So You Want to Be a PM: The Importance of Follow-up

It's 3pm on a Wednesday, and you just pushed send on the report draft you've been slaving over for the past two weeks. Per your boss's request, you've sent the draft to the client two weeks ahead of schedule to solicit input in advance of the report deadline. With that task completed, you're thinking about putting your feet up, sitting back, and maybe even taking the rest of the week off. You shut off your computer and sprint out the door. When you show up to work on Monday, your boss asks you where the client comments are. We were supposed to receive them COB Friday to have enough time for the team to incorporate them. Oops. What went wrong?

  1. You should have worked the entire week in case the comments came in.

  2. You should have stuck to your original plan of taking the week off--once you had confirmation from the client that she had received your email--and then checked your email briefly on Friday to see that the comments were in your inbox (and that you could open the attachment.)

You know you're starting to think like a PM when you recognize option #2 is the right answer even before I had to spell it out for you. It sounds simple, but I find that so many junior (and even some more seasoned) PMs confuse task completion with completing their portion of the work. Just because you've asked someone to do something does NOT mean that your work is done; in fact, if you're a PM, it often means that your work is just beginning. Your role is to grease the wheels to get things done, and, as I mentioned in a previous post, it also means anticipating what might go wrong and taking precautions to make sure it doesn't.

Here are three simple rules that junior PMs should keep in mind when it comes to project follow-up:

  • Don't be afraid. Staff will often tell me they are nervous about following up--whether it's with a client, a peer, or their manager--because they don't want to "bother" the person. My retort is to ask them whether they think I'll be bothered if they don't complete their assigned task. Telling your boss that you haven't heard back from the person you have been tasked to connect with does not reflect well on you or the project. Take ownership for a task and make sure that it gets done, whatever that entails.

  • Do set reminders for yourself. With all the busy-ness that goes on at work, it can be difficult to remember the status of where a required form is in the approval chain. Set up a trusted system for yourself to remember the minutiae of where things are. Then, impress your boss with your ironclad "memory". (It always makes me laugh when people compliment me on "how good" I am with remembering important project dates. My secret weapon? A calendar.)

  • Do set a consistent battle rhythm. Another question that junior PMs often pose is how often they should check in on something. If they sent an email on Monday morning, when do they need to check in again? Friday afternoon? The answer here is to use your best judgment. If you sent an email on Monday morning, when people are usually busy planning for the week ahead, there's a pretty good chance your message got lost in the shuffle. Waiting until Friday afternoon--when people may head out early for the weekend--is probably a bad move. My rule of thumb is to check in approximately every two days.