Setting Up Projects For Success

Setting Up Projects For Success
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Bruce McLeod (pictured below) is the associate director of product management at Publicis Sapient. In this guest post, he offers top tips to getting your team moving and, more importantly, getting results…

Anyone familiar with motor racing knows you can’t win a race in the garage. It is no different when it comes to businesses and delivering solutions. How you prepare before you start is critical in determining your final outcome.

Bruce McLeod - Associate Director Product Management Publicis Sapient - B&W

Just like the warm-up lap, the project or product kickoff is a critical time. Done well it can lay the foundations for your efforts to come.  Done poorly or not at all and you are relying on luck to get you across the finish line. For a successful project start you need to achieve the following things:

  • Create alignment within the team and the sponsors on what the goals are
  • Start the process of forming the team
  • Setup the management processes
  • Define and agree on the methods to execute the plan

Let’s look at each of these in more detail.

Create alignment

Over the years I have been involved in delivering solutions, I can guarantee that that on the first day of a project everyone has a different idea of what the vision of the final outcome will be.

Let me illustrate. Pause for a moment and visualise a car. What did you see? Was it a sports car? SUV? A daily driver, or a Formula 1 race car? What colour was it? Red? White? Was it brand new or an old classic? Did it have two doors? Four? Five? None?

This is exactly what occurs when a project commences. Everyone may have agreed that we should build a car. However everyone has a slightly different idea of what the final outcome will be, and have different reasons for supporting the outcome.

Just as we need to align on what we want to create, we also need to consider how we will to create it. Are we going to employ a master craftsman and allow them to apply all their skills and knowledge learned through a lifetime of the pursuit of a single passion? Are we going to allow an expert engineer to use state of the art tools and technologies to move the needle forwards? Are we going to utilise a rapid approach, and only focus on creating something as quickly as possible?

When we consider alignment we need to think beyond the finished product. We also need to think about how we wish to execute the vision and support it when it is complete.

Early alignment is the first step towards success. In simple terms, this means:

  • A shared vision for the final deliverable, and any intermediate releases
  • What the scope will be, and just as importantly, what the team wont be doing?
  • What is the plan, or the method and next steps to create the plan?
  • What is the delivery approach? What are the constraints? A fixed budget? Scope? Schedule? Quality?
  • What are our sensible defaults?

And finally… What does success look like? Getting across the line? A Podium finish? Winning a world championship?

Start forming a team

There are many important things that set you up for success, and one of the most important is establishing the team who are charged with delivering the outcome.

The difference between a group of individuals and a team are a set of shared values, beliefs, behaviours and principles that drive their actions towards achieving a common goal.

Teams and cultures don’t just happen, and there are a number of stages that they will evolve through, as documented in Bruce Tuckman’s research where he identified his five stage team lifecycle:

Forming, where the team is introduced to each other and haven’t yet started working together.

Storming, when the work commences, the individuals start working together and will undergo some level of internal conflict as the ways of working align. Unfortunately some “teams” will never make it beyond this stage.

The Norming stage is when the team actually starts to gel. People will start to help each other, and friendships will be beginning to develop.

For teams that reach the Performing stage, they are transforming into a high-performing team. They will be very effective at what they do, and will require little external leadership.

Then finally when they are finished, Adjourning stage occurs at the completion of the endeavour, as individuals will move onto their next challenge.

In addition to the Tuckman model, there are a number of similarities in Patrick Lencioni’s “Five dysfunctions of a team model”, which neatly summarises a team forming in a hierarchy of dysfunctions.

  • Absence of trust
  • Fear of conflict
  • Lack of commitment
  • Avoidance of accountability
  • Inattention to team objectives

It is important to acknowledge this journey at the outset and the team should openly discuss it. Also at this early stage the team must agree on their ways of working, roles and responsibilities.

Whilst it may feel forced, at first, it is important for long-term success to have these conversations throughout a team’s journey.

It is equally important is to define and agree responsibilities and accountabilities with the project stakeholders.

Setting up the management processes

Keeping stakeholders informed, aligned and supportive is another critical consideration.  Stakeholder expectations are a key consideration here that you will need to align to. Some important activities are:

  • Mapping out the stakeholders
  • Planning how the team will report and communicate with each of them
  • Agreeing on what is important and how delivery constraints can be balanced or “traded” against each other.
  • If required by the organisation’s culture, agreeing whom the directly responsible individual (DRI) is and how they will represent the team.
  • What are the escalation methods? If a third party is evolved, is there an account manager, engagement leader or client services team who need to be involved.

Establishing frequent, visible lines of communication is paramount. You are setting the stage for ongoing open and honest dialogues as trade-offs and decisions need to be made.

Continue the conversation

If all goes well, your journey is underway and you now have an aligned team and stakeholders, a clear vision and plan to execute.  Your team is forming and you have established the practices to manage your delivery.

It’s race-time!

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