team members are spread across multiple locations.
Once you kick off a project, how can you ensure all the collaborators in your team will maintain the momentum to get the job done easily and well? Can you build the project’s momentum, so progress and productivity actually become easier as time passes?
Making sure everyone knows where the project is heading, and what they and their colleagues need to do to get there, is a critical first step in maintaining momentum.
Be aware that while shared project management tools are great for keeping everyone informed about project direction and progress, if a team member falls behind schedule, the constant visibility of that lagging performance can reduce the team’s momentum — even for those whose tasks don’t directly depend upon the work of that team member.
Shared task lists, where team members have the ability to add tasks to others’ lists, can also help maintain momentum, as long as the tasks are managed by the team leader, and the lists don’t get too long.
Time is important in maintaining momentum, and building it. Provide too little time per task, and team members can feel overwhelmed — a huge drain on momentum. Equally, allocate too much time, and the team’s momentum may dissolve as days or weeks pass with little progress.
Ask team members how much time they expect they’ll need to complete a task, then balance that estimate against the business requirements and how you think it’ll impact the team’s momentum. Gut feel; your team’s composition and the organization’s culture will all impact what sorts of timeframes are appropriate.
Don’t miss the opportunity to use the extra momentum generated when a task is completed ahead of time. Consider if other project tasks can be started early or moved forward as a result of this gain — keeping things moving is important if you’re to make the most of the momentum you’ve achieved.
The types of tasks a team member has to do can affect momentum just as timeframes can. Too much of one task type, and even star performers can get bogged down, losing momentum as well as motivation. But if they need to switch tasks too often, they may lack the sense of challenge that can help to build momentum.
Even if you can’t control a team member’s whole schedule, do your best to gauge how easy or hard they’re finding the tasks they’ve been allocated, and consider reordering task progression if they seem overwhelmed or mired in a particular task. Making logical, practical revisions on the fly can have a noticeable impact on the overall team’s momentum.
Reporting requirements can be good motivators, but they may also provide boundaries for the project, and give it the shape and intensity needed to keep things turning over. Feed the reported information back into shared project blueprints so that everyone on the job can see the progress that’s being made, and share the sense of momentum.
Asking for regular reports from team members — no matter how casual that reporting process might be — can give a valuable sense of flow to the project for each of the individuals involved. Reporting can be one way to help team members get a sense of their own momentum, and use it to work through their own motivational peaks and troughs.
The other benefit of reporting is that it will give you a valuable chance to communicate with the team member, provide feedback, and gauge their motivation and momentum levels, as well as their progress. Ultimately, the interpersonal benefits of reporting can also support and build momentum.
How does momentum play out in your project teams? Let us know in the comments.