Handling “inconsistent involvement” in a project team

Many organizations consider technology projects to be exclusively an IT responsibility rather than a joint responsibility with business. As a result, business involvement in the project often decreases with time. As their participation decreases, project failure increases and the predictability of success diminishes.

Surprises occur when people are not involved throughout the project. By participating as the project evolves, the business team maintains the visibility needed to avoid being surprised. Instead, they provide feedback and make informed choices contributing to project success.

Consistent involvement prevents making reactive decisions through false urgency and provides proactive ways to make the plan become a successful reality.

The Urgency of the Organization

Urgency can be thought of as artificial importance. It is important for my health (both physically and mentally) for people to eat. Delaying eating or downgrading the importance of eating lunch to below the importance of finishing a task happens. However, at some point, the body will insist eating become urgent and will no longer allow it to be downgraded.

Unfortunately, that urgency doesn’t usually cause the best decisions or the best results. When urgently hungry, people make poor choices as to what to eat. Grabbing a candy bar to reduce urgent hunger back to important hunger is not the healthiest option for the person’s system.

Projects are exactly like that. When important items are allowed to become urgent, poor decisions are made in the name of immediacy that will lead to project delays and failures. Urgency is ultimately a function of organization, prioritization, and discipline more than anything.

Knowing all the things we need to do and how they relate to the things around them allows us to rank their importance, determine priority, and schedule when they should be performed. Having the discipline to complete items in the agreed upon order is a challenge for people. All too often, we will choose to complete easier or more fun items before returning to more difficult tasks. This can lead to the most challenging tasks being connected to the poor urgently made decisions. Create visibility and commitment around items to ensure they never advance to artificially urgent.

Make the Plan Come True

There is a difference between the people that have success consistently and those who do not. The difference is leadership. Watching a project does not make it happen. Taking action makes it happen.

“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” 

That quote from Robert Burns is so true in the world of software. We work so hard to decompose all the work that needs to be done. We estimate it out by getting input from multiple people and tuning our estimates based on past results. We put together a team that has exceptional skills. We give them all the support we can rally. We use the Agile tenants to drive our project. Yet, projects still go off-the-rails.

The reason? You cannot watch things to happen. What I mean here is that the act of watching does not make the outcome true. While many things do get better simply by measuring them and creating visibility, that is a temporary condition. Systems (and teams) always revert to their innate behavior.

To combat this we need to “make the plan come true.” What I mean here is that a plan is just that, a PLAN. I would offer that many project “plans” are more the wishes of the people creating it. A real plan knows what it is trying to accomplish every step of the way. It is not a dream or an end state. It is something we can measure against and most importantly, make adjustments when we aren’t seeing the results we expect.