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Stay Inside the Lines to Manage Projects Effectively

Throughout the Getting Predictable blog, I talk about alignment. For many, the word “alignment” is a bit vague. Does it mean we agree? Does it mean I actively support you? If I don’t actively support you, but I don’t block you either, am I “aligned” with you?

As it relates to projects, doesn’t alignment simply mean we agree on what is in scope? Why are there so many books written on alignment, and why do they sound like “consultant speak?”


The cost of mis-alignment

Alignment is important because when a project team is not aligned, it can not only derail a project, but, in a very subtle manner, prevent the project from ever getting back on the rails.

Sometimes, keeping projects inside the lines can be challenging. In fact, it can be a lot like looking at a roadmap when you’re lost. You’re the driver, you have a navigator next to you, and GPS, and each one is doing something different. You’re not in sync, and it’s difficult to figure out where you’re going. In the confusion, you end up getting even more lost, and it takes you twice as long to get to your destination.

This example illustrates how bad alignment can steer a project – or a car trip – right off of a cliff. The concept of alignment is often a bit of a no man’s land – people don’t understand just how harmful bad alignment can be to a project.

A technique to save the project

So, what are you to do when a project experiences bad alignment? I have a technique that helps me determine how to refocus a project that has left the rails.

Identify the project owners

First, you must identify the people in key roles on your project. In most cases, they are three different individuals: the project manager, the architect/technical lead and the executive business sponsor.

I set up one-on-one meetings with each of them and focus on one question: What deliverables or results need to be completed so that we can high-five and agree that we have completed our goals? Don’t focus on tasks, but on deliverables. For example, I am interested in knowing what screens or reports need to be completed. For this exercise, I am less interested in the fact that we need to collect requirements or complete design activities.

It’s important to meet with each of the three people separately and have a very matter-of-fact conversation in order to build these lists.

Making a list and checking it thrice

What typically strikes me is how different the three lists are every time. It is any wonder that the project may take forever to wrap up? Each person has a different goal and a different definition of success!

A number a things can cause this. Sometimes, the business owner will change priorities midway through the project just to get it done, resulting in different priorities, whereas the project manager typically follows the deliverable schedule to a T, meaning his/her checklist may end up being superfluous. At the same time, the architect may be deep into the creative process, but not up to date on timeline changes.

The Fix Is In

The fix is actually pretty straightforward. I call a meeting together with all of the parties and actually show them the three different lists. My role is to facilitate a common definition of success and help the team re-plan their approach and resources to focus on the new goals.

Not only does this drive us towards success, I usually find that the team’s morale improves immediately.

In Summary

I hope you can try this approach with a current project of yours that has gone off the rails. It really helps. I also hope this helps define what I mean by alignment: Have a common definition of success!

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Category: Business-IT Alignment, Defining Success, Team Efficiency, Team Performance