A critical new IT project is now under your ownership. How do you ensure that your team has a high likelihood of success? Does each team member understand the same definition of success? To make sure everyone is on the same page at the start, pay attention to how you first introduce the project to those expected to deliver it.
The best way to nail the team’s first impression of the project is to focus on the value and mission, establish proximate communication methods, and strive for simplicity.
1. Concisely define value and mission.
When I order a product online, what is valuable to me is if the package is delivered without damage on the date promised. I do not mind if it comes in a brown or green box or which carrier delivers the shipment. Amazon understands this and has built a sophisticated operation around ensuring reliable, rapid delivery, which I believe has contributed greatly to its 49% share of the US e-commerce market. The entire organization understands what the customer values most. Success is no-frills, rapid, damage-free delivery of anything.
To set up a new project for success, the first step is to articulate what the value is to the customer. The sponsor should clearly articulate this value to the team. Based on what is valuable, the team should also have a mission statement constructed in time-orientated and measurable terms. The mission should be transparent and widely shared across all the areas the team will be interacting within, including business and IT functions.
With a clear value and mission statement, effort naturally shifts toward accomplishing what is meaningful. Instead of needing to be micromanaged at every step, the team will be free to achieve the mission in creative and productive ways, and the team leader can focus on correcting course if necessary.
2. Establish proximate communication methods.
When getting support, 41% of people prefer to speak to a representative via a live chat mechanism, 32% prefer a phone call, 23% prefer email, and only 3% prefer social media1. They want to quickly interact with a knowledgeable person, preferably through a mechanism that allows a two-way interaction. Submitting a form or sending an email is unappealing because the sender doesn’t know if or when their message will be received, by whom, and how long it will take to get a response.
If you want a team to be high performing, team members need to be able to quickly receive help and make decisions. There are multiple ways to accomplish this, but a great guiding principle is to create proximity between the content experts (both business and IT) involved in delivering on the project’s mission.
Practices to achieve proximity include co-location, collaboration platforms, and transparent work boards. Continuous, in-person, informal dialogue should also be encouraged so people do not wait to find an answer, or ruminate on an approach they have in mind. They are prompted to reach out and get an answer right away.
3. Strive for simplicity.
If you watch a high-performing team in sports, business, or community, there is an undeniable sense of flow and intuitive action. The team members can almost read each other’s minds and anticipate where points of confusion might be, dynamically shifting as they encounter new challenges and seek out the critical path to deliver the mission. Certain people on the team step up and down as problems fall in or out of their area of expertise.
Teams achieve this flow when their operations are simple. There are no complex and rigid processes that demand perfection upfront or require years of experience to successfully navigate.
With simplicity comes ambiguity—which tends to be a scary word, especially at the management level. But ambiguity can allow the freedom to make decentralized decisions more quickly. When there is ambiguity, clear measures of success and continuous communication are critical. Defining the measures of success is more important than creating intricate processes and wordy documentation of requirements, which can draw the team’s focus away from valuable outcomes.
Put it all together.
With a defined value and mission, proximate communication methods, and an eye on simplicity, you have the essential ingredients to nail your team’s first impression of a new project. Host a kickoff meeting with the team and stakeholders to get everyone on the same page from day one. Combine these key assets into a single source of truth such as a wiki or central repository to build alignment on these important foundations for success.