Lessons learned #4: How to win with completely different teams

The purpose of this last part of my series is to understand how to lead a team to project success. To have team success, you need to think and act like a coach.  For example, take Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots. He is now considered one of the greatest coaches ever, because he has a system (Process), and is able to put in the right players at the right time for success. Look at Belichick’s seven teams that won the Super Bowl – including the two when he was defensive coach for the Giants – and you find seven COMPLETELY different teams with different styles, different rhythms, and different strengths. But they all won.

For most large innovation projects, you will be facing the challenge of new internal co-workers as well as staff from a partner system integrator.

For most large innovation projects, you will be facing the challenge of new internal co-workers as well as staff from a partner system integrator. With completely different teams for each critical project, how can you understand your team’s risks and weaknesses? Do you have enough subject matter experts to address your project? What should be your winning process?

Tips for your winning process

Tip #1: Spend extra time on due diligence on the people who will actually be doing the work, and engaging with the personalities of your internal staff.

Tip #2: Ask the Subject Matter Experts to explain it like you’re in 1st grade. Your Subject Matter Expert (SME) may be a primary source of information, and will have a basic understanding of the topic. They will help you to ask intelligent, informed questions in solving your business problem. You want your SME to know the ins and outs of the industry, so he or she can explain it to you.

When your SME is totally entrenched in the subject matter on a daily basis, it’s not uncommon that your conversation may start to feel a little too technical; the point at which you don’t understand a word he or she says. The solution is to have your SME explain the use case and background intelligence to you, as if you were a 1st grader.

Tip #3: Don’t let technical requirements take over the business problem you are trying to solve. Focus on the capabilities that the product must satisfy in order to meet specific user needs. They are the most fundamental and important requirements. Functional requirements are sometimes referred to as business requirements. They describe capabilities that the intended product can perform, to enable business users to do some part of their work and carry on with their business (operational) work.

Tip#4: Create a good mix of external/internal “A” players and separate your team into the following competency areas: knowledge, proven experience, and personality.

  1. Knowledge contains general management skills such as leadership, negotiation, communication, team building and other human resource management skills that are necessary in any management position. Knowledge also includes generally accepted project management areas, including the tools used in those areas, such as project scope management, project time management, and project cost management. Lastly, there is industry-specific management knowledge, such as lifecycle management and agile product development methodologies.
  2. Experience competency area includes track record, hours of project management exposure, size, complexity of project managed, and independent references. (Years of experience do not necessarily gauge competency accurately).
  3. Personality; arguably the most important area, contains characteristics such as can-do attitude, confidence, enthusiasm, open mindedness, adaptability, and personal integrity. People management skills are also crucial here, such as the ability to communicate, motivate, influence, as well as having political sensitivity. Having political sensitivity is a very important attribute for your potential project managers. Projects are multidimensional, and are inherently affected by politics. The key is to be aware of politics, and to work with them, but not to take part in them.

Tip #5: Team Balance. You will have to continually balance five team “currencies”: time, money, knowledge, security, and prestige.

For a project to be perceived as successful, all stakeholders must feel that they received a positive communication exchange during the project. Most people can readily grasp the exchange rates for time, money, and knowledge. Security and prestige are, however, based on individual perception, and are more difficult to quantify.

A prime example is the functional manager who appears to ignore clear gains in both time and money as he/she opposes a project. This individual is possibly seeing a loss of security or prestige greater than the value of time and money. A competent team leader understands the perception of loss and often can present a stakeholder with a gain in either (or both) areas, and win their support for the project.

In summary

Team members’ roles in project management will require different competencies. Since the project management environment is characterized by change, responsibilities, and hence requires knowledge and skill levels, there will be continuous transformation. As a leader/coach, your key competencies are flexibility and adaptability to any situation. The ability to say “No”, the ability to stay calm under pressure, and the ability to take responsibility for both successes and failures will let you lead with a winning formula.

Want to see more lessons learned? Check them out here.