In this article, we are going to cover the importance of intention, follow-through, and discipline in project management.
Table of Contents
- An Unfinished Job
It was the United States Civil war, the battle was Gettysburg. General Meade was victorious and his congratulatory order to the troops was also sent by telegraph to the War Department (and would be read by Abraham Lincoln). The crux of the message was the invaders had been driven from our soil. Lincoln was upset by this message, exclaiming that the entire country is our soil, and General Lee was still on United States soil.
Later, President Lincoln would meet with General Mead:
Do you know, General, what your attitude towards Lee after the battle of Gettysburg reminded me of?” Meade replied: “No, Mr. President – what is it?” Lincoln said: “I’ll be hanged if I could think of anything else but an old woman trying to shoo her geese across a creek.1
In Lincoln’s mind, Meade had left the job unfinished. He had not aggressively pursued the rebels after the battle as they retreated from Pennsylvania. General Mead had good intentions, he performed well, but the fact was he did not follow through or in this case pursue the rebel army with the goal of finishing the job. This was especially damaging upon finding out that Lee was unable to immediately cross a swollen Potomac River (due to rain) in his retreat back to Virginia. Had Meade (assertively) followed through, he could have perhaps had Lee’s much-damaged army, against a river that prohibited quick retreat.
This same sort of thinking, as my dad would refer to as half-@$$ed, can permeate an organization including any project, and project management functions. In the best of circumstances, the project manager and team revel in the immediate win and may not see there is much more to be made of the situation. Under the worst conditions, the project fails and is unable to cobble anything that looks like a victory due to a lack of pursuit or follow through. This applies to operations of the organization as well as project management, in fact, where there are people, there exists the possibility of not capitalizing on opportunities, not successfully closing out activities or actions that are obligated, to make the most of the circumstance – or reduce the impact of negative circumstances.
We meet plenty of people that want to write a book, for example, but lacking finding the time and follow through become the bane of the effort. Having written a few books, and equally challenging, maintaining the pace of the effort over a period of time, all require constant follow-through and persistence. Getting up and doing the work, especially on those days when you would rather do something else (or nothing at all), is a measure of discipline. This is true for project management, product management, or product testing, actually any business-related endeavor.
Yet another example is just about everyone sets New Year Resolutions. Be it to exercise more, lose weight, or create and follow a To-Do List to accomplish more. These resolutions are based on good intentions and usually, the first few weeks go well. Continuing the work on the resolution begins to wane by mid-February and is completely forgotten by mid-March.
The project manager is well advised to follow through.
Leave nothing for tomorrow, which can be done today (~ A. Lincoln). A project manager should have three priority items to be accomplished each day. These items can be as simple as return a call or as complex as reviewing status with the Project Sponsor. The point is the project manager needs to establish the intention to move the project forward and follow-through (this can sometimes be referred to as persistence); set the example. Additionally, the project manager should keep time in their schedule, and in the project schedule, that makes adaptation and response to opportunities and to risks as presented. This may sound a bit helter-skelter, but the fact is there is no silver bullet, or always or only do this or that.
Good intentions or half-done often will bring a project to bitter consequences and failure.
As an example, the project manager and begin the discussion of the team’s responsibility to set intentions and follow through. For project success, it is critical for the project team to pursue the deliverables and goals stubbornly, doggedly to the desired end.
This brings us to three sayings from General George S. Patton that have become rules:
1. “Lead, follow, or get out of my way.”
Applied at times when dealing with senior management. On occasion, senior management can ‘interfere’ with a project. A Leader has to take a stand. The team needs to understand the project manager has the conviction to stand up for the project/project team. The best result is those interfering get out of the way. And actually, they put their support behind the project manager because they understand the commitment. It happens. The worse result is being relieved of the project. It happens.
2. “Do everything you ask of those you command (on your team).”
It’s all about follow-through. Don’t ask team members to do something you haven’t or wouldn’t do. The project manager must follow through on their commitments to the team. Often the project manager gets focused on commitments to the sponsor or client and forgets their commitments to the team. If it is the intention of the project manager to be viewed as a servant leader, they are bound to follow through. Even, if that means stepping in to help struggling team members. Don’t ask a team member to sacrifice their family commitments by traveling for the project if you are not willing to do the same. If there is a situation where the team member just can’t travel, get your butt on the plane.
3. “Say what you mean and mean what you say.”
Set intention, follow through. No B.S. There is a real need for leaders of ethics and integrity. Set the intention, ‘This project will be delivered on time and on budget, to the satisfaction of the client’. Now, plan accordingly to follow through and deliver that intention. As we all know the best-laid plans will change after the first contact with the obstacle. It is times like this when you have to revisit the Intention and modify the plan. Softening what is said to the point where it is not understood or the sense of urgency is lost, is not helpful.
Applying a celebration or reward system seems to help continue the applying of follow-through. In most cases, Project Managers cannot reward ‘wins’ with cash. Recognition of the accomplishments of the team at the group and the individual levels is fundamental to team engagement. Some good ideas are free lunch, small plaques, or even small tokens of appreciation, e.g. I have received project themed toys for my desk. Just a reminder of that feeling of achievement and being appreciated. If we are aware of the works of BF Skinner, positive and negative reinforcement, the actions we can take are truly wide-ranging, we put a small distillation of the work in the table below.
||Make available those things that motivate the team member
||Take away something the team member does not enjoy
||Give them something they do not like to do
||Take away something they like to do
It seems in the business world today, setting intentions to happen all the time, in every department, in every facet of the business. It is the follow-through that is never quite executed, and follow-through is the difference between a win and a loss. The hard work to deliver the project successfully, no matter your choice of methodology or combination of methods, set the Intention and deliver by following through. Even when the work gets hard and the obstacles are coming at you quick, stay in the game, you might have to alter course, or beat a retreat, but do so with intention.
 Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume II, p. 512.