To get a new project rolled out and build a positive momentum from the beginning, it’s important to use an integrated approach. Besides your focus on the tasks, schedule and budget, consider the people and processes that are going to make it happen.
Begin at the End
To begin with, have the end in mind. That is having a clear objective and vision that are well defined. Even when the outcome is experimental, the project can still be bounded with measurable aspects. For example if the project is with engineering or IT of a new design for something that is very leading edge, identify as much as possible the functionality or user experience. What capabilities are essential? What problem does it solve? Etc.
This also serves as criteria that can be “spec’d” so it gives the team something to work with and go after. It can always be changed if needed. It’s much easier to accomplish a design when you understand what it should “look like”. Also, it gives something tangible for the team to recognize as success.
Review the Processes and Build the Team
Pull the team together and do a post mortem meeting as if the project was completed. Talk about what went well and what didn’t. Have the team pretend as if the project was done with a positive outcome. Don’t let them off the hook; even give the date of the meeting as the day after the scheduled completion. Make it as authentic as possible; you can even call it a team celebration for successful project wind up. As the leader of this game, start off with congratulations and specific remarks about the team member’s contributions.
Naturally, they will use previous experiences, preferably those that are similar, to speak from, which is perfect. Be sure they give specifics about the processes, input from others, team interactions, etcetera.
This will give you all a great deal of information about what to avoid, what to correct in advance and do more of that has worked well.
Pay attention to the attitudes they bring forward in this exercise. As the PM, it will give you insight into how these people will be to work with on this particular team. The other benefit is you will get them to loosen up and use their imagination as a creative tool. This is huge when looking for the best solutions to problems as they arise. Let them know it’s okay to risk by stepping out into the void of possibility, but unknown.
In my experience, accountability or the lack of it, is the most critical factor for success or failure of any venture. I recommend having a clear accountability agreement and process for the team. During an early meeting, if not the project kick off meeting, bring up the subject of accountability and have a template ready to work with. This is a great team building exercise, too.
Ask the team to review each of the bullet points and then decide if this is something the team needs or not. If two or more say it is needed, include it. Some people will say, “We don’t need that, after all we’re adults here” Trust me, that is where the sticking point comes in. Not everyone will act like an adult everyday and in every situation.
Also, be sure to ask if there is anything missing that needs to be included. This way all the bases are covered.
Having the agreement and process puts everyone on the same page with the same understanding. Also, if there is a violation of the agreement terms, then anyone on the team has permission to refer to the Accountability Agreement to help the team get back on track. If the agreement and process is used, and everyone is engaged, it will make your job easier. You won’t have to be the bad guy to call someone on the carpet for letting things slide. Instead, you can remind him or her of the agreement and have the conversation be about keeping the agreement.
Supporting the Team
Every team is different. Each has its own culture and style. I’ve seen people that were effective and professional on one team and on another be difficult and uncooperative. It has to do with the dynamics of the personalities involved, roles and assignments. Help your team with structure.
It doesn’t have to be rigid. It’s helpful, for example, to know how people want to communicate and when. Because teams have to work together to get things done, it’s good to know up front if email is better or texting is better. Having a simple communication plan can be good for some teams, for others it may seem like overkill. You need to get the feel for your team to figure out what works for them.
In all cases, it is the people and relationships working with the processes that make the work happen. Remember, success begets success.