If you’ve been working as a project manager for some time, you’ll probably remember the days when all your project team sat together in the same office. In fact, you may still have that, especially if you work in an Agile environment. There are certainly plenty of benefits of having your team around you.
But for many project managers, that isn’t the reality any more. Project teams are increasingly split and project managers have to manage their resources from wherever they are in the world. Add to that an increase in people with flexible working options, the requirement to work from home or from the road and you’ll realise that it’s essential for project managers to be able to collaborate effectively with their team mates, regardless of location or time zone. So how do you do that? Here are 5 easy ways to collaborate with your colleagues.
1. Share your files online
Online document storage has to be the easiest way to get everyone using the same files and to avoid miscommunication. Don’t waste time looking for the latest copy of the project plan or hunting through emails for the most recent version. Store everything online and then the whole team will be able to see the latest revision of your plan.
With everyone being able to see and work on the latest version you’ll save time and stop some of the general queries that project managers have to deal with every day. A tool like Seavus Project Viewer, which enables cloud-based online document sharing, will help with this.
Your project team doesn’t collaborate, the business users don’t know what’s going on and the project is still being reported as ‘green’ with no issues. If this situation sounds familiar then you really need to get a grip on team collaboration as soon as you can, as that lovely ‘green’ status won’t last for very long!
Here are 3 ways to improve team collaboration on your project.
1. Integrate, integrate, integrate
Don’t expect your team to go to lots of different places for their project information. Choose a planning solution like Seavus Project Viewer v10 which integrates with Google Drive and SkyDrive. It also has the ability to import and export from Microsoft Sharepoint and all of this means that it’s possible for your team members to have one central system from which they access all or the majority of their project information.
This will avoid them having to log in to email for some documents, a shared network drive for others, then accessing an online site for more data. Having it all accessible through one central interface ensures that the team saves time and that they are encouraged to work together.
On a technical project, it would be nice to think that we could swap out resources at any point in the project to meet whatever need arises on our engagement. We all know that requirements change, or a change order comes up that necessitates a different skill set than what we might have available to us at the moment.
Does your project suddenly need a database expert on the spot? Bingo! You get one at the spur of the moment. You and I both know that isn’t going to happen. And even if you can get that database expert for two weeks starting three weeks from now when he frees up from his current project assignment, you’ll have to perform some on boarding work to get the resource up to speed on the project, the requirements, the customer, and anything else relevant to the work they will be performing. Likely, you’re going to need them again later in the project during some user acceptance testing (UAT) support period or for final testing of the solution before deployment.
Utilizing your existing team
So, how do you solve this urgent need cost effectively, time efficiently, and without disrupting the flow of the project and the chemistry of the current project team and customer relationship? My suggestion is to look at your current project team. Your project is already staffed with capable technical resources who have connections within the organization. And, chances are, they have at least some minor gaps in their workload – at least times when they aren’t quite as busy as others. They are already assigned to you so they aren’t going anywhere. And they are already both intimately aware of the project requirements including the current technical need at hand AND the project customer and their wants, needs, and quirks. They may not be a database expert, but neither am I and that didn’t stop me from performing database work during one intense two week onsite session at a customer site to help get us through some current issues. As long as they have access to in-house company staff for some question and answers, minor direction or mentoring, and problem resolution, you should be able to fill the need perfectly with someone the customer knows and is already comfortable with.
And one more thing…even though the project resources are usually not my direct report resources, I consider their personal development and well-being to be at least partly my responsibility while they are serving on my project. If someone on my team is up to the task of taking on this role and wants to do it to grow their skills and I believe that they can do it productively for the good of the project while still handling their other assigned tasks, then I’m definitely in favor of it. If shifting some project tasks around is necessary, that’s fine as well as long as it doesn’t negatively impact the budget, schedule, or customer satisfaction.
Sometimes we get too caught up in ‘roles’ and ‘skill sets’ while looking at project resources as warm bodies that are filling these project needs. In reality they are human beings and seasoned professionals who are more often than not looking for opportunities to grow, acquire new skills, add to their resume and make work even more interesting by adding a new twist like this. As project managers we need to recognize this and look first to our current project team to fill this periodic need in order to be both good stewards of our project budgets and to give our team opportunities for new experiences.
PMI’s latest research, Why Good Strategies Fail: Lessons for the C-Suite, was recently published. The report was developed with The Economist Intelligence Unit and it looks at the gap between strategy development and strategy implementation at global organisations.
We all think that having a strategy is a good idea. Even the smallest businesses have a business plan. So the finding that 88% of executives believe that delivering on strategic plans is important does not come as a big surprise. What is interesting, though, is that the study uncovers that many organisations aren’t achieving their strategic plans, and one of the main reasons for that is because executives in the C-suite (that’s Chief Executive Officers, Chief Information Officers, Chief Financial Officers and so on) don’t engage with the strategy.
The gap between strategy and implementation
Over 60% of the people who responded to the survey said that their companies find it hard to bridge the gap between strategy formulation – coming up with the good ideas that make a strategy – and the day-to-day implementation – carrying out projects that deliver on that strategy. That’s a big disconnect between the people who come up with a strategic direction for the company and the people who actually carry out the initiatives – mainly project managers and operational managers.
Over 40% of strategic initiatives carried out in the last 3 years did not succeed, according to the PMI research. That’s a lot of projects that are failing. Strategic initiatives aren’t always in the form of projects, although they are a lot easier to track and manage if they are consistently managed through a portfolio or program structure and led by an experienced project manager.
No project manager likes to be on a failing project or to take over a failing project – unless they like the Superman complex of coming in to try to save the day. But it’s a reality of the project management profession…more projects will fail than succeed. Various surveys have found that anywhere from 50-75% of all projects fail to some degree…either based on some degree of budget failure, schedule failure, customer satisfaction failure or just simply the inability to deliver on the planned solution.
What we must do, then, is plan for how we will deal with issues and risks on our projects and have some key strategies in place for turning around those projects that seem to be heading south fast. While the specific ways of fixing a failing project will depend on the actual issues at hand, I’ve found that three general, innovative strategies can be followed with a good degree of success in helping the project manager get to the heart of the issues, improve their situation with a dissatisfied client, or get the cooperation needed from those involved on the project to get the project back on track with varying degrees of cost and effort.
Retrace your steps. When issues are encountered – especially potential show stopping issues – I find that it’s always a good idea to retrace my steps. Of course I mean that figuratively. But I find it very helpful to go back to the beginning of the project and review status reports, schedule iterations, decisions that were made and any scope changes and try to pinpoint what got us into the troubling position where we now find ourselves. If we are uncertain of the cause then this may help us to figure it out and hopefully identify a solution…or at least a reasonable set of actions to get us back on the right track and save the project.
Call out for advice. Some project managers and others in higher leadership roles think crisis time is the right time to bring in outside help. And by outside, I mean way outside. While that has been profitable for me as the outside consultant called in to save ailing projects and organizations, I don’t recommend it as anything other than a very last ditch effort. Why? Because it is so costly and sometimes it may not be beneficial. Rather, look to the resources you already have within the organization…some subject matter experts (SMEs) who aren’t part of the project but can be available to provide advice, input, spot expertise or mentoring to existing project staff at little or no cost to the project. And certainly far cheaper than the minimum $30k you’re going to spend bringing in an outside consultant, getting him up to speed, and having him interview every project stakeholder to get a 360 degree view of the project before he can really start any productive work. And that’s all billable, of course.
Replan. This process is painful, completely ruins momentum, and can be very costly. But it may also be the only thing left if the decision is to still try to save the project. It involves going back to the planning phase and revisiting requirements. Not at a high level…that would be part of the ‘retrace your steps’ process most likely. No, this process involves a very in depth look at requirements and likely some significant replanning, re-scoping, and probably restructuring (personnel included) on the project in order to restart any forward progress. This will be a timeline and budget killer…it’s almost like starting a new project or starting over in a sense. But it may be your only hope.
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