[Published on Microsoft's Office site as "Leveraging the power of project team collaboration"]
Leveraging the Power of Project Team Collaboration
How project managers can support team collaboration
About Dan Webb, CEO of Whale Projects LLC
For more than twenty-five years, Dan Webb has managed software development projects based on the practices of process improvement, collaborative process management, success metrics, and high-performance teamwork. Dan has provided professional consulting services in project management, relational database application development, Web application development, strategic planning, and effective teamwork for enterprises such as Microsoft Corp., The Boeing Company, 3M Corp., Washington Mutual Bank, the law firm of Robins, Kaplan & Ciresi LLP, and The Federal Reserve Bank System as well as for many small and medium-sized companies.
A great number of project managers have used the basic capabilities of Microsoft Project — tasks, resource assignments, predecessor task dependencies, etc. — to predict finish dates, display Gantt charts, and print time sheets. To be truly successful with a demanding project, a project manager needs to track a lot of information about a project, including estimates of work hours and duration, resource usage and availability information, issues, risks, measures of progress, and schedule variance data. Beyond tracking the schedule- and resource-related data, a project manager needs to support knowledge sharing and team collaboration or suffer risks like these:
§ Under the typical urgency to begin building a solution, an important requirement goes unrecognized until the customer acceptance test. Correcting the problem so late in the product development cycle takes a factor of 20 or more times the duration and/or cost of designing for that requirement from the beginning — and at the most visible and costly time to blow the expected delivery schedule.
§ Two developers begin inventing in incompatible directions.
§ The customer’s priorities are not well understood by one of the business analysts.
§ Under time pressure, a software developer misses an important specification.
§ A program manager assumes that a key new member of the team will know what information he’ll need at each step in the process and will ask for it then.
In each case above, the Gantt chart won’t tell you that there’s a serious problem fulfilling the customer’s requirements until it’s too late to recover. A gap in communication or understanding or agreement can fail a project more easily than a late milestone can.
The Standish Group research shows a staggering 31.1% of projects are canceled before they are completed. Further results indicate 52.7% of projects will cost 189% of their original estimates. On the success side, the average is only 16.2% for software projects that are completed on-time and on-budget. In the larger companies, the news is even worse: only 9% of their projects come in on-time and on-budget. And, even when these projects are completed, many are no more than a mere shadow of their original specification requirements. Projects completed by the largest American companies have only approximately 42% of the originally-proposed features and functions. Smaller companies do much better. A total of 78.4% of their software projects will get deployed with at least 74.2% of their original features and functions.
Ineffective team collaboration is one of the primary contributors to costly rework and delivery failure in IT projects. Team collaboration is about sharing knowledge and reaching consensus within the team. Consensus results from effectively detecting and resolving conflicts in data, perceptions, interpretations and actions.
A key human-factors challenge for project managers is to make sure that all crucial information related to the project has been validated by at least two team members who agree about the results of the validation and that the information has been effectively integrated by the stakeholders whose successful performance depends upon it. Team members need access to crucial information, and they need support for communicating clearly and reaching agreement with ease. Clear communication and ease of agreement can never be assumed without some appropriate test for that condition.
Project Management Institute’s (PMI’s) Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) defines communication skills and responsibilities this way:
10.2.2.1 Communications skills. Communications skills are used to exchange information. The sender is responsible for making the information clear, unambiguous, and complete, so that the receiver can receive it correctly, and for confirming that it is properly understood. The receiver is responsible for making sure that the information is received in its entirety and understood correctly. [Emphasis added.]
Simply making information available to stakeholders does not insure that communication has occurred. For example, publishing a list of tasks assigned to a developer does not insure that the developer has understood the work to be done or that the developer is committed to complete the work according to a particular schedule.
Microsoft’s Enterprise Project Management (EPM) Solution delivers a rich environment for knowledge sharing and consensus building, whether it’s adopted as an enterprise-wide standard or it’s being used to support one mission-critical project. Later in this article, we’ll look at the capabilities of the EPM solution that are ready made to support team collaboration.
A leading financial
The information about a project that the project manager maintains can come from a variety of sources, including individual team members, customers, other stakeholders, external resources, accounting systems, and other enterprise data sources. One of the technical challenges for project managers today is creating an information-rich environment that promotes team collaboration, whereby all project management data can be collected easily and shared with appropriate filtration and security using a highly automated solution that provides feedback to the stakeholders about the quality of communications.
For instance, how many times have you, as a project manager, re-entered task performance data that you received from team members because there was no other way to update the project plan? The time spent on re-entering data distracts you from being more vigilant in higher-risk areas. And how many times have you heard from team members that if they could get e-mail notifications about upcoming tasks and delivery dates, they would better be able to multi-task more effectively and keep on schedule? If your project management solution doesn’t provide that kind of precision and timing in the transmission of the right data to each team member at the right time, you’ve missed an important opportunity for driving risk out of the project.
Quality management methodologies focus on specifications, processes, standards, best practices, and performance metrics to improve precision in fulfilling customers’ requirements. If your project management solution doesn’t facilitate the definition and presentation of relevant specifications, processes and performance metrics in a way that’s easily accessible by each team member at just the right time, there are still unnecessary risks in the project. Microsoft’s EPM Solution goes a long way toward providing a ready-made, information-rich collaboration environment that raises the quality of project outcomes.
Microsoft’s Enterprise Project Management (EPM) solution includes these components:
§ Project Server, including Project Web Access (PWA)
§ Project Professional
§ SQL Server with Analysis Services
§ Windows Server
§ Internet Information Services
§ SharePoint Team Services
Here’s a table showing elements
of best practices in team collaboration as we envision them, with the
corresponding supporting feature(s) of Microsoft’s EPM Solution:
An alarming percentage of IT projects do not deliver expected functionality on schedule and within budget. And many projects are canceled before they are completed. Team collaboration issues are very often the reason why projects fail, especially in high-tech, but this is the most often neglected source of variability in results. Microsoft’s Enterprise Project Management (EPM) Solution goes a long way toward providing a ready-made infrastructure that facilitates effective knowledge sharing. And it provides an adaptable platform for adding customized features to support consensus building within a project team.