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Rudder Check – Engage and Educate New Team Members to Stay On Course

Rudder Check imageYou’ve won the contract!  You’ve hired the team, but they can’t start work at the same time due to delays with the suitability process.  You must execute the requirements of the contract with only a portion of your staff, while providing an orientation to the work and some on-the-job training.  You start with a couple of training classes and assign required reading, but realize off-the-shelf training courses won’t deliver the specific results you need to keep your project steering in the right direction.  What will?  Some hours dedicated to discussing real-life scenarios.

In the last installment of this two-part blog I discussed orientation, acculturation, and indoctrination as a quick process for on-boarding a new project team, focusing them on the task at-hand, and ensuring satisfactory delivery of service to the client.  In Part 2, I will relate a few activities as examples of continuous engagement with the team, in order to augment their understanding of the work and provide tips for delivering better service.

Thought Exercise

Just a few weeks into the start of the project the client forwarded an email chain with about 12 entries, telling the team to support the named government project manager with a get-well plan to address the deficiencies discussed in the email.  Since there were so many different participants in the email chain, it was very apparent that each “speaker” perceived the problem with a distinct view and had ideas about root cause.  The overall narrative served as the platform for the thought exercise.

  • For my teammates I asked them to articulate their own opinions of what the fundamental problem was, and what they believed to be the root cause.
  • Then I asked them to point out distinct “voices” from the series of emails and to interpret the speaker’s point of view and the argument being articulated.  The analysis of writing style and word-choice helped to lend emotion to the voice, where email often lacks intonation.
  • Interspersed with this analysis we identified the organizational position of the speaker.  This enhanced the understanding of the speaker’s argument or thesis.

The ultimate goal of the 90-minute exercise was to determine the team’s course of action to provide the specific support requested, while ensuring that the solution addressed as many of the concerns and points of emphasis as possible for the different speakers.  By examining the speakers in each email the team identified the escalation of the problem through various organizational levels.  Knowing “who’s-who” helped in tailoring a plan of action that would satisfy scrutiny at the highest levels.

Case Study – “Know Thy Self”

Another tool that that can be used to explain the government procurement process is to examine the procurement support contract on which the team works.  It is an opportunity to make a direct connection between ephemeral concepts with real-life events.

  • Bona fide need – a government agency identified the requirements for services in support of its operations
  • Regulatory bounds – the FAR and other regulatory documents and memoranda detail how the agency will submit a procurement request (PR); and, how a contracting office posts a solicitation, awards a contract, and closes a contract
  • Deliverables, Terms, and Conditions – a contracting officer tailors these elements for each contract.  Understand what the agency considers deliverables for the procurement support contract, and what terms and conditions bound how the company renders those services

These topics serve as the framework to describe how the project came into being.  The government had a need for procurement support services.  A procurement request was submitted.  A contract was awarded, and the project team came on-board.  The work we execute is in accordance with the statement of work (SOW) and the terms and conditions.

News Articles – “Learn from their mistakes”

News articles about project successes and failures reinforce the real-life results of acquisition and its relationship to project/program management.  What did the subject-agency do that we can adopt to be successful?  What actions resulted in failure and how can we avoid them to mitigate the risk of failure?  One article covered the cancelation of a project after several years of operation. It provided several lessons and questions to consider:

  • A multi-year program in a new field of technological and engineering capability – when the work  has no precedence, it may be seen as inherently risky
  • Lifecycle cost estimates that nearly doubled after the first three years – what can cause this to happen?
  • Absence of acquisition guidelines at the outset of the project, but enforcement of emergent regulations during the execution of the project – what is the impact when there is a lack of acquisition discipline?
  • Although only 10% of the estimated lifecycle costs had been spent, the acquisition guidelines and associated decision events dictated that canceling the project was in the best interest of the US Government – is this truly a failed project?

The final outcome may engender one to consider the project a failure.  What the outcome also demonstrated was the desired result of enforcement of acquisition rules.  Although millions of dollars had been spent, billions of dollars were being saved.

Real Examples Speed Strategic Thinking

These three examples are just a few of the many ways project managers can engage their team members on the nuances of the services they provide.  Although my scenarios focus on a project where procurement support and expertise are provided, they can be revised for any other industry.  Project managers cannot rely on canned training courses and rote memorization to sufficiently prepare team members.  Regular reinforcement of concepts through everyday materials serves to keep them engaged and to understand the very real impact of their work.

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