Teams are the enablers of change. Create a great one and enjoy the success. Build a dysfunctional team and get ready to pay the piper. A leader who knows how to create and sustain high performance teams is a performance multiplier. For projects, that leader is a key success factor.
In this post, we’ll look at a project that succeeded because the PM went that extra mile to build a great team. That’s why I call this post The Power of Teams!
This organization was a large financial services firm with a large, highly productive sales organization. Over time, with the introduction of new products and services and changes in the competitive marketplace, the sales compensation and recognition programs became less focused and did not always promote behaviours that were in the best interests of the clients and the company.
The Vice President of Sales, the sponsor of the venture, announced that a major reworking of the sales compensation and recognition programs was necessary to meet the ongoing and future needs of clients and the company. The new programs were to be introduced effective January 1, fourteen months in the future.
With only fourteen months to get the job done, the CIO recognized the risk. Prior experience with sales compensation and recognition changes suggested this instance would be in the $5 million range and require more than fifty project staff at the peak. To compound the challenge, there was a corporate system freeze on anything but critical changes which started six weeks before year end.
While the general direction of the compensation changes had been set, the details had yet to be determined. Consequently, a PM was selected who had a great track record with ill defined projects and superb leadership and communication skills. The PM focused on building his IT core team according to the following criteria:
- The ability to contribute effectively at any stage of the project, from business conceptualization to post implementation support.
- Proven expertise in all of the technology platforms, development practices and tools involved.
- Great team and communication skills up, down and sideways.
- Fast learner and self starter with excellent time management skills
Fortunately, the organization had an effective Portfolio Management process in place and the compensation changes were given a high priority, at the top of the food chain when it came to acquiring resources. That made it relatively easy for the PM to hand pick the right staff from across the organization, in spite of more than a few grumbles from other sponsors and PM’s. And, of course, the staff assigned to the project realized the prestige of being selected and that provided a powerful catalyst to help the team jell and excel.
Within a month, the PM had assembled his core group of twenty IT staff. He recognized that the project’s success depended on the ability of that group to far exceed the sum of the parts and so he set about shaping those twenty individuals into a high performance team.
In parallel with his IT team building efforts, he worked with the sponsor and key business managers and staff to acquire the necessary staff. Collectively, they agreed on the decision making process that would be used to get final approvals on all of the compensation and recognition elements and related business procedures. They recognized that they could not afford to change their minds. The rework would jeopardize on time delivery.
The project implemented successfully just prior to the year end freeze, twelve and a half months after launch. The actual cost was slightly under budget and the quality of the delivered software, processes and services was outstanding.
In fact, the sponsor, who was known for staging extravagant sales conferences and ignoring the achievements of his head office organization, reserved a local, high end restaurant to wine and dine all the project staff, business and IT, as well as their spouses, over 160 people in total. Each team member received an engraved pen and pencil set. Each spouse received a set of engraved wine goblets. When was the last time a sponsor on one of your projects took you out to a high end restaurant and bought you personalized gifts?
How This Great PM Helped
This project had one significant advantage – the vast majority of the business staff affected by the planned changes reported to the sponsor. The PM leveraged that reality to get the attention of the managers affected and the right business staff assigned. In addition, the PM focused on the following areas to deliver a successful result:
- He built the capability of his IT team and the overall business/IT group with frequent sponsor encounters stressing the common mission, vision, goals and priorities.
- He ensured at least one of his core team members was involved with each business area from the start to assess alternatives and develop the final specifications.
- He developed and vetted team ground rules re operation, communication, confidentiality, sign-off’s, etc.
- He gave the core team the ability to recruit and add additional IT resources as the need became apparent, and to move team members out if they weren’t cutting it. The team used the powers effectively.
- He allowed the core team to set their own schedules, work hours, days off, vacations and found that they were more demanding on themselves than he would have ever been.
- He developed and managed a comprehensive risk plan to reduce or eliminate high impact and high probability risks.
- He refined the existing software development methodology to ensure the quality of each deliverable and reduce the time required for rework.
Projects with tight, immovable timelines are never easy, especially if a delay would be disastrous for business results. This PM and his team were able to apply the Project Pre-Check building blocks of stakeholders, defined processes and the best practice based Decision Framework to guide the project to a successful conclusion.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, put the above points on your checklist of things to do so you too can be a great PM, and your sponsor’s best friend. In the interim, if you have a project experience, either good or bad, past or present, that you’d like to have examined through the Project Pre-Check lens, send me the details and we’ll have a go.
Drew Davison is the owner and principal consultant at Davison Consulting and a former system development executive. He is the developer of Project Pre-Check, an innovative framework for launching projects and guiding successful project delivery, the author of Project Pre-Check – The Stakeholder Practice for Successful Business and Technology Change and Project Pre-Check FastPath – The Project Manager’s Guide to Stakeholder Management. He works with organizations that are undergoing major business and technology change to implement the empowered stakeholder groups critical to project success. Drew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org