It takes a lot of effort to get a project up to speed, but once youve built up enough momentum, its 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. Youd 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 someones task list. And when you follow up, that person will get a confused look and wonder why youre so worked up. After all, if it was urgent, you wouldve set a deadline, right?
Use Multiple Channels to Communicate with the Team and Client
When you follow up, dont rely on just one method of communication. Ive 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 doesnt work, try another. Just dont try them all at the same time. The only thing youd do is annoy people. Speaking of which...
I used to have a manager whod 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 partys guard will be down and theyll be more receptive to the follow-up than if youd just jumped in and yelled, Where is it?
Following up is a skill like any other, and its a good idea for project managers to master it. You dont 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.