Setting common team goals is important for all construction projects, yet the stakeholders on a challenging/problem project often overlook this critical tactic. To empower our clients to become a world class team and achieve project success, we tell them to set common team goals regardless of how uncertain current circumstances appear.

When a project is in a reactive or fire-fighting mode, individuals tend to overlook the value of setting measurable goals relative to end-game team performance. Most people believe they need to work on their current situation before determining what project stakeholders want to achieve as a team.

We’ve heard various reasons for not setting goals on challenging projects, such as: “We’ve got to focus on cleaning up the submittal process,” or “We need to communicate better first,” or “This is a renovation project, and we really won’t know what we’re dealing with until we open up the ceilings, so we can’t set any goals.”

The problem with this mindset is that there will always be a new fire or multiple fires the team will continue to react to or blame one another for. And, for some people, fire-fighting is comfortable; they thrive on it.

Indeed, many of us—both in life and on projects—are reluctant to set goals until we’ve figured out how to get there. If your problem project team is waiting for a clear how-to before they commit to a schedule completion goal, they may never get there. It’s like an athletic coach saying, “Yes, I’ll commit to the possibility of our team winning the conference championship, but only after they show me that they can win it.”

President Kennedy is a classic example of a leader declaring a goal, despite uncertainty, when he said in 1961, “I declare that this nation will put a man on the moon within this decade and bring him back safely.” At the time, this was considered impossible. NASA didn’t yet have the propulsion systems, the life-support process, the communication technology, and so forth.

The essence of project culture change is committing to a future the team currently does not know how to achieve. Setting measurable, end-game project goals provides a basis for aligning, prioritizing and focusing the future actions of the project team. Not setting a goal until you know what you can and can’t do on a project is letting your project’s circumstances dictate the outcome, and chances are, it won’t be a positive one.

Do you want a project team that reacts to circumstance or one that attempts to influence them? World-class teams, choose the latter.

This article is based on an excerpt from Jim Eisenhart’s project success guide, “Turning the Problem Construction Project into Extraordinary Success,” and is copyrighted (2016©). All rights reserved. The author grants permission to reproduce and distribute with credit to the source document and Jim Eisenhart.

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