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Dare to have lean project structures – build on your team

** Dear reader, this is an automated translation of the German blog post for your convenience. Please switch language to German to see the original contents. **
One of the strengths of established companies is that experience and knowledge gathered over the years have been poured into processes and Group-wide guidelines clarify many issues without the need for separate decisions. This ensures efficiency and uniform quality in the processes. It is precisely this supposed strength, however, that often changes into a obstacle for digitization projects.

In the case of these projects, the nature of the case is that the target state can not be completely defined in advance. (This was also the case with many previous projects for the automation case, if one allows an honest consideration.) Nevertheless, still today many projects are managed according to classic waterfall models.

The supposedly safe feeling

Although the classic waterfall method has not given many companies a good success in the implementation of projects in the past, they seem to give the participants a structure and a secure feeling. Finally, a plan can be drawn up, which lists all processes up to the finished project result and gives the project workers a guideline which is to be done in the near future. Thus, deadlines are foreseeable and in the ideal case also the required budget is transparent. At the very least, this is the illusion, which one is only willing to give.

The good feeling is supported by extensive project methods, which have been developed over the years and often provide a rigid framework for projects. There are process definitions, tools, templates and predefined stage gates, which should regulate the daily business in the project. These projects also take place in a corporate environment, which is governed by directives which have become complex through the years of experience. With these tight conditions, many established companies are trying to minimize the internal centrifugal forces and to ensure that all employees comply with the corporate orientation.

And now comes a digitization project

In hardly a larger project, the entire complexity can be viewed in advance and planned with the accuracy desired by the management. This is especially true for digitalization projects. With the help of agile approaches nowadays attempts are being made to take account of this and to lead projects iteratively to the goal. In each individual iteration, the knowledge gained in the previous iteration can be constructed. The subject is gradually opened up, and difficulties become more apparent, as it becomes clear within the short iterations whether or not they are solved.

However, since, for the reasons already mentioned, a classical waterfall model (without hybrid constructions) is often used, it is all the more important to maintain a certain flexibility in the sequences. No process, however well defined, will cover all possible scenarios, so that improvisation is inevitably necessary. In such situations, we often have a reputation for more structure and more process in order to manage the chaotic project.

The team decides

However, this should be done with an eye. In our experience, something else is of decisive importance in such an environment: the personal coordination of project staff among themselves. The personal (face to face) collaboration of teams and team members affected by a problem is THE key to success. It is not without reason that modern enterprises create flexible workspaces, which allow a situational collaboration of employees of different teams. And the more direct communication is, the better. Avoid trying to solve problems by mail ping pong. Encourage your employees to talk to each other personally.

In the case of locally distributed teams, select the best possible communication type that can be made available. If, for example, a trip to a common location is not possible, a video conference should be given preference over a pure telephone call or the exchange via e-mail.

You will experience it: If the employees in the project communicate well, many problems are easier to solve. However, this does not mean countless meetings, but the situational meeting in order to solve defined problems. However, it is also necessary for the employees to be given the corresponding responsibility and the trust that they can solve the task. Furthermore, it should be encouraged (and encouraged) to actively approach colleagues. Otherwise there is a risk that the employees will retreat to the defined process and find reasons why someone else is responsible for the next step…

Recommendations for the project management method

  1. If you do not want to (or can not) change to agile methods at the same time, check which flexibility allows the existing project method. Assume that, to the best of your knowledge, you are not able to plan everything in advance, and you are deliberately planning checkpoints, in which you can consciously review and adjust the existing planning. Be sure to be honest with yourself. Shifting problems into later phases brings the anger later, but you have less possibilities to react.
  2. Check what you can remove from your project methods. Do not always add rules. (“Perfection is not achieved when nothing can be added, but nothing can be left out,” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  3. Set the focus on open and direct communication. Your process will never cover all eventualities. But especially in unforeseen situations, people can find creative solutions through direct exchange. And if this is still difficult at first, a moderator or facilitator can help.