Tag Archives: project team

5 key steps to get a derailed project back on track

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Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless – Thomas Edison

I have been lucky for the number of occasions where I was asked to put a derailed project back on track. The recovery of a troubled project is a great learning opportunity for any organization. When it goes wrong, it can go wrong really fast and oftentimes with severe impact. On the other hand, the learnings can be of value for a lifetime, nut only when one is receptive to it. There are five simple steps to turn a project around:

Sit down and listen: The first thing you want to do is to meet with the people who represent different internal and external stakeholder groups. Listen with empathy. Seek to understand first, before to be understood. Conduct a detailed impact analysis that clarifies the root cause of the derailment. Keep digging in case of conflicting information, up to the point where the facts speak for themselves. Be audacious in asking for information when you believe its available, but appears to be inaccessible. Escalate if you need to. Leverage senior level relationships

Structure your findings: Document your findings in such a way that it can be easily shared with stakeholders upon request, and retrieved for presentations. Create a separate ‘living document’ to capture lessons-learned. What has worked for me in the past, is to structure the findings by business process, technology and stakeholder or stakeholder group. These are three key dimensions of the solution the project is about to deliver, and people can easily relate to when you discuss your findings

Build a coalition of positive advocates: While you are making your rounds to gather information, you’ll find out who the strong, positive advocates are of the project. At a certain point in time you need to rally the troops to re-start the project and you can only do that when you have established a coalition of people who can positively influence the outcome. The key purpose of the coalition is to drive change throughout the lifecycle of the project, and make sure that key stakeholders remain aligned and committed. Especially at the start when things can be messy and ambiguous, you need leadership support to keep things moving forward, make small adjustments and celebrate quick wins

Present options to move forward: When you have got your facts straight, completed the root cause analysis, defined options and a recommendation, developed a plan, and got buy in from the key stakeholders, it is time for an official presentation of your findings and plan to move forward. The presentation is the first milestone of recovery and start of a new begin. That moment in time must be celebrated and marked as the turn-around point. The presentation is more of a formal approval of the new approach, as you have already obtained your approvals ahead of time through a number of preliminary meetings with the Executives. Make sure that the key messages are shared with all project stakeholders with the right level of detail. Transparency and openness are key values as you move forward and put the project back on track

Rebuild the team: Re start the project with the right people and make use of the momentum to assess the integrity and capability of the project team. Make the necessary changes as required. This applies to internal and external resources. Look further than the required knowledge, experience and skills. Think about personality, leadership style, motivational aspects and willpower. Establish a team with leaders who are intrinsically motivated to make it happen. Aim for a world-class team that has the guts, courage and bravery to deliver with relentless effort. Re build trust in the team.

There is a reason why projects derail and there is nothing wrong with that, as long as there is a willingness to learn and do it different and better the next time. By adjusting plans and strategies, and by making changes to the approach and team, organizations will be able to behave themselves out of the troubled situation, and oftentimes faster than they think.

Bas de Baat

Want a World-Class Project Team?

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The bigger the dream, the more important the team – Robin Sharma

The building blocks of solutions that IT business transformation projects deliver are commonly defined as people, process and technology. Many organizations tend to jump straight to the technology component to argue what the best fit would be for the future state of the business. The next building block in line that gets most attention is process. “Do we adjust the business to industry standards and leading practices, or are we unique and therefore accept modifications of the technology to fit our needs?” Organizations tend to spend so much time on debating technology and process that they forgot about the need of having a qualified project team of internal and external resources that can actually do the work.

Let’s be real. When IT business transformation projects fail, it may appear it is the technology, but in most cases it is not. If it fails, it either has to do with a lack of adequate leadership to move to standards and leading practices, or it is a consequence of not putting a world-class project team together, or a combination of both.

I strongly believe that the people factor is at least as important as process and technology, so not more. At the end of the day, the work gets done by people, and one can only expect world class output if there is world-class input. Here is a list of factors that can be helpful with building a world-class team:

Capability: knowledge, experience, skills, personality, diversity

Pick the right people for the job, and if they don’t seem to be out there, keep looking. When organizations select people, the focus automatically goes to knowledge, experience and skills. That’s perfectly fine as a first set of selection criteria, but in interviews the focus should shift more towards personality and diversity. Does the candidate fit with the team and organization? And what values can the candidate bring to the team that the organization does not have today, but can become very useful down the road? Diversity can be a driver of the ‘creative power’ of the project team as a whole

Intrinsic motivation and passion

You want to build a goal oriented project team, where people have the opportunity to unite business and personal ambitions. Motivation that comes from the inside is propelling a team to greater heights of achievement. Identify those common grounds and shared interests during the selection phase and foster them during the execution through coaching

Work environment

There is a reason why many start-ups and companies like Google, Apple, and Facebook have work environments that are way different and standing out. They recognize that there is an immediate relationship between creativity, productivity, job satisfaction and business performance, and value that by making substantial investments in the work place. An IT business transformation project thrives on creativity and there is no such thing without top talent that feels ‘at home’ and can ‘outperform’ during business hours

Feel safe

In his book ‘Leaders eat last: Why some teams pull together and others don’t’, author Simon Sinek explains that remarkable things happen when there is trust and cooperation within the team. There is a continuous need for each person to feel safe. Sinek means that leaders are responsible to takeaway elements that are perceived as dangerous, and trade them with positive elements like opportunity to grow and succeed, self-confidence, education, and ability to try and fail. If certain conditions are met and the people inside an organization feel safe among each other, they will work together to achieve things none of them could have ever achieved alone. Sinek also mentions that great leaders would never sacrifice the people to safe the numbers, they would sooner sacrifice the numbers to safe the people. The great leader has followers because he cares, not because of the rank, position and authority, as that drives fear. The world-class team of the leader who establishes a ‘feel safe’ environment will be able to consistently deliver a remarkable performance, whereas a leader with the opposite style may at best harvest some short term, mediocre results

Acknowledgement

Studies have shown that a person, who contributes to a work product, wants to receive some level of acknowledgement. People want to feel good about their performance. Deepak Chopra, a well-known author and speaker of alternative medicine and forms of spirituality, found that if a person is using his strengths and the leader:

  1. Acknowledges that, his level of disengagement goes to less than 1%
  2. Ignores him, the level of disengagement goes up with 45%
  3. Criticizes him, the level of disengagement goes down with 25%

It is interesting to see that ignorance is worse than critique.  A leader who wants to be successful with his project team, makes it a habit to provide constructive feedback on an ongoing basis, and understands that ignoring people performance is a no go zone

Effective communication

Leaders who build world-class project teams are strong communicators. They know how to share the right information to the right audience at the right time. They understand that predictability is important for senior leaders to make informed and timely decisions, and for team members to do their job extremely well. An effective approach to make that happen is to have a single plan-on-a-page readily available that provides instant answers to scope, timeline, financials, issues and risks. In world-class project teams, each member has a solid understanding of the vision of the initiative, the path to get there, the individual’s contribution and project performance. Effective communication has become a habit instead of a planned activity

There are more factors that help leaders to build world-class project teams. Think about degree of control, decision autonomy, leadership style, social interaction and team development or growth and learning opportunities. Technology can become a competitive advantage for organizations if they are able to attract top talent that is needed to implement it flawlessly. Therefore a change of mind-set is needed: one that focuses more on people and world-class performance.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications, PMP©