Culture & Competency

Factors that Knock Team Projects Off-Course

There are many things that can throw a team project off-course. The goal posts can be shifted by the project sponsor; that’s clearly a signal that the shared vision needs to be expanded or revised. That will have flow-on effects throughout the remaining project phases. Sometimes the shifting of the goal posts is a result of the team starting off on what they thought the project was about, and getting into it, and only then finding out that they hadn’t quite understood. Being rigorous in the initial take on the shared vision and desired outcome, and in getting sign-off and feedback from the project sponsor or sponsors is a way of minimizing the risk that this happens (and thus wasting a lot of project time, team member enthusiasm and energy for the project, not to mention the budget assigned to complete the project). At least to some degree, the team has control over shifting goal posts.

A second factor that can throw a team project off-course is changes in the market conditions that have an effect on the likelihood of success of the candidate idea. These changes may happen because the project is of a longer duration and a competitor has released a product or service into the targeted niche that changes the rules of the game. Think Apple, with its iPhone in the mobile phone space. How many new phone projects at Nokia or Motorola got canned after the iPhone came out? Or the change may happen as a result of new government or industry regulation that introduces new conditions and limitations on the product or service being developed. The team doesn’t have so much control over these things; but they will have to react to them and make corresponding changes within the work of the team. But although they can not control them, there should be an ongoing assessment of the major changes in the market, the following of competitor actions that impact key projects, and scenario development to ensure that worst case outcomes can be mitigated effectively.

A third factor that can throw a team project off-course is changes in the composition of the team. The team starts off on a good footing, and has got into the groove of working together. All of the upfront explicit agreements and discussions that took a lot of time have been internalized by the team, and there’s a real hum in the way the team is progressing. And then out of left field, someone announces their resignation from the firm or says that they have too much on their freelancing plate and they won’t be able to contribute any further. Now the team has to scramble to find a replacement team member, and get them up-to-speed on what the team is doing and how they can directly contribute and help. That process takes time, and depending on the criticality of the contributions of the departing individual or the nearness of the final deadline, it can wreak major havoc.

How have you experienced team projects going off-course? The above is not an exhaustive list by any stretch …

Categories: Culture & Competency