A common question we get asked is how team members and project managers can engage their senior management in improving the state of the organization.
At the project level, there are chronic challenges regarding schedules, rework, changes in priorities, and death-by-chaos. The management team has its own issues regarding resources, sales, deadlines and new products. The overlap is rarely discussed.
Engaging senior managers is done by matching their goals and problems to those of the projects. It then becomes clearer to management that helping projects is self-serving. Here are some steps to initiate change.
1. Ask management for their goals and problems for the project you are on
The goals and problems of your project are smaller and earlier versions of management’s goals and problems. Someone (probably you) needs to break the ice and discuss the similarity. The essence of this step is to show that the challenges the project team members face are some of the same ones that the manager faces. Engagement comes from reframing the challenges you see into his or her terms.
An example senior management response to the question would be:
- Goal: “Deliver product A by December.”
- Problems: “Lack of resources”; “Lack of speed”; “System stuck in testing.”
Do any of these problems look familiar? After they respond, mention a few of your team’s challenges if they did not come up. Don’t go overboard; just share the ones that relate to the goals and challenges they care about.
2. Look for underlying causes
The problems stated are likely to be symptoms rather than underlying causes. Think through some of the steps that led to each symptom. Ensure that the list is a balance of what your team could do differently and what management can do differently. For example:
- A possible cause of the lack of resources is poor estimation and how haphazardly commitments are agreed upon.
- A system stuck in test can have underlying causes of: a) defects escaping from the beginning to system test, b) testing resources are not planned in advance, c) late discovery of interface defects, d) requirements are not defined to test against, and e) the software is spaghetti code that no one understands
3. Confirm understanding of the goals, problems and underlying causes
Before any improvements are made, repeat the goals and problems back to management for confirmation. This step allows them to own the data and therefore own the result.
If they show little motivation to do anything, mention (gently) the impact of no action on their goals.
4. Investigate solutions to the problems
If you don’t know what to do next for solutions:
- Ask someone who already knows and can explain what to do
- Google the problem, but realize that the internet has as many bad ideas as good ideas
- Ask any highly intelligent and super-nice consultants that you know for pointers
Example solutions include:
- Conduct serious peer reviews of requirements and test cases to remove defects
- Develop a reliable project plan that includes: a task breakdown, estimate of effort, estimate of complexity, resource leveling, project assumptions and risks
- Build several achievable schedule options based on estimate data
- Conduct serious peer reviews to find defects in interfaces, code and design before test
- Plan and secure testing resources long before they are needed
- Review and test interfaces prior to system test
- Trace tests to requirements before system test
- Run code analysis tools to find spaghetti areas of the system that will slow testing
You only need a few actions to make an impact.
5. Take action on a small scale
Experience leads to knowledge, so try something!
6. Share the results, good and bad, with management to earn trust and credibility
To gain further support, tell management what happened and suggest the next step. Keep management committed through involvement.
If you have comments or questions about this article, or would like to get some helpful complementary feedback regarding your current state, contact us.[Forward this email to your boss! Subject: Here’s a cool tip for you] Quick Link.
You don’t have to go it alone
- Read some free blogs on related topics
- Read Chapter 1 of Making Process Improvement Work to organize your improvement plan
- Try our 1-on-1 senior management/team coaching sessions to speed up
All of the items above cost nothing if they don’t work out.
If there are challenges your group is having that you would like us to anonymously address in future blogs let us know.