By David R. Robins
According to research done by Forrester, up to 68% of all projects finish late or fail totally. The problem is getting worse. Due to globalization many teams are not located in one location and the team’s performance suffers due to the lack of collaboration & communication. Today, there are three types of teams working on projects in small to large companies.
- Traditional teams – All team members are in the same physical location. This model is happening less often these days.
- Distributed team – All team members work remotely and rarely meet each other. This is seen more in web design, graphic art and software engineering disciplines than other fields.
- Mixed teams – A combination of the above two. Like teams which meet 1 day of the week in one location and the rest of the week work remotely, or use new technology to create a virtual office for the team. This is becoming more accepted and seen as a good comprise between the above two.
Each of the above models have their advantages and disadvantages like the remote teams are more environmentally friendly but collaboration suffers without extra effort. In this article I am not arguing which one of the above models is better (that is for a future writeup), but that all three models may fail due to one or more of the following problems:
- Lack of clear and realistic goals
The primary job of a project manager is to set clear and realistic goals for the project. He or she needs to know what could be achieved with available resources, time and the budget. It is great to have all A performers in the team, but in most cases this is not true and the team is a mixture of A and B performers. The project manager needs to consult with his team to come up with realistic goal for the project.
- Lack of clear & achievable timetable
It is important to set deadlines and stick with them. Don’t rely on heroic performances by the team or individuals to make the deadlines. Divide the project to short and achievable segments (like sprints in Scrum). Divide each project segment to logical tasks and divide each task to sub-tasks. Keep doing so until each task is totally understood and could be done in a short time. Write a clear definition for each task (this should be done by team leaders for large projects). Ask the person responsible for each task to make a three points estimation on how long each task might take. Use these estimations to come up with task duration. This should give you an 80% probable change of making the task on-time. Use a good collaborative task manager to make this work more manageable.
- Lack of clear ownership
One person should own the project and no more, too many owners kill any enterprise. It does not mean that the project manager can’t delegate part of the tasks & responsibilities to team leaders, but at the end the box should stop at the project manager’s desk.
- Lack of team members history
This is least understood issues amongst the other problems listed here. Every team member has certain capabilities and weaknesses, do you know them? How do you gain insight on how an individual will perform? The answer, by checking the past performance. You need to review as many of the projects an individual has worked on and gain insight on how she or he will perform in the future. Ask team leaders to rate each team member on scale of 1-5 (5 is super star). Get rid of anybody rated as 1-3. Keep all members rated at 4 or 5. If you hire new members to your team, do a thorough background check on what they have done in the past. For recent grads, give them small task, measure their performance and figure out where they fit in the team.
- Lack of clear directions
A project needs to be defined clearly and the project manager and the team leaders have to communicate and document the scoop of the project, when the deadlines are set and in case of problems what to do about them. Have at least one weekly meeting with your team and ask what they done in the past week, what they plan to do next week and if they are facing any issue. Document and publish every meeting online. This data will come handy to analyze the performance of the team.
- Lack of clear information
In many cases the team members are in dark about what is going on. They really don’t know the ultimate goal of the project for the company and its customers. They can’t access project information easily and are in dark what other teams in the project are doing. You need to make sure everybody in your team has access to the information they need to understand the project and complete their tasks.
- Lack of communication
Communication is important for the success of any projects. As a project manager you need to make sure there are frictionless ways for everybody in the team to communication with others at anytime. Communication could be face to face or online, the important thing is that the team should know they can communicate with anybody in the team.
- Lack of collaboration
Collaboration is the biggest booster of productivity within a team, without it teams waste valuable time working on the wrong things or duplicating what others in the team have done and are doing. Make sure your team values collaboration and create an environment where collaboration is rewarded.
- Lack of reviews
A project needs to have many milestones set in time for overviews. Every team within the project needs to review all activity and accomplishment once a week and publish them for all to see. Each team member work has to be reviewed by the team leader and the result documented.
- Lack of accountability
It is important to find out who is not performing well and find out how to resolve it as fast of possible. A bad apple can make a whole basket go bad real fast. Get rid of those that can’t keep up.
- Lack of rewards
You need to reward high achievers. This has to be known to the team from the beginning that high performers will be rewarded. When you reward high achievers make it a public event.
- Lack of documentation
You need to document not only project related documents like Specification, UI design etc., but the daily diary of what is happening in the project. Doing so manually obviously is not practical, but there ate tools which record most actions and events in the project. This data could be used to analyze and learn how to improve productivity for the next project.
Every team regardless of organizational model and size faces the above issues to some extent. Even traditional teams that work together, in many cases have communication and collaboration issues due to ego or personal conflicts within the team. The project manager’s job is to make sure the team stays focused and works together on a common goal without distraction. Using a good collaborative project management tool is highly recommended. Such tools make it easier to plan, inform and track projects and store project data to be analyzed during and after the project has ended.
David Robins has 20 years of experience in project management for both software and hardware projects. Currently he is the CEO of Binfire, an online project management and collaboration application for traditional and distributed teams.