Top-down Planning With Little Input From Those Working On The Project
The responsibility for planning the project is always a hot topic of debate in any of our seminars. There seems to be a consensus that individuals are planning the project, setting deadlines, and establishing budgets with little or no input from the frontline worker. In a government setting it is very common to hear this verbalized by the line worker. Many forget that upper management is normally the individuals who have control and understanding of the resources as well as the organization’s larger mission.
There are three main areas which should be considered when having top-down planning of a project. Each of these considerations must be looked at based on the individuals and their expertise in breaking down the project. There is a great deal of strength using both upper management as well as the line employee in putting together a plan, budget, and time sequence of any project.
• Top-down planning is old style
Top-down planning is a demonstration of the old style of management, which was used consistently in the nineteen fifties through the eighties. Top-down planning makes the assumption that upper management has the best processes and ideas to run a project smoothly. In many cases, this is true when management has a great deal of experience with some of the specialized projects of the government agencies. However, top-down planning can hurt a project and, in many cases, destine it for severe problems because the employees have not had an opportunity to give input.
• Top-down planning could reinforce the “Peter Principle”
During the nineteen seventies, management was introduced to a new phrase which was called the “Peter Principle.” This principle meant that individuals are promoted until they reach their level of incompetence, at which time the promotions cease. To put it a different way, people are promoted until they start doing a bad job, and then they are left in that position until retirement or until they quit. What if this principle is being applied to the project planning process in your agency? What if the person doing the planning has been promoted to their level of incompetence? If they are producing project plans and they happen to be at their level of incompetence, they are producing plans which are substandard to front line employees who have an expertise in the project.
This does not mean that every manager is demonstrating the “Peter Principle.” Most managers have worked extremely hard to move up in the organization, and they are making the best decisions to run the organization toward the fulfillment of its mission and objectives. However, it is not uncommon to run across individuals who are a walking example of the “Peter Principle,” and they are hurting their agency because they have position power.
• Top-down planning limits buy-in from the team
Is team buy-in important to your project success? Do you desire for your team to generate ideas and solve problems on their own? If the answer to these two questions is “yes,” then top-down planning might be something which limits buy-in and input from your team. When an organization experiences a great deal of top-down planning from their executive staff, a culture is created that signifies a lack of trust toward frontline employees. The frontline employee begins to stop making even the most common decisions in a project and begins running all solutions through the management team. This kind of response slows down the project and prevents the project team from taking the needed responsibility.
In conclusion, one of the best things a project sponsor or manager can do in project planning is to set the parameters and then work with the team to come up with the needed timeline and expectations. This will reinforce input and buy-in from the team while assisting upper management and controlling the outcomes.
Project Management Mistake # 3
Creating Teams With Improper Skills
Have you ever been on a project team which was ineffective or did not possess the proper skills for running the project in a timely fashion? This can be very frustrating to the project team as well as the customer and can damage the progress and confidence in project planning. How does something like this happen? What do we do when we have project teams with improper skills? All of these questions are very important and must be examined in order to make the project advance in an effective manner.
• Reasons for teams with improper skills
There can be several reasons why a project team does not have the skills needed to complete a project. In most cases, a project team will possess 80% of the skills and will need to bridge the gap for the remaining 20%. This gap can be bridged with the usage of other experienced team members, outside contractors, or internal training to provide skills to the project team.
The first reason why teams have improper skills is the project requirements have changed but the team has stayed the same. Some projects evolve and change objectives while being completed. This requires changes of skills and core competencies within the project team in order to handle this type of evolution.
The second reason why teams have improper skills is due to a lack of project management training. Many project teams have basic skills for running a project, but over time they become lazy and allow those skills to become cold or dormant. This means that they must be reminded in team meetings and with updated training.
The third reason why teams have improper skills is because the team has never possessed the skill in the first place. They try to use knowledge others possess. Some project teams are doing the best they can with a calendar and excel sheets. They have never been taught a proper way of running a project so they revert back to the skills that they know. This makes it very difficult for a project team to monitor one another because there are numerous systems being used to track and calculate project success.
It is very important for project teams to keep their skill levels strong and effective. This can be done very easily through the usage of training in short intervals at the end of project meetings. In many cases, the training will need to only be 15 to 30 minutes in length to keep the skills fresh and to build new techniques into your project. Our clients have enjoyed our free monthly e-zine which reinforces these skills. Each month a different skill is the focus.
Project Management Mistake # 4
Roles And Responsibilities Are Not Spelled Out
Many projects are hurt because the team members are unaware of their roles and responsibilities. This comes about due to a number of reasons. Foolishly, project managers and sponsors think that their team should already know which role they are fulfilling. When roles and responsibilities are not explained, we are leaving this understanding up to the individual team member. When this happens, they are going to miss the mark and function in a role which is not consistent with a project manager’s outcome. When they do not perform as desired, there is frustration and anxiety. Let’s examine the most common reasons roles and responsibilities are not fulfilled.
• Misunderstanding of role
Project team members work on a number of project teams. On some of the teams they are expected to be more influential in the manner of interaction, while on other teams they are expected to function in a supportive nature. Making sure the roles and responsibilities are discussed in the early stages of a team meeting will reduce these frustrations and cause the team member to engage in a manner which is desirable.
• Being placed in a role which is out of one’s expertise
Team members are expected to walk on water, if needed. This causes many of them to take on jobs within the project team which are out of their comfort zone and expertise. What you will notice is many of the team members are wonderful people, and they will try anything the project sponsor or manager desires. However, if we really want success in these new roles, one should make sure you are providing education to expand their skill set and then put these new skills into practice.
• Explaining where they can get information and help
Working on a team requires accountability. Project managers are assuming the individuals know where to get the needed help and assistance. They think that if they do not know, they should just ask. For some team members, they are assertive and confident enough to do this when needed. But what about the non-assertive team member? What about the quiet team member? There are times when a team member is not sure what to do and where to get help when problems arise. Project managers can reduce a great deal of stress and encourage their team in a powerful way if they will give direction on where they can get questions answered and help on their assignments.
In closing, if you desire for your team to take on more in the project, take steps to equip them with the correct skills and provide them support on how to solve their problems.
Project Management Mistake # 5
Little Accountability When Productivity Is Low
Running project teams can become very difficult, especially when you are not their immediate supervisor and do not have position power over them. This is complicated when project teams have no formal way of evaluating the work their team members have completed or a way to give feedback to the team member’s supervisor. This results in team members who are working on projects and have a very low productivity level, but they continue to get great performance evaluations from a supervisor.
We are going to look at the reasons this happens, ways to change accountability in your culture, and, finally, how to set up feedback sessions for tracking project teams and holding them more accountable.
• Reasons for low accountability
There are three primary reasons why project teams struggle with little or no accountability. Many of these can be removed through simple communication, the setting of standards, and detailing the roles and responsibilities of each team member. Let’s examine each of the three reasons for little accountability on a project team.
The first reason why there is a lack of accountability in projects is due to the usage of staff from various departments who report to difference supervisors. This has become more complicated due to the internal culture of most agencies which requires the only person to hold a worker accountable would be their direct supervisor. Problems surface when communication breaks down and there is a lack of feedback about the worker’s performance on a particular project. Poor employees know about this gap, and they have started using this lack of communication to their advantage.
The second reason why there is little accountability on many project teams is due to a lack of proper evaluation of the work one has performed. As project teams develop, there should be a reasonable amount of evaluation taking place to maintain quality, communication, and make sure the objectives of the project are being achieved. When there is no internal evaluation to maintain quality, it compels the team to put off examining quality until the end of the project. This forces corrective actions to take place at the end of the project which increases budget and time. Unless evaluation is examined throughout a project and individual roles and responsibilities of each team member are detailed, hold the entire team accountable even though it might only be one or two team members.
The third reason why there is little accountability is due to an improper manner of setting up the project team. Project teams are set up without a code of conduct or a value statement of how the team plans to work and will conduct themselves. Without this code, many teams find themselves floundering as they try to hold each other accountable with no position power. Since there is no standard that the project team is agreeing to follow, each individual is a standard among themselves with different measuring indicators. Unless the code or standard is set up in the beginning, this team will continue to have conflict after conflict throughout the entire project.
• Changing accountability culture
Changing accountability culture must take place with the support of the project manager, project sponsor, and the entire project team. Unless you have the support of the project manager and sponsor, the team will notice a lack of resource leverage. Changing the culture of the project team to one which possesses more accountability happens through a series of detailed steps rather than just one activity.
The culture of an agency can be defined as the way we run the organization and what is allowed. This can be demonstrated by how we treat individuals, what is talked about, what is joked about, as well as what has been said behind the backs of others. All of these examples demonstrate culture. When we focus on a culture which violates accountability, we are discussing a problem which sabotages positive work and reinforces the slug mentality.
The following is a listing of some of the events which must take place in order to change the accountability culture in your project team and in your agency.
First, the organization must detail what the new culture design or model will be. This means having a good idea of what would bring about the best successful situation for the agency. It can be something as simple as shifting from a strong autocratic style to one which is more team oriented. In other situations it is making adjustments on how communication is distributed among the personnel. Regardless of what is needed, there must be a picture in the leadership’s mind as to the proper culture for the future.
Second, you must brainstorm which personnel will be the most supportive of this new culture and get them active in making the shift. Some personnel struggle with any type of change taking place in an organization. There are other employees who love the thought of change, especially when shifting culture is described. What you want to do is get employees who are supportive, as well as those who might be resistant, working on making the needed changes. Resisters will bring up ideas of future hurdles that might hinder the shifting of culture. As you solve these problems within the team and prior to rolling it out to the entire agency, you have actually made the changing of your culture a stronger plan than before.
Third, you must be willing to weather the storm of negativity that follows the shifting of a paradigm such as this. People have the tendency to be more negative than positive, especially during times of massive change such as the one being discussed. You will need individuals who will verbally support the change of this culture in spite of a high level of negativity from others.
• Setting feedback sessions for tracking
Creating the feedback sessions is one of the best ways for monitoring the performance of the project team. These feedback sessions must include detailed evaluation of the quality, communications, roles and responsibilities, budget, and cohesiveness of the project team. To have a feedback session and refuse to be involved in evaluating these details is like leading a team to shoot at a target blindfolded.
Feedback sessions can be done on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis. They are not done just to examine the negative things wrong with project. They are done with a motive of evaluating performance and progress. This means in a normal feedback session, it is possible not only to discuss where a team has not measured up but also to point out those areas where outstanding work has been accomplished.
In summary, it is very important for the culture of any project to hold team members accountable. If this is not taking place, then it is the responsibility of the project manager, project sponsor, and each team member to discuss the situation and fix it immediately.
Dr. Keith Mathis
Founder and CEO of The Mathis Group, specializes in Project Management, Management Leadership, and Marketing training for private businesses and government agencies of all kinds.