How Do I: Launch a New Project?
This is the latest in my “How Do I” series of blogs. Readers are encouraged to provide feedback and suggest additional topics for this series. See my contact information at the end of this post.
Recently, a former colleague reached out to talk about how to handle a new assignment. He has never led a team before because he’s always been a “technical guy”. This is a technical project but for the first time, he has been thrust into a leadership position.
What makes it even more challenging is that his team will be comprised of volunteers from other functions in the organization. These volunteers have (or will have) negotiated with their managers to be released for a certain number of hours per week or month to participate in the project. Their motivation is to get involved in something different that will deliver valuable results for the various areas of the office. In some cases, they also see this as an opportunity to build some new technical muscle.
As a last piece of context for you, the project is intended to deliver quick automation solutions to enhance efficiency and quality in various business processes. The members of the team and others will submit suggestions for processes to be enhanced by the team.
This post is not intended as a comprehensive discussion of Project Management. That is way out scope! But the following are the thoughts and suggestions I am sharing with him:
- Get crystal clear about a few things:
- What are the objectives – in other words, what will success look like?
- Who is the executive sponsor for the project? If there is no executive sponsor – get one! It is almost a certainty that at some point there will be a resource and timing conflict. The executive sponsor can help resolve those kinds of challenges.
- What is the lifespan of the project? When is it expected to begin, deliver results, and ultimately end? Projects should have a “sunset” clause. Projects should not go on indefinitely.
- Build a common purpose for the team
- Create a simple statement that describes who the team is, what they will do, how they will do it and the expected outcomes. This common purpose (or mission statement if you prefer) will be the project’s North Star. If things get muddled – as they often do in the real world – this set of words will help to bring things back into focus. Sailors used to navigate by the North Star. The team can navigate more easily if it has a common purpose.
- Have a kickoff meeting for the team. Share the common purpose and invite feedback from the members. The objective here is to get buy-in to the overall objectives. It will be perfectly fine if the common purpose statement gets modified. If the group achieves agreement, you will have a stronger chance of ultimate success because everyone will “get it” from the beginning.
- Facilitating the kickoff meeting is not in scope for this post. But it is important that each team member be able to have the opportunity to express their thoughts and share why they are volunteering for this project. My friend will learn a lot about the individual members and the “chemistry” of the team with a well-run kickoff meeting.
- Create a simple process to define priorities. If the team members and others in the office can submit ideas, the team will need a way to evaluate the ideas and assign team resources. I’m suggesting some easy criterion
- How much effort will the idea take?
- What is the expected savings – either in people hours or costs?
- How urgent is the problem the idea is trying to solve?
There are always trade-offs in assigning priorities. But these few bits of objective data will help to evaluate the return on investment opportunities.
- Check in with your team members
- Have regularly scheduled team meetings to review shared progress
- This creates an opportunity for team members to consult with each other as may needed
- Be sure to make time for one on one check ins with individual team members. This will give them the chance to discuss matters they may not want to share in a more public forum. Of course, the degree of need for the one on ones will vary from culture to culture.
- Measure your progress and be transparent about reporting out
- The things you got crystal clear on can probably be transformed into a set of objectives metrics
- Review the proposed metrics with the executive sponsor and be sure to get her buy-in
- One metric I’m suggesting is to track how accurate the team is at estimating the effort required to deploy a solution they have created. I think it will help them refine their estimation skills. Over time, that will help them manage their customers’ expectations.
- Ask for help when you need it.
- This is one big reason why you need an executive sponsor.
- Many, if not most, projects hit speed bumps. It’s normal. I want my friend to understand that it is not a failure to get help when its needed. Rather, it’s a symbol of maturity.
If you found this post useful, please share your feedback. I welcome your thoughts. If you need help addressing a people management challenge, please contact me at:
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Ken, I appreciate this article! Managing and motivating matrixed resources is often a challenge. I see this now in my current work as the competing time choice is not simply a set of equivalent project needs but much more precious demands that come from family responsibilities.
Thanks Candace. It may sound clinical to say so but the same principles discussed above can be applied to folks who are struggling to find some degree of balance in this environment. The inputs and outcomes are different but priorities will emerge.