Job Huddles Improve Project Performance
Of all the forms of meetings in the project plan, perhaps
the biggest bang for your buck is the job huddle. The job huddle should be used
as a tool to bring a project back on track, or to prevent it from going off track
when it’s trending in that direction. If all facets of your project are on
schedule and on budget, don’t waste time holding them – they’ll just be viewed
as punishment for meeting the goals you set for the team ("the beatings will
continue until morale improves…”).
Job huddles are informal meetings held for the purpose of
reviewing progress for the previous period’s work and identifying any issues or
problems that are blocking progress. They originated with football huddles –
when the team on offence forms a circle and the next play is discussed with the
team, with the quarterback leading the discussion. They are particularly effective
in football because it’s the only opportunity the players have to communicate
with one another. The next play is not the only thing players discuss in these
huddles; observations about field conditions and weaknesses displayed by the defense
on the opposing team (e.g. the cornerback is favoring his right leg) are also
shared and the information is analyzed by the quarterback with a view to
improving the chances for the success of the next play. Unlike projects in the
business world, football teams don’t have the luxury of a set plan which they
can execute unaltered to achieve success. They’re behind the 8 ball from the
get go; the other team’s job is to put them there! That’s why, with relatively
few exceptions (the "no huddle” offence) teams will use huddles from the first
play of the game to the last play.
Job huddles can be an effective way of addressing changing
conditions and sharing information in the project environment, however there
are other methods for achieving this information sharing. Team members are
often collocated so have every opportunity to communicate with one another,
share tips, help each other out, and generally improve the team’s performance,
unlike their counterparts on the football field. It’s when the other methods
for sharing information, and implementing slight changes to the plan aren’t
working that job huddles can be helpful.
The project manager should evaluate team performance to
determine the necessity for job huddles. Some signs that job huddles may be
- The team isn’t meeting its objectives –
deadlines are being missed.
- There is conflict on the team.
- You’re getting conflicting information from the
team, for example some members inform you that a tool is working, others tell
you it isn’t.
- Some members of the team are meeting their
objectives, others aren’t.
- There are an unusually high number of defects
being produced by the team.
If your team is experiencing any one, or a combination, of
these symptoms its time to implement job huddles.
When to Meet
You will already be holding project review meetings with the
team, probably on a weekly basis, where the team has an opportunity to raise issues
that block progress, identify new risks, share information that can improve
performance, and update you on their progress. Your job huddles need to be more
frequent (for the same reasons that the football team hold their huddles before
every play). I’ve found that daily job huddles is a good frequency to start
with. If issues arise with any degree of frequency which must be addressed
before the next day, you may find you’ll need more frequent huddles. I would
not advise holding job huddles more frequently than twice a day. If issues are
arising so frequently that twice daily huddles are not sufficient to address
them, its time to invest in some team building so that issues are addressed on
the fly, or they are escalated to you on the fly.
Job huddles should address a project need. As such, they are
an ideal corrective action when project performance doesn’t measure up because
of problems with the team. When team performance improves so that the project
is back on track, give the team a break and suspend the job huddles, or make
them less frequent.
Where to Meet
Job huddles should typically last no more than ½ hour, with
15 minutes being a good median time to work with, so you shouldn’t have to
waste everyone’s time bringing them into a meeting room to conduct the meeting.
This is a good meeting to hold "around the water cooler”, or "around the file
cabinets” (I’ve personally seen them used to very good effect around filing
cabinets). The key here is to hold the meeting at a location that is handy to
the teams work stations, so that time isn’t wasted in getting to and from the
meeting place, or wasted in waiting for stragglers. Don’t worry about the lack
of chairs. Standing for the duration of the meeting will tend to have the
effect of making the meeting briefer because participants are more likely to
stay focused and less likely to engage in debates.
What to Discuss
Job huddles should articulate issues that are hindering
project progress. These are issues which other team members engaged in the
huddle may be able to address, or issues that have to be escalated to you to
address. Keep the agenda informal. Follow a general format if you wish – start
by providing any updates to the team which have occurred since your last huddle
or team meeting, then have each team member or group lead, provide you with a
thumb-nail sketch of their progress to date. The progress updates should
conclude with an assessment of the status of the work. Will the work finish on
schedule? Will the work products meet the quality standards set for them?
Encourage the team to share any issues which would increase the risk of not
completing the work on time, or to established standards. Technical issues
should first be the responsibility of the team to resolve. If the team can’t
resolve the issue internally, it should be escalated to you to resolve. Be sure
to record any action items with its owner and a due date. Be sure that action
items assigned by you are committed to by the owner.
find that job huddles can be a very effective tool in improving team
performance providing they are used correctly and that blocking issues are
raised and resolved in a timely fashion.
Job Huddles should be a part of your communications plan. Project communications are a part of good project management and the best way to learn project management best practices is to take a PMP® course or some other form of PMP® exam preparation training. three O Project Solutions offers a downloadable software product, AceIt©, that has helped hundreds of project managers to pass their PMP® exams and in the process has taught them the basics of project management best practices.