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Here's how to succeed on a fast-paced project

14/08/2019
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More than ever engineering projects are under pressure to complete on time and under budget. Since the oil price crash and the general global economic slowdown, project teams have had to work at an ever faster-pace whilst maintaining accuracy and quality of work. Given that, if you’re looking for your next engineering position, you may find yourself in a high-pressure target-driven working culture. Here’s how you can succeed on a fast-paced project…
Here's how to succeed on a fast-paced project

Focus on priorities


First and foremost, it’s imperative that you focus on the core priorities that have been assigned to you. On a fast-paced project it’s likely that these priorities will change on a day-to-day or even hour-by-hour basis. Create a to-do list based upon your agreed upon priorities and set deadlines next to each task on this list. Then block off 30-minute or 1-hour segments in your calendar (literally schedule these blocks into your work calendar) and assign each task to each block of time. By assigning your most important priorities to blocks of time you can then ensure they are completed, even if you receive last-minute meeting requests etc. By scheduling the tasks into your work calendar, you are writing down a concrete commitment to completing them.
Communication is a vital part of working effectively on a fast-paced project

Communicate, communicate, communicate


On a fast-paced project communication should be a near-constant activity. If you are up against tough project deadlines, then any slight change in your work must be communicated to the relevant team members as soon as possible.

This communication can take many forms, it could be in-person daily huddles, daily meetings, as-needed posts on Slack or Yammer, and even verbal chat throughout the day. Use whichever form(s) of communication you and your team are most comfortable with – the main point is that you must communicate as soon as communication is required.

A break-down in communication can cause a break-down in team cohesion, and thus jeopardising your collective priorities and goals.

You should also make sure that all communications are group-wide (so everyone in the team is included) and trackable (so that everyone is accountable). Whilst chat and conversation are great forms of communication, for particularly important pieces of information that need to be known by the entire team, you should use written communication. Firstly, this helps to bring new team members up to speed. Secondly, it’s easier to identify any issues and seek resolution. Finally, having a written record of team-wide communication helps to conduct a post-mortem of how a decision was reached, which can be especially important in an engineering-project based environment.
The key to making a fast-paced project a success is an effective team. So it's vital that everyone is a team player

Be a team player


A crucial element on any project – not just fast paced ones! – is unity and collaboration. But particularly in fast-paced target driven environments it’s vital that you are able to set aside your egos and act as one cohesive unit. Collaboration is intrinsically linked to communication, so to achieve cohesion make sure you’re clear with your co-workers about what you need to achieve your objectives and listen to what they need to achieve their objectives. 

In order to prevent any potential conflicts or tensions – which are more prone to occur when you’re working to a tight deadline – remember to think before you speak. It’s easy to get carried away in the heat of the moment and let your stress take over. It’s easy in such instances to speak to colleagues in a way that you later regret. Equally, it’s important to show some understanding and restraint if a colleague happens to send you a curt email – it’s possible that they’re just writing the email in a hurry.
There is now a huge range of digital tools and platforms to help you work more effectively on fast-paced projects

Use technology to stay organised


If you’re juggling lots of competing priorities, trying to keep colleagues informed and working to meet tight deadlines, it can be very easy to miss something vital or forget to complete a task – bringing the whole endeavour to grinding halt. To avoid this, make sure you use tech to stay organised and on-target.

There’s a whole heap of useful project management and scheduling software on the market that can make life much easier for people working on fast-paced projects. Programs such as Trello and Basecamp provide a shareable, easy platform for teams to collaborate on projects. Tools such as Zoho include built-in project tracking for milestones, assignments and tasks and also has a nifty data sharing ability. There are plenty of project management tools and platforms out there, but the key is to find one that you and your team find intuitive and easy to use – not just the one that has the most features. Remember, if it’s not intuitive, it’ll not get used.

When it comes to communication tools, you’re equally spoiled for choice. Platforms such as Slack, Yammer and Microsoft Teams offer excellent options for instant communication, team collaboration and file sharing. Making use of these tools can help prevent you from ‘email fatigue’ and having to wade through tons of email trails to figure out a prior conversation.

What’s most important, is that once you’ve picked a tool it’s vital that you become a champion of it within your team and ensure that it is adopted by all. Failure to do this can lead to individuals adopting their own tools and platforms, quickly creating division and a lack of collaboration and cohesion.
On even the busiest of projects it's important to find time to recharge and refresh

Build downtime into your schedule


No matter how busy you and your team are, and how tight the project deadlines, it’s important to build-in a small amount of downtime into your collective schedule. Engineering projects require deep-thinking, large volumes of concentration and huge dollops of creativity – none of which come easily when you are burnt out.

Even with the prospect of tight deadlines, it can be possible to find ways for you and your team to take a break and refresh themselves to meet the challenge. Perhaps it’s possible to stagger work so that each member of the team can finish early once a week? Maybe there is a day-a-week where you can collectively agree to finish slightly early or come in to the office later? Even a simple walking meeting outdoors can bring new creativity and perspective to the challenges you are dealing with. Whatever your targets and priorities, there will generally be a way to build in at least some downtime into your busy week.

So, there are our tips on how to succeed when working on a fast-paced project. If you’ve got any tips that you’ve found useful and would like to share with the engineering community, let us know in the comments below!

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