Team milestone management is the single most important operational leadership skill you can develop. It is the critical link between theoretical strategies and plans and activities that actually have practical, value-creating impact.
The basics of milestone management are indeed basic: What’s getting done by when by whom. Map it out. Track progress on a regular basis. Adjust as appropriate.
But, as Jayme Check, one of the co-authors of The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan shares in this insight (request a free executive summary of the book):
Rarely is the delivery of a milestone reliant on one person. More often than not a milestone requires contributions from several members of the team across many functions.
We suggest a five-step meeting process to move from individual to team milestone management:
- Problem Solve
- Close the Loop
Step 1: Prep: Circulate individual milestone updates to the team to read before each meeting so you can take update sharing off the agenda, while deploying a disciplined process to make sure that information flows where it needs to go.
Step 2. Report. Use the first half of each meeting for each team member to headline wins, learnings, and areas in which the person needs help from other team members. Resist the typical urge to work through items at this point.
Step 3. Prioritize. Pause at the meeting’s halfway point to prioritize items for discussion so the team can discuss items in the right priority instead of first-come, first-served.
Step 4. Problem solve. Use the second part of the meeting to discuss, in order, the priority list you determined to be the overall team’s most important issues and opportunities.
Step 5: Close the loop: Defer other items to the next meeting or to a separate meeting. Update the tracking reports with any changes or new directions. Communicate major shifts to those key stakeholders who need to know.
This approach has several advantages in that it focuses the conversation on the most important problems for the team to solve as a team instead of dealing with each individual’s pet issues on a first-come, first-served basis.
Strengthen this by clarifying decision rights, accountabilities, linkages, information flows and collaboration.
Joint decisions are prone to slip through the cracks. In almost every case you’re better off getting clear on who is the single decision maker and who is providing input into that decision.
Many have found the RACI framework helpful for clarifying roles.
- Accountable: Answerable for correct and thorough completion of deliverable or task.
- Responsible: Does work defined and delegated by accountable person.
- Consulted: Provides input and advice (two-way communication).
- Informed: Kept up-to-date (one-way communication).
Note the accountable person may answer to an approving or commissioning authority that delegates the task or project to that accountable person. RACI applies within the task or project.
The fundamental difference between a true team and a group of people pretending to work together is their interdependence.
If individuals can deliver their accountabilities on their own, they do not have to operate as a team. Many law firms are really just professional alliances.
Teams are necessary when the individuals cannot deliver on their own. For example, a surgeon, anesthesiologist and nurses in an operating room must work as an interdependent team to deliver the desired result.
Information is the light that helps you see. If your team members don’t know what’s going on in the world around them, they’re flying blind. Pay attention to information flows.
Interdependent team members must collaborate with each other to achieve their shared goals. At the same time, team members and teams often must collaborate with others outside the team to get things done. Investing up front in clarifying the joint purpose, direction and milestones can make a huge difference in ensuring alignment and adherence.
Read about the next step in a new leader’s 100 day action plan: The Keys to Strengthening the Organization in Your First 100 Days in a New Job.
Click here for an overall executive summary of the New Leader’s Playbook and links to each of its 300+ individual articles on Forbes organized by category.
 Neilson, Martin, and Powers, “The Secrets to Successful Strategy Execution,” Harvard Business Review (June 2008): 60.