At the beginning of the project everything is fresh, exciting, and new. The customer is happy and enthusiastic. The budget is on track. The schedule is not behind. And your team is focused on kicking off the project with you and getting the engagement underway.

As the project manager, you'll probably never have a time during the rest of the engagement where everyone is as focused on the project and what needs to be accomplished as they all are right at the time of project kickoff. The problem is - the project kicks off, work begins and your core project staff of three or four key personnel also likely have three or four other projects that each of them are working on. You only have them part time. And now it becomes a fight to keep them focused, on task, and working hard on your project.

So how do you do that? How do you keep them focused on your project as their primary priority? And what about down times? Those will happen. In no particular order, I've personally found that following these practical steps or seems to work pretty well at keeping my project at the forefront of what my project team members are focused on:

1. Full engage the whole team in the requirements process.

Depending on the project and the availability of your project personnel, getting everyone on board at the outset of the project may not be possible and is likely not very economical. They're working on other projects and you don't want them billing to your project before you really need them - otherwise it will blow the project budget out of the water.

However, getting the key personnel on board early to help define requirements and drill down into the requirements details is key to getting the project off on the right foot. It is also important for those resources as that is when they can engage the customer as you all work cohesively to truly define the goals of the project. Engage them early and they'll be entrenched in the project and their understanding of the project needs and goals will be extremely high.

2. Always keep the team informed of project and schedule status.

This one falls completely on the shoulders of the project manager. The project manager must stay on schedule with regular project status reports, project status meetings, internal team meetings, and up-to-date project schedules. If you want your team members to remain engaged and focused on their tasks then you need to keep those assignments in front of them.

Your project resources are busy individuals and the project manager who keeps them the most up-to-date and is in their face the most with information will be the one they give the most attention to. Trust me, it really does work that way.

If they know you're on top of everything, then they are far less likely to let things slide. If you let things slide, then they will too because they have other busy tasks to focus on. Make sure they know it's important to you and it will also be important to them. Any collaboration tool will do, but Seavus Project Viewer is a handy collaboration tool if you are primarily using MS Project for your scheduling and resource management needs.

3. Make team members responsible for their own status reporting on the project.

As the project manager, it can be a common occurrence for you to end up doing all the talking on the weekly project status calls with the customer. However, if you want your team to be accountable for their tasks and for them to feel like they're making major contributions and getting recognition for their work, then let them own the status reporting of those tasks assigned to them.

Make sure that they are on all of the status calls and let them own the process of giving status updates to the customer. It definitely changes their attitude and preparation for the weekly calls.

4. Continually revise the resource forecast throughout.

This one is critical because you don't want to learn it the hard way like I did on one project. If you don't keep your resource forecasting up to date, you may end up losing a key project resource to another project. Depending on how your organization works, this could be critical.

Many matrix organizations rely on resource forecasts on their projects to ensure that the company IT resources are as close to 100% utilization as possible. If you show that you don't need your business analyst for a three-week period in October, then management is likely to staff that BA during that time on another project. If things change and you need that BA but you've failed to update your resource plan, then you may find yourself without a key resource when you need them on a critical task.