It takes a lot of effort to get a project up to speed, but once you’ve built up enough momentum, it’s just a matter of letting things take their course, right?
Even with task lists and automated project status updates, team members and (especially) clients may need additional prompting to turn in their deliverables. You’d think a poke in the shoulder would do the trick, but if you do it wrong, you may wind up irritating the other party and making them ignore you even more.
Set a Deadline
All project-related tasks are supposed to have deadlines, but in practice, quite a few are left open-ended. Maybe the task is too small for an actual deadline, or you just assume that the other person will get it done ASAP. Either way, human psychology pretty much guarantees that open-ended projects will get the lowest priority on someone’s task list. And when you follow up, that person will get a confused look and wonder why you’re so worked up. After all, if it was urgent, you would’ve set a deadline, right?
Use Multiple Channels
When you follow up, don’t rely on just one method of communication. I’ve worked with clients who were never at their desks, and so only responded to cellphone calls. Others only responded to email messages. And sometimes just giving automated deadline notifications is enough.
When one method doesn’t work, try another. Just don’t try them all at the same time. The only thing you’d do is annoy people. Speaking of which…
I used to have a manager who’d hover over me and ask for an update every ten minutes when a deadline was close at hand. It was frustrating and distracting and only made the work slower. Nagging is counter-productive to project momentum and bad for morale. Nagging your client might turn you into a pest, not a trusted advisor, and that relationship is very difficult to recover.
Fight the urge to pester people with update requests. Send a follow up once, and then wait. How much time depends on you and your relationship.
An effective way to sidestep the “nagging” issue is to have a conversation about something else entirely. Ask about another part of the project, or engage in some small talk to lighten the mood. Then, when the original conversation is done, throw in the follow up as if it were an afterthought. By then, the other party’s guard will be down and they’ll be more receptive to the follow up than if you’d just jumped in and yelled, “where is it?”
Following up is a skill like any other, and it’s a good idea for project managers to master it. You don’t have to constantly crack the whip in order to get projects done. In fact, in the long run, the soft-touch method is going to be better for both project momentum and your reputation.