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TM Tips: Using Your Project Schedule to Create a Sense of Urgency

By: Scott Dalgleish, Team Manager, Colorado

One of the most difficult things for a team to do during the Destination Imagination (DI) season is to transition from brainstorming to actually creating. The brainstorming is fun and easy, and it does not have any accountability to get things done. My teams have tended to really like the brainstorming phase – and I’ve always had a hard time getting them to transition into taking on tasks to turn their ideas into a physical reality.

Part of the problem is that the team members know that the tournament is months away, so this tends to foster procrastination.

I use some basic project management skills to create a sense of urgency to start getting tasks done.

In a previous blog post, Creating Your Team Meeting Schedule, I explained how I used the school calendar to schedule our team meetings. When I need to poke the team into action, I get out this calendar again and review it with the team.

I have them look at the calendar, “When is the first DI tournament?” Then I ask, “How many rehearsals do you want before the tournament.” They usually reply that they want three meetings for rehearsals. We all then look at the calendar, start at the first tournament date, then work backwards three team meetings (which we will use for rehearsals). I then ask, “OK, how many team meetings do we have to get all this stuff done?” The answer is usually around six meetings. That’s when the panic sets in. (But better now than a week before the tournament.) The team erupts with “How are we going to get all of this done in six weeks” chatter.

I think it’s good to have a bit of a panic a few months in advance. It helps shift the team into a mode of getting things done and helps break them out of the “let’s sit on the sofa and brainstorm for another meeting” mode.

Once I’ve created a sense of urgency to start making progress to complete project tasks, we apply another project management skill of breaking big tasks down into smaller pieces.

The team comes to an agreement on how each part of the Central Challenge will be solved, and then I divide-up them into a few small groups of two or three kids so they can focus on completing each of the tasks.

I tend to ask them, “What are the first things you need to do to create this?” Often, they want to run out to the garage and start swinging hammers. In my early years as a Team Manager, I would let them go to the garage and start swinging hammers, but this usually wasted time.

As a seasoned Team Manager, I use this transition time (from idea to creation) to teach project management skills. Now, before we start swinging hammers, I typically require that the team create a plan (usually a drawing or outline) and a materials list that they need to complete their plan. It isn’t Interference to teach project management skills that prevent the team from wasting their (and more important, YOUR) time. You are not influencing or contributing to their solution idea. You are just teaching them how to get project tasks done more efficiently.

I think all of my team members (including me) enjoy the building part of the year the most – and everyone is eager to start swinging hammers. I have found, however, that when there is poor planning and lack of the right materials, it become very frustrating for everyone… including the Team Manager.

I won’t let the team go to the garage to start building until they have presented a plan, created a specific materials list, and shopped for the materials (which a parent or I can do for them, if needed).

Creating a plan for what they want to build can be a new and difficult task. What I have found works really well is to have the small groups research how to build similar things on the internet. (The number of YouTube instructional videos that are online now is amazing.) The kids typically see several options on how to build something. Often, their plan is a YouTube demonstration video that they follow and modify to make the final creation their own.

In other cases, the kids will make a drawing (which becomes a drafting skills-building activity), or they will make a small model of what they want to create. Once they have some sort of plan, they can create a materials list and bring it to the next meeting.

There is one other critical factor that relates to creating a materials list: the budget. By having the kids create a plan and create a materials list, they can price out the parts on the internet and see if they are under budget. Often, they are way over budget. This allows the team to modify their ideas and plans before they start building and realizing they have a budget problem a week before the tournament.

Other “first step” tasks may involve field trips to learning more about available materials. Sometimes we will go to our local building materials junk yard or a hardware store to get ideas on how to build things that will stay in budget. Materials “field trips” can also be done online using websites that specialize in building materials, such as McMaster Carr. Sometimes looking at materials first can help the team get “over the hump” on making a plan to build something.

Once you have completed the “first few steps” and have a plan and the right materials, then the swinging hammers meetings will have much less frustration and a much higher sense of satisfaction, productivity and accomplishment.

About the Author: Scott Dalgleish is the CEO of Phase IV Engineering, located in Boulder, Colorado, and has extensive skills in project management. In 2015, he was an Engineering Project Manager for NASA. He and his company created temperature sensors which were install in the International Space Station Urine Processing Unit. Scott manages his children’s Destination Imagination team and has been involved with the program for more than seven years.