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Momentum – The X Factor in Project Success

In physics, momentum is a term used to describe a mass in motion. In competition it’s used to indicate which side has the current upper hand. It’s what aids a baseball team in winning the game by scoring five runs in the 9th inning with two outs. It gives the offense the edge in scoring the winning touchdown by moving the football down the full length of the field in six plays with only 26 seconds on the clock. It makes for very exciting entertainment.

What most people don’t know is that momentum is also a factor in helping project teams deliver successfully by boosting the performance of all team members. This is nowhere near as exciting as the sporting events described above, but momentum exists just the same.

Project momentum is like a small vehicle a team is pushing over rolling terrain. The amount of effort they put into pushing the vehicle and the slope of the terrain affects the vehicle’s momentum. With real projects every event, issue, action, and situation contributes to a project’s momentum. They either increase or decrease it.

To take advantage of a project’s momentum, project leaders need to do three things:

  1. They must become students of its behavior and benefits. Project events happen. A mixed bag of positive and negative events leave momentum unchanged. A series of positive events substantially increases it, and conversely, a series of negative events substantially decreases it. A project’s momentum also directly affects every project team member. When a project is on a good roll it helps them deal with small obstacles and disappointing events with greater ease. It also fosters stronger teamwork and individual performance. Progress comes with ease as does success. When a project’s momentum is down, project teams struggle to produce. They become disillusioned and attack each other regarding their lack of contribution.
  2. They must become sensitive to their project’s circumstances related to it. As was said earlier, every event, issue, action, and situation contributes to a project’s momentum. Recognizing and analyzing these things is crucial to anticipating the affects it will have on momentum. Leaders must also be aware of their project’s current level of momentum and how it is affecting their team members. They can do this by evaluating their team’s cohesiveness and individual behavior.
  3. They must be the driving force in managing it. No one person can have more impact on a project’s momentum than the project leader because individual team members que off of them. When momentum is on the rise the project leader can boost it by highlighting the good fortune and individual contributors to it. When it is down they must be patient and look for signs it is turning around for the better and become the team cheerleader. Leaders alone have the ability to rally the team to achieve a major milestone or not let the team fall into a deep hole when things are going bad.

You don’t have to be a physicist to understand momentum. You also don’t have to be a professional athlete to effect it. All you need to be is a conscientious leader to get the benefits from momentum. Remember, it’s not the big things that make you a success; it’s the small things when they’re all added up.

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