by Edwin Bailey, managing director of Piribo.com and
ReportBuyer.com, online business intelligence for
When the apprentices of the eponymous TV program enter the
boardroom to explain why they made such a hash of their latest
project, do you wonder how these apparently highly talented
individuals keep getting it wrong week after week? Or
worse, do you compare their disasters to your own efforts at
managing projects or team building away from the eyes of a
Just think how much better off they would be if they simply
took 45 minutes after each project to run through a metric to
assess their team’s strengths and blockages before going into
that boardroom. But no! Let’s do everything at a
gallop, allow no time for structured thinking, and then
subject ourselves to lots of demoralizing feedback.
It’s compulsive TV, but is it business? Well, if nothing
else, it might send us back to our training manuals to refresh
our thinking on how to run a successful project, and not just
because we are terrified of being told “You’re Fired!”
There are two excellent new guide-cum-workbooks on project
management and team metrics: Alan Wren’s A-Z of Project
Management on how to set up and run projects; and Mike
Woodcock and David Francis’ Team Metrics onhow to
measure team effectiveness.
How Not to Run a Project
management is often deemed by bosses to be an unnecessary
overhead, but it can save both time and money. In fact, it
could be termed risk management—or avoiding mistakes. As
Alan Wren says in the A-Z of Project Management: “He
who has burnt his mouth, blows on his soup.”
The Need for a Champion
Wren considers that every major project needs a champion, preferably at board level, so that the project becomes an integral part of the ongoing growth of a business. He cites a bank that had adopted the methodology approach to projects favoured by one of the big management consultancies. This approach didn’t seem to be working and the bank couldn’t understand why. Good money had been invested in a massive training exercise within the company.
A little probing revealed that this training had only been given to those executing the projects. The senior managers were outside the loop. Consequently they didn’t understand what was going on and just told the executives to get on with it. Had the managers been privy to the new methods, they would have been able to make sense of progress or the lack of it. Without committed champions, projects either wither on the vine or get pushed through against the odds.
Make a Plan
The A-Z provides a planning checklist. Then you can dip into the manual on a need-to-know basis. The magic list is:
- Pre-Project, e.g. feasibility, life cycle, sensitivity analysis, terms of reference;
- Planning, e.g. approval, budgets, milestones, critical path, planning checklist;
- During a Project, e.g. review, Earned Value Analysis, filing & documents, risk management, task checklist;
- Closing a Project, e.g. handover, post-project review;
- Project Organization, e.g. champion, matrix management, steering group;
- Project Finance, including authorisation, budget control, Earned Value Analysis, impact analysis.
“Major variations or exceptions will inevitably occur in the best laid plans, but the original plan should stay as the baseline against which to measure progress,” says Wren, “otherwise if you try to track progress against plans that are changing regularly, how will you ever know where you are in relation to where you should have been on a particular date? It’s a sad reality of the Project Manager’s role that you can wait months for a go-ahead, but woe betide a delivery that is one day late.”
Start and Finish Dates
To avoid “Will the last person out turn off the lights?” syndrome it is important to ensure the closing and disposing of tasks in a project in order to bring matters to an orderly end. If you close a project and then one of the stakeholders asks you whether the project is still running, something has gone wrong.
The People Factor
Behind any project there are, of course, people. And they can be pretty unpredictable. One of the earliest investigations into motivators of productivity was Elton Mayo’s Hawthorne experiments at GEC in the US in the late 1930s. The studies among factory workers were originally intended to see if productivity increased with better lighting.
What the researchers found was that if you turned the lights down, productivity improved. If you told the workers that you had turned the lights up, the productivity still improved. Whatever the researchers imposed, the productivity went up. Psychology, as opposed to physiology, had entered the workplace. The workers were simply responding in a positive way because management was taking some notice of them. The lesson from Mayo’s studies was that team culture affects performance and morale. Managers need to develop a positive set of norms in teams that will result in support for the organization and efficiency.
With team building being so much a part of the workplace today, it inevitably follows that instruments are needed both to build productive teams and to measure their performance against agreed objectives. Enter Team Metrics.
Managers and trainers will find the Woodcock and Francis loose-leaf workbook an excellent round up of the key elements in team building. The book’s chief focus is as a practical measuring tool of performance. There are five metrics, consisting of score-able questionnaires and score grids, and in some cases worksheets, as well as useful background notes. The metrics are:
- for auditing generic team effectiveness
- for assessing team leadership
- for assessing team strengths and blockages
- for assessing top team performance
- for facilitators
The questionnaires can be used quickly as a barometer during a particular project. For instance, the High Energy Teamwork Assessment is designed to see if enthusiasm levels are holding up. It can be completed by each member of a team in about 10 minutes. Results can be reviewed in 5, and then the team called together for 45 minutes to analyze the results.
These instruments are as useful for ongoing assessments as for performance in one-off projects. Team Metrics alsoincludes a bit of psychoanalysis of different styles of working. Apparently there are ten major roles that you can play in a team. Are you, for instance, a critic or a harmonizer? A politician or a radical? The descriptions will help you understand what you personally contribute.
Team Metrics cites twelve components of effective team working include shared values and explicit roles. Explicit roles, now they would come in handy for an ‘Apprentice’ project team!
The Project Management A-Z
A Compendium of Project Management Techniques and How to Use Them
A4 Hardback, 436 pps £99
A4 Looseleaf 436 pps £155
Resources for Measuring and Improving Team Performance
Mike Woodcock and David Francis.
A4 Looseleaf + CD. 340 pps. Oct 2005 £299.00
Both books are available from online pharma business bookshop, Piribo Ltd
This is an extract from an article, which first appeared June 2006 in PharmaFocus.