For PMs It's Not All Handshakes And Lattes

Posted by Gerry Martin on 19 April 2013

'It’s all about the foundations son.' Such were the fateful words uttered to me many years ago by an old builder friend. When I think of the IT programme and project management I have done in recent years, I think these simple but sage words still apply.

At the beginning of large IT projects and programmes, there is usually good focus on the “what” we need to do, and not enough focus on the “how” we are going to do it. Typically a business case is written, tick. High level requirements are captured, tick. Budgets and timeframes are locked down, tick and tick. A call for action goes out and the hallways resound to the smack of high fives. And very soon the “A team” starts to assemble, and with handshakes and lattes another IT project roars into life.

But how do we get this team of champions acting like a champion team? Have we laid the foundations for project success?

TEAM BUILDING

The Forming/Storming/Norming/Performing stages of group development start soon after the last latte is finished. This inevitable stage can be very stressful for the team and disconcerting to stakeholders who are looking for signs that the team is cohesive. Guiding the team through these stages will increase the progress towards performing and reduce the anxiety getting there.

METHODOLOGY

Do the team know how you want them to manage their projects? Are there processes, templates and standards, and will they use the same language to describe their deliverables? (Or are they objectives.. or outcomes.. or products?) When should they interact with their stakeholders (Testing, for example) and what should they expect to receive in return? Using a consistent language and knowing what happens next removes a huge constraint to project performance.

EXPECTATIONS

You will get the behaviour you tolerate. The beginning of a large project or programme is the ideal opportunity for you and the new team to agree the behaviours that are acceptable and those that are unacceptable. Set the quality bar and stick to it. Take the humble project status report, for example. Many busy senior stakeholders will allow 5 minutes of “mind-space” to read a status report and it is potentially their only window into the project. The damage caused by submitting an incomplete, poor quality report is incalculable. If you can’t get your status report done on time, how can you manage a complex project? Getting the right disciplines in place and making sure they are adhered to from the start is critical.

The sad reality is that despite the assertions of senior management and the best intentions of your A team, failure is always an option. Focusing effort into the points raised above will go a long way towards ensuring your project does not join others in the IT equivalent of a wrecker’s yard.

I will write more about how to get these foundations right in my next blog, so stay tuned.