Since Things Rarely Go as Planned, Here are Five Ways to CYA
By Mark Alison
I wish everything always went as planned, deadlines were always met, budgets were always approved and everyone told the truth. In the real world, though, it doesn’t happen that way and then somebody pays a price.
Here are five ways to cover your assets and keep communication flowing while working on projects.
- Date everything you send/receive and every note you take. I put the date, time and people in the room at the top of every legal pad page. When I flip the page I write the date and time again so I can see the progression of notes.
Once the trail gets cold a few weeks later, it is good to have this information dated and timed. I am even guilty of scanning the page and putting it into my digital files.
Phone calls? Open a document, place the date, time and people, then take notes. Text messages? Take a screen shot and date them – just change the name of the file and date it. I have a piece of software called “stickies” on my computer. Yes, it’s sticky notes for your screen. Sound obsessive? You bet! My assets are covered.
- At the very start of the project, determine the stakeholders and keep them in the loop. Stakeholders are those people who have a bearing on the outcome. It’s always good to limit these when possible, because waiting on approvals from multiple parties can slow projects down. Having more stakeholders at the beginning, however, minimizes mistakes, and more input is vital at the beginning of a project.
Part of keeping them in the loop is to determine how they want to be communicated with. We found that trying to get changes approved by one client was impossible. We missed critical deadlines. Emails went unanswered. Projects we had spent weeks on were being scrapped. The client was not pleased. We called a meeting to figure out what was going wrong.
“I am on the road 200 days a year,” our client explained. “If you want to reach me, call me. I do not sit at a desk.”
Our mistake was in assuming the client would communicate the same way we did, through emails. Once we learned how to communicate with him, assets were covered.
- Once the project is initiated verbally, write down the specifics in outline form and when possible, create a flow chart with deadlines. Deadlines need to be agreed on, especially when there are multiple ones. I hate waking up at 2 a.m. wondering if the deadline was met.
I always pad the deadline a bit to allow for slow responses. Editors and printers have what they call “deadlines,” and then there is the real “drop-dead deadline,” that is, the immovable one. If you are the project manager, never tell anyone else about the “drop-dead deadline” or it becomes everyone’s deadline and you have left your assets uncovered.
- Monitor and explain changes. Change happens and it always seems to happen at critical junctures. There are “cloud-based” software products that can help keep everyone on the same page with changes but they have to be maintained by a project manager. The old axiom is, “If everyone’s doing it, no one is doing it.” Don’t assume, assign.
I wish it stopped there but it doesn’t. Monitor the person you assigned the task to because you know, if they fail, it’s your assets that are hanging in the wind. I used to say nothing is complete until the check clears the bank.
- Follow the progress. Our client had intel that the competition was making a move that would impact sales dramatically. We initiated a project to counter the move and were aggressively working on the project. Our team was hard at work on step 4 above – monitoring and meeting deadlines.
The problem was that no one was following the progress at the client level and we weren’t informed when the competition abandoned their plan. Bottom line – the project wasn’t needed. Who knew? There are multiple levels in communication. Stay as close to the top as possible because you know what flows downhill.
Here’s the bottom line. CYA is really about covering the company assets – the brand, the image and ultimately the P&L. Stuff happens but by communicating properly, timely and effectively you will have fewer of those 2 a.m. moments of insanity.