The project manager has to perform a number of duties in their role.  One of them is making sure that all the tasks and activities within the plan are completed at the appropriate time.  This is important as, if they are not completed according to plan, the project will be delayed.

However, while it is important to “check” all of the tasks on the plan, it is important that the project manager does not become tunnel visioned and, fall into the trap that just because the items are being “ticked-off” that all is well!

Does a tick mean it is complete?

project tick listThis opens up an important point, just because an item has been checked and closed, it may not mean that the project will deliver what is required.  I have seen project managers become very focused on showing progress that when they receive an update that a task is complete, they want it to be true.  As, if it is true they can continue to report positive progress to senior management.

Also at play is that many people write “to do” lists – I know that my notebooks are full of them.  They are a great way to collect and organise what needs to be done.  While very useful, it also helps re-inforce the “tick box” mind set.  Primarily due to the fact that many people gain huge satisfaction from physically drawing a line through or placing a tick against the items on the list.  It presents a visual cue to our brain that something has been done.  It is also good to be able to review at the end of the day and see all the items that you wanted to get done has been achieved.

Now before anyone starts jumping to the conclusion that “to do” lists and check lists are bad – of course they are not.  The point I am making is that you must ensure that the drive to “tick-off” the items does not cloud the judgement if the task has truely been completed to deliver the required outcome.  The “Outcome” is the reason for doing something – if there is no “outcome” why do it?

So, how to avoid becoming a “tick box” project manager?

The first step should be covered by reading the above – awareness.  Knowing that there is a tendancy to want items to close should result in less inclination to take an item as closed without further investigation.

This is the second step, each item put forward as closed must be tested.  In reality, project managers are generalist so do not know the content of a project in depth.  However, a project manager must develop the skills to be able to ask probing questions, review documents, etc so as to reach a level of confidence that an item has been closed.   Where verification requires expert knowledge, you can arrange for peer review by resources with the necessary skills.

To close, understanding that there is a natural desire to want to “tick-off” items should help us all to remember the need to evidence that an item is closed.