Posts Tagged ‘Initiating’

PostHeaderIcon Principles of Alignment

Team Alignment, not Team Building

One of my favorite blogs is Glen Alleman’s “Herding Cats”. Solid project management commentary, a wealth of experience and expert guidance with no fluff. Glen recently posted on Team Building and like me he doesn’t have too much time for ropes in the forest and artificial partying as a means of ‘building’ teams.

Effective project teams are built on purposeful activities centered on the project in question. Confident facilitation of a clear agenda that engages the team in understanding and elaborating the project mission is a good starting point.

Five Principles for Aligning the Team

If project startup and planning activities are well conceived and facilitated then team alignment should be a natural outcome. Maintaining alignment is subsequently a function of proper control, engagement and communication. Five principles guide the project manager in developing a unified, cohesive and productive team:

1 – Know the Objective

Shared vision and common purpose are the starting points for building an aligned team. Review the project business case, then craft the project mission statement together with the core team. Ask yourselves what’s missing? Is it specific enough? Is it realistic? Does it properly reflect the tactical objectives that should in turn yield the anticipated benefits?

2 – No Moving Targets

Establish clear boundaries. What will be included? What will not be included? What deliverables will be produced? How will we know when those deliverables are complete? If key stakeholders keep moving the goal posts, we’ll never complete the plan. So force agreement on a phased or iterative approach if necessary.  What is needed now? What can be done later?

3 – Lay Out the Detail

Creating alignment means setting expectations – at a deep level. Far too many projects are underplanned and insufficient detail promotes ambiguity, conceals the realities of time, effort and cost, and leads to unvalidated assumptions. Secure ownership and trust among team members by ensuring they are involved in defining the work, agreeing the details of hand-offs and validating completion criteria.

4 – Use a Trustworthy Process

A solid process for defining, organizing, planning, tracking and controlling the project is at the core of good project management. Talking the team through the process builds credibility. Implementing that process (walking the talk) generates motivation and commitment. Recognizing the difference between PMBOK and a practical, step-by-step, end-to-end project management process is a pre-requisite here.

5 – Feedback Smart and Often

Insist on efficient and frequent review cycles. Avoid wasting people’s time in meetings by getting status updates beforehand. Use the meetings to review overall progress, solve problems and decide on adaptive action. Check in with team members regularly and reward good performance swiftly. Keep key stakeholders appraised of progress and ensure bad news is acted on, not hidden.

PostHeaderIcon Six First Steps for the Project Manager

How you start determines how you finish

Time is sometimes lost at project startup with lots of talk but not much action (the “fuzzy front end”). Contrast this with the intensity of effort expended by the team near the end of the project – rushing to meet a looming deadline – and the need for some up-front structure and focus becomes clear.

Each project manager may have their own take on this, (and the actual first steps will be somewhat dependent on the particular situation) but these six should be at the front end of any list:

1 – Read the Business Case

If it doesn’t exist, get one done. There’s no point embarking on a project if the rationale for WHY we’re doing the project and WHO it’s for hasn’t been clearly laid out and signed off. If it does exist, identify who developed it, who was consulted and who approved it. Lastly, is it still current? Has anything changed in the environment that might affect realization of the anticipated benefits?

2 – Identify the Key Stakeholders

Who benefits from the project? Who can influence the outcomes and who might be impacted by them? The business case should be a guide but performing a thorough stakeholder analysis is essential before the next step is finished. Identify the project sponsor and set up an early “mind-meld” meeting to establish Sponsor-PM rapport (see Eight Questions to Ask Your Sponsor).

3 – Determine the Requirements

What does the customer actually need? What do other key stakeholders want? What has to be delivered in order to achieve the target benefits? Detailed requirements gathering and analysis may need to occur later as part of the project scope but the high-level needs at least should be established here. Determine what constraints will influence how the requirements might be met – these will impact project scope, quality, schedule, costs and resources.

4 – Identify Similar Projects

Has anything similar been done before? If so, what lessons were learned from that project (see Three Agenda Items for a Lessons Learned Review). Is there anything similar, or somehow related, going on currently? If yes, might there be potential overlap or dependencies? Can any artifacts from similar projects (e.g. plans, actuals, risk data) be re-used?

5 – Identify the Core Team Members

Which functions need to be involved to define and generate the project deliverables? Who specifically should represent those functions in the project? Who do you need on board to help generate a complete, reliable plan? Who should oversee the various workstreams? Limit the core team to no more than 8 people to promote efficient meetings and decision making.

6 – Create a Project Objective Statement

WHAT will be done, by WHEN and for HOW MUCH? The project should have a concise, over-arching declaration of intent (see The Project Objective Statement). Doing this (ideally as the first activity involving the core team) quickly shifts the focus away from the strategic (business case) and onto the tactical aspects of the project; it also helps to highlight potential issues early on, and ensures high level clarity and alignment as a precursor to elaborating the details of the project plan. Validate the POS with the Sponsor.

Begin with the End in Mind

The step numbering here indicates only the general flow – it is not a prescriptive project startup sequence as oftentimes a degree of iteration will occur among the six before they can all be checked off as ‘done’. These first steps neatly embody the adage “Begin with the end in mind” and initiate a response to the Five Laws (see The Five Laws of Effective Project Management).

PostHeaderIcon The Best Way to Identify Risks

There are several methods for identifying project risks but the best approach involves the team (at least the core team members and any relevant SMEs and/or PMO staff) and considers the following:

  • History (review past projects of a similar nature – surprising how often this is missed)
  • Context (assess the stakeholders, implementation environment and constraints)
  • Boundaries (review the project’s SOW, scope and deliverables)
  • Details (review the WBS, dependencies, estimates and resourcing)

The Nominal Group Technique

To get optimum input on possible project risks, there is no better team method than NGT. It leverages the advantage of multiple perspectives, can be done relatively quickly and avoids all the pitfalls of brainstorming, which is over-used and usually poorly facilitated. Here’s how NGT works for risk identification:

  1. Each individual reviews history, context, boundaries and details (as defined above) and writes down their own list of possible risks – i.e. with no interaction between members
  2. With the team grouped together, all identified risks are then captured by going around the team, taking the first item on each person’s list, then around again capturing the second item and so on until all items have been captured
  3. Duplicates are removed from the consolidated list and descriptions clarified as needed
  4. Each person reviews all the risks captured and the team decides if any should be removed the listing, on the basis of being extremely unlikely AND with little or no impact

Once this process is complete, the team can move to assessing the severity of the remaining risks, prioritizing them and defining response strategies to manage them.

Lots of Benefits, not much Downside

Using NGT is a great way of aligning the team on project risks. Its thorough, avoids groupthink, rapidly builds awareness, avoids jumping prematurely into risk analysis and prevents outspoken individuals unduly dominating the final risk list.

PostHeaderIcon The Project Objective Statement

All projects have an objective but not all projects have a well-crafted objective statement. Its a simple and elementary thing but deceptively powerful. Creating a high level, overarching mission statement should be among the first 5 things that a project manager does with his or her core team.

Short and Sharp

An objective statement should ideally be written as a single meaningful sentence, comprised of no more than 25 words, that reflect the primary project constraints – schedule, scope, resources.  The word limit deliberately forces focus and ensures we get to the core of the project’s main objective, even if a zillion things will be worked on during the project’s life.

To re-quote President J.F. Kennedy as an example:

Put a man on the moon and return him safely back to Earth, completed on December 31, 1969, for US$531m

Call it what you will – a Project Objective Statement (POS), a Project Mission Statement (PMS – less popular), or PROject MISsion Statement (PROMISS) – this declaration is crucially important for a host of reasons:

Clarity

  • It is THE stake in the ground that lays out exactly WHAT will be done, by WHEN and for HOW MUCH.

Alignment

  • Securing sponsor input and involving the core team in crafting this statement ensures buy-in, commitment and a sense of real purpose. It should NOT be done by the PM alone.

Validation

  • It should be formally approved by the sponsor prior to detailed planning and re-validated again before execution begins, i.e the plan MUST demonstrate tactical viability by meeting this target.

Tracking

  • It communicates an ongoing point of reference for management and the team throughout execution. The project mission changes only if explicitly required and agreed to by management.

The process of creating this statement is as important as the statement itself. Done right, it begins the development of a performing team and the resultant discussions help identify project boundaries, assumptions and issues early on. Put this as one of the first agenda items in your planning sessions.