Thursday, May 21, 2009

Finding Root Cause of Project Performance Barriers

How often do you ask yourself the question - “What could we do to improve the execution of our new product development efforts?” From my experience in working with teams this question is certainly on the minds of management and is usually considered in the context of the ability of a team in meeting project commitments. Most everyone has a quick response to a question such as this and they are usually high level and off the cuff, making an implementation plan difficult. The problem and solution is often identified as just out of reach, in another organizational tower.

When this question is posed to a project manager the solution is with the engineering teams. When asked of the design engineering teams the solution is with marketing, product engineering or the customer. Product engineering identifies the solution as being primarily in design, marketing or project management. This may be overstated, however I am certain you see a hint of this reality within your organization.

My point is that the first response to a problem tends to be the easy one, the one that actually does not lead to any solution; it purely provides an answer. Finding real solutions to improve project execution will require a deep dive to uncover root causes. Consider it an expedition to find what is not known, leaving behind all your preconceived notions about where projects roadblocks may be.

Finding root cause of project execution barriers requires excellent listening skills and an ability to ask the right questions. Talk to each team member and ask them one simple question – “What do you need to maximize your contribution to projects?” Now listen and make sure you understand the answer and the reasons for that answer. You will find that the major barriers to ideal project execution are due to a lack in servicing the requirements of the individual. The team member is the most important ingredient of a projects success, one we tend to ignore with a vigilant focus on the metrics of “the project”.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Why aren't the known Execution Challenges Being Fixed?

I have just compiled the results of a survey to further refine understanding of the sources of roadblocks that new product teams experience during execution. A second objective of the survey was to identify the reasons that new product teams may be unable to gain the momentum to mitigate these negative sources of project impact. Or more simply - what prevents the known problems from being fixed. This new survey is a follow-up to the original findings from the July 2008 survey. Click on images for a full page view of the data.

Why don't we fix known problems?
This question ranked the primary reasons why known issues with project execution were not fixed. At the top of the list was a lack of motivation for the team to do so; the team was simply not interested in making changes to improve. At the bottom of the list was the lack of a real problem to be fixed.

Sources of Project Challenges
This question was focusing on ranking the barriers to an ideal level of project execution. Making the top of the list as the greatest challenge was the clarity of individual requirements; team members were not clear on the details of their project contribution. At the bottom of the list were design tools, indicating that the tool sets available to the team were not a major obstacle to project execution.

You can form you own conclusions from the data. From my perspective the data tells me there is generally a lack of motivational factors to drive an execution improvement environment. This matches well with my findings in working with many teams over the years. Typically there is healthy discussion about changing things for the better, although it is rarely backed up with an actionable plan and the funding necessary for execution of that plan. Simply put - The current state of project execution in an organization is exactly where is was chosen to be.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Maximizing Team Motivation

Over the last 6 months or so we have all likely experienced challenges in keeping teams motivated to the task at hand. We have been barraged with a continuous stream of deteriorating economic news and widespread announcements of headcount reductions. Now more than ever it's important to pay close attention to the team dynamics and keep teams motivated to maximize productivity, thus ensuring products are ready when the market rebounds.

How would you view the motivation level of your team - more importantly is it at a point that negatively impacts the success of your projects? One of the key differentiators between a highly motivated team and a team in need of an inspirational tune up is in the way they deal with problems. A highly motivated team is continuously seeking solutions to execution barriers while a less effective team tends to identify someone else or another organization as the owner of solutions for the obstacles they are experiencing.

Here's the deal - any team's level of motivation is directly proportional to the leadership's ability to create an environment where motivation prospers. If an organization needs to improve the motivational quotient of a team, the process must begin with a change in the leaderships management and communication style. This begins the positive transformation in the way a team interacts with each other to alleviate the multiple challenges of product development, a key step in increasing a teams drive towards execution excellence.

The renovation of a team's dynamics to produce a heightened enthusiasm requires concentration on three specific management style themes - people, trust and fun. People are the nucleus of any team, trust strengthens the conduit of information transfer between the members and fun is the agent to enable productivity during the tough times.

People are the building blocks of a team, where no two of them are the same. The challenge is in understanding the qualities, strengths, weaknesses and objectives of each member and establishing project contributions that are as close a match as possible. The better matched an individual's project personality is to their project contribution, the greater their level of enthusiasm and productivity towards meeting project goals.

Emphasize the people aspects of projects and your team will respond by providing a higher level of support and passion in their contributions. Coaching, nurturing and training may be utilized to expand the individuals project personality to a level that will meet future needs; further strengthening emphasis on the people component of an organization.

Without first establishing trust there will be no credibility and without credibility the team remains skeptical and unmotivated. Be real and authentic with your team about situations as they arise - telling them how it really is. Honesty will breed credibility. Never use "secret" knowledge as a means to promote motivation within the team, they will easily discern this and credibility will be damaged. Build a solid foundation of trust and your team output will be maximized, they will do whatever it takes for success.

Have a good time, even in the face of significant challenges. Lighten up and find the humor in unpleasant situations. Celebrate incremental successes often. Play a good rousing game of Laser tag with the team when you hit tapeout! When a team is having fun they will produce to a higher level, always.