PM Articles > Geof Lory > Assessing Readiness for Speed - Project Management

Assessing Readiness for Speed - Project Management

by Geof Lory

Related Articles
  Product Management
  Speed Readiness Assessment
  Execution Management
» Project Management

In the previous two articles in the series on Assessing Readiness for Speed we covered Product Management and Execution Management. This month we will wrap up the series and the assessment with a discussion on the discipline of Project Management, including Teamwork, Leadership and the Organizational Environment. This article on Project Management also completes the Speed Readiness Assessment tool.

The Project Management Disciplines

As I've mentioned in previous articles, each of these disciplines addresses different questions for the team and the project. Product Management focuses on the questions Where and Why, and some portion of the What. Execution Management elaborates the What question by answering the technical questions about How the project will be achieved. Our subject in this article, Project Management, focuses on answering the questions Who, When, and How Much, as well as addressing the non-technical How questions. These questions are addressed by attending to the Team Psyche, Process Assurance, and Project Administrivia.

Speed can be enabled when the goals and objectives are clear, and the resources and skills are sufficient for accomplishing them. In addition, the intersection of goals/objectives and resources/skills must function smoothly. Friction in this area will slow down the team, sometimes painfully. Reducing this friction is the primary purpose of Project Management. When I work with organizations to develop Project Management disciplines, traditional or Agile, I emphasize that the primary focus of Project Management is to maximize the productivity of the team. It's really that simple. However, it's rarely that easy.

Team Psyche

Building trust, effectively managing conflict, gaining commitment, nurturing accountability and delivering results: these are the building blocks of great teams, and great teams are necessary for great projects. But great teams don't just happen. They require intentional effort to create and maintain. Leadership and team building are foundational to developing high performing teams and readiness for speed.

The team psyche needs continual support and attention, and is influenced by many different components. Deliberately and diligently looking for signs of those influences and reacting to the needs of the team is a full time job. When helping a team prepare to optimize their performance, I take a guided autonomy approach: Help them help themselves, but be there to provide the guidance that only comes from having been there before. It can be exhausting and exhilarating all at the same time.

Process Assurance

Things move faster when the wheels are well greased and the path well paved. When processes, procedures, standards, and norms are well understood and consciously committed to, the team can run like a well-oiled machine. This doesn't mean rigorous process, just the right amount of process. The goal is to increase efficiencies, reduce clutter, eliminate extraneous distractions, organize information, and enable the tools necessary for an efficient and productive work environment. It is a delicate balance that requires constant vigilance, because few teams or projects maintain a steady state for very long.

To support these norms I encourage teams to create and maintain a Team Operating Agreement that explicitly and publicly states the commitments agreed to by everyone on the team. This is a living document that is regularly reviewed and updated as appropriate.

Project Administrivia

Every project is executed within an organization, and every organization has its own culture and operating systems. A set of administrative expectations and protocols is aligned with these cultural expectations: functions like status reporting, budgeting, forecasting and project accounting, security and process/audit requirements ... basically, the paperwork. None of these activities directly contributes to the outcome of the project, but if they're not properly managed these items can slow or even stop the project, in spite of the team's best efforts.

When the team is trying to "get something done," this administrivia can be a distraction and a deterrent to speed. While it might be nice to avoid it, the reality is that it is a standard part of every project. The best way to enable the team, as well as to encourage organizational acceptance of the team and its behaviors, is to find a way to efficiently deal with these demands. You don't have to like it, just do it.

Tailoring the Project Management Disciplines

One of the reasons I enjoy being a Project Manager is because every project is different. I am a change junkie, and relish the challenge of figuring out the best ways to morph the textbook project management disciplines to achieve success when the environment is less than ideal. To do this, I have to stay constantly vigilant and ruthlessly pragmatic in challenging the status quo or slaying sacred cows, all while keeping my job. That's a lot more interesting than just implementing rote procedures.

Because every project is unique and is conducted in a unique environment, the mix almost always demands that the project management disciplines be tailored to fit the specific combination of project characteristics and organizational environment. Given each situation, there are certain levers of process and rigor that can be pushed or pulled to get different outcomes. Knowing when and how to make adjustments is key to integrating the team and the project with the organization. Misalignments can cause friction and reduce speed. Here, wisdom is truly applied knowledge. Prescription can be detrimental.

Project Management is not just for Project Managers

If it sounds like Project Managers have to be a lot of things to a lot of different people, remember, Project Management is not just a role, it is a discipline. As such, the areas described above are not the exclusive realm of the Project Manager. While Project Managers may be the ones who spend more of their time here, speed will be better achieved and sustained if everyone on the team has at least some focus on the disciplines of project management, teamwork, and leadership. It has been my experience that everyone is capable of contributing, and given the opportunity, most will pleasantly surprise you.

The Speed Readiness Assessment Tool

This article wraps up the series on the three disciplines essential for speed—Product Management, Execution Management, and Project Management. It also finishes the final component of the Speed Readiness Assessment tool. The complete survey will be available online for the next 60 days as part of this blog. So, feel free to review it and use it to assess your teams' Readiness for Speed. As always, I welcome your ideas and feedback to continually improve this tool.

Before my next article, the final assessment questions will be converted to a spreadsheet and made available for download. This format will be easy to customize to meet the specifics of your projects and environment, producing a radar graph by functional area that you can use to identify areas of improvement. Hopefully this will stimulate you to think about ways your teams can optimize for speed.

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