The management of teams is not a consistent, scientific endeavor but one that requires constant attention to the work at hand and the players on the team. Regular adjustments are required-and appropriate-to keep the team and the project headed in the right direction at an optimal pace, including these 5 keys to preparing a team for success at the onset of a project.
As a consulting organization, we are expected to deliver to clients on budget and on time. At the very least, we have planned costs internally and set an expected delivery date. So, staying on track is important. But it becomes much more difficult to keep a team on track, focused and motivated when the project is thrown a curve ball or when the team is falling behind on the plan for other reasons.
The key to getting back on track from these types of challenges starts with the plan you and the team created before things went awry.
The following are five key tasks to take care of at the onset of a project (once customer requirements are documented and understood, and the team leads define the initial plan):
- Summarize the project to the team. What is the proposed timeline for the project? What are the milestones along the way? And what are the expectations at each milestone? Be specific about the milestones. Why were those dates chosen? What is expected from the team at each milestone? Be as thorough as possible in communicating the plan, the timeline, the expectations and the customer’s goals.
- Review the planned deliverables for the project. What is the customer expecting in terms of new features, functionality or bug fixes? What type of user will be using the product? What is the user’s typical environment (devices, platforms, operating systems, etc.). Use this time to review UX/UI designs, to talk about integration challenges and technical architecture, to demo any bugs found and how to reproduce them, and to share examples of similar products that have influenced the design or expected behavior of this project’s deliverables.
- Discuss the expectations around quality. The level of quality expected is typically consistent across all projects. But it’s still valuable to reiterate them and even define them in terms of the number and severity of open defects at the end the project window.
In addition to code quality, the other aspect of quality is more subjective: the perceived quality in the eyes of the end user. Get the team to think about the product from the end user’s perspective by putting the team in the mindset of the average end user. Are the end users technically challenged? What are their demographics? Is the environment in which they’ll use the deliverable different from the team’s daily work environment? This may lead to a discussion of specific negative test cases, or of cases previously considered “edge” cases which may, in fact, be likely to be encountered by actual end users.
- Ask the team for plan input. Are the due dates reasonable? What are the risks? For example, are they coding something new or different they lack experience with? Are they implementing a significant change in code that touches a lot of areas? Are they developing or fixing something that’s challenging to test? Are there any apparent blockers (unclear requirements, test device availability, resource constraints or challenges)? This part of the project launch (letting the team speak their mind) is essential. Be sure to allow plenty of time for this exercise-and allow the team ample time to digest what they’ve heard and respond to it.
- Finally, respond to the team’s input. If appropriate, work with the customer to reset expectations. Figure out if the timeline or budget can be adjusted as needed. See if there’s any help you can pull in (SMEs, training, more hands, etc). But above all, be sure all reactions voiced by the team are heard and respected.
Following these key suggestions will make a huge difference. Your team will all be on the same page at the start of the project. They will have a complete, uniform understanding of the expectations and rationale for the work they’re doing. This foundation will support the full development cycle through to delivery.
In addition, all that preparation will pay-off when it comes time to ask the team to step it up a notch. The normal cadence of the team may need to be adjusted. But you want everyone to understand why it’s happening, to be on board with the original commitments, and to feel good about working a bit harder to stay on track. If your organization needs some help getting a team project-ready, please reach out to us. We’d love to get you started.