Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Creating a culture of belonging on project teams

Just as politicians pay close attention and respond to the opinions of constituents, so must project managers when leading a project. For a project to be successfully delivered, it's critical to get collective action from a group of people who may have very different interests. Easier said than done.

Because team member opinions vary regarding the technical approach, structure, content, and outcome of the project, project managers may spend much more time communicating with team members than doing any another type of work in the project. The key to achieving collective action and creating a sense of belonging among team members is to engage them in playing an active role throughout the project process.

Team member opinions come with a host of beliefs, biases, attitudes, and positions.  The first step in moving toward engaging team members is gaining insight into their Perception and Expectations.  Spending time with team members, asking them questions, listening to their thoughts and experiences, and getting their perspective creates the opportunity to deepen their commitment and sense of belonging.  It’s also important for project managers to understand that emotions and thoughts are close, interactive partners that need care and feeding throughout the project for team members to feel they are part of the process. 

Gaining understanding of their Perception and Expectations is a component of the second step which is The Exchange with team members.  Prior to The Exchange, project managers must carefully consider what needs to be accomplished to have time together considered well spent and what the respective roles should be during The ExchangeWhether engaging team members to participate in solving a problem, giving advice, determining project direction, or brainstorming an approach, the following are simple steps to use during The Exchange that will give team members a deeper sense of belonging and being part of the project process:

  • Listen and probe with objective, reflective, and interpretive questions; paraphrase for clarity.
  • Establish mutual agreement on the issue/opportunity.
  • Collaborate to identify a solution.
  • Determine the steps needed to implement the solution.
For the first two steps to be effective, team members and project managers must commit to the third step of the process: Follow-through. It requires project managers and team members assume accountability, make adjustments throughout the project, and ask for help as needed. It’s also important to remember holding someone else accountable requires being accountable, which means doing what you say you’re going to do.

Working to understand team member Perception and Expectations, using the steps of The Exchange, and practicing Follow-through create a sense of belonging, which supports the team acting in a collective manner.  

It’s been said that people own what they help to create, and that means actively engaging team members at regular intervals to provide input and perspective.  Consensus won’t always be achieved, but if these steps are observed, a project team culture of belonging will be felt within the team and visible to project stakeholders.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Playing the change game: Project managers as change agents

I've been on the road for a few weeks working with a variety of clients like major media and film  production studio, an international financial investment and trust firm, and an international power and natural resources company. On top of that, I've spent the last month or so working with the Tokii team to design, develop, and launch a relationship research and support content website called Tokii Lab.

Now, on the surface it would seem that NONE of these companies have anything to do with each other, but when you peel back the content of their respective businesses, the common denominator becomes obvious. They all have a TON of projects, extremely LIMITED resources, global competition and financial PRESSURE, and rapid, chronically shifting CHANGE.

Getting on the same page
Getting stakeholders aligned with and excited about the project vision can be challenging, and creating the stakeholder ownership needed to make the project happen takes time and consideration.  It’s rare that stakeholders embrace the project vision with the same enthusiasm as the people who created the original concept but it’s not impossible.  With tools, techniques, and some patience and understanding, a project manager can create a compelling story or picture of why the project is important to the business and what it will produce.

courtesy of www.fontsinuse.com
What change means
The completion of a project usually guarantees that someone somewhere is going to have to do something different from what they’ve done previously, which means a change is going to occur.  Historically, stakeholders are slow to warm to change, and it’s crucial to understand that when leading a project, project managers are leading change. This obviously puts you, project manager, into a catch-22 situation.

When the problem or opportunity to be addressed by the project, sense of purpose for the effort, and indicators of success are not clearly understood among stakeholders, considerable time and energy can be wasted.  This can result in personality conflicts that are actually unresolved conflicts over what is supposed to be accomplished. Using the following tips can help stakeholders feel less resistant to the change and create understanding and purpose quickly.

Change with context
When meeting with stakeholders, start with the problem or opportunity that created the need for the project: create context for the current state.  Help stakeholders see the advantage to the business to leverage the opportunity or to address the problem through exploring the conditions that generated it. Use a simple process to promote quick understanding and purpose. The story about the business situation and ensuing change should light up the hearts of the people who will work on and pay for the project. 

Use tools to facilitate involvement and ownership to the outcome 
  • Involve stakeholders throughout the project so they can participate in shaping and defining the change the project will create. They will be more likely to "own" it.
  • Use group facilitation tools like Affinity Process, Scope Facilitation Technique, and Force Field Analysis to help align their assumptions
  • Create the project story through storyboarding. Doing this well throughout the project will build  clarity and commitment among stakeholders and create an agreement that can serve as a “stake in the ground” or common reference point when disagreements crop up.
  • Effect change by generating awareness so get them involved early and often. 
  • Get the the right people involved at the right time.  
  • Understand and manage stakeholder expectations by determining if the project objectives are in conflict with stakeholder objectives.  
  • Get on the same page with nomenclature and acronyms -- inconsistencies with these are a time killer and generate frustration for all involved.
Being a change agent involves helping stakeholders see the strategic value of the project.  It’s getting them involved early and often and using tools to get them engaged, ensuring expectations are aligned and reaffirming commitment and ownership throughout the project.

What's your biggest challenge with leading change in projects?