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Increasing Project Alignment Print

Getting the key leaders of a project aligned is a critical enabler for success.

Suppose you are a project manager and you discover that your counterpart in your client organization prefers working alone, and basically dislikes working in groups and participating in meetings. What could you do about it?
How would you know this in the first place?

One way to determine this is to use a project alignment process called the Birkman Method.
It helps create alignment among project executives and project managers (client and supplier) around project planning, project meetings, and project processes.

On large, complex projects it is critical that the project managers and project executives from both the supplier organization and the client organization be on the same page around key issues and critical success factors of the project (scope, deliverables, milestones, etc.)
On lengthy (1 - 3 year) projects, as important as it is to have contingency plans and conduct risk analysis around key aspects of the project, it is equally important to understand how these four key individuals will communicate with one another, what they need from each other to be effective, and what kinds of stress they will experience if their needs are not met.
Identifying these potential "disconnects" are as important as identifying areas where these top four people are aligned.

An effective way to use this alignment process is at the beginning of a project.
The first step in the process is for each of the key members of a project team to take a 300 item questionnaire via the web.
A consultant certified in the Birkman Method could then meet individually with these top four team members for project coaching. Alternatively, this individual coaching process step can be skipped. However, the Birkman Method is a complex process. The alignment process is more effective when individual project coaching occurs before a group alignment meeting, since each executive/manager will already be more familiar with the results of their individual reports.

In this project alignment process, eleven categories of behavior are measured, which are described below:

Project Alignment Behaviors

 

Behavioral category Description
Expectations of myself & others How demanding a person is on himself/herself and on others. Being stimulated by difficult personal challenges (constantly raising the bar) vs. working well with manageable challenges.
One-on-One relationships How direct and candid a person is vs. how careful and diplomatic they are in one-on-one relationships.
Relating to people in groups How much a person enjoys people in groups. A person's preferences of working alone vs. working in a group.
Planning & organizing How structured and systematic a person likes to be. Making simple, broad, overall plans vs. being meticulous in planning and attentive to detailed tasks.
Being in charge How low key a person is in the exercise of authority vs. being directive and commanding.
Recognition for self & others How strong a person's drive is for personal advancement (as opposed to a team). How trustful and team spirited a person is vs. being opportunity minded and resourceful.
Pace & action How fast a work pace a person likes. How much a person works to his/her capacity vs. how much the person conserves his/her energy.
Dealing with emotions How comfortable a person is with emotional expression and the involvement of feelings vs. being focused on practical results and being objective and detached in feelings.
Dealing with change How much a person needs physical and mental change, vs. how patient a person is with long-range projects. How much a person likes to quickly change focus vs. how much they prefer completing a project once started.
Personal independence and identity How independent a person is in his/her thoughts and behavior, and the degree to which a person desires personal independence. Being conventional in thoughts and behavior vs. being independent.
Making decisions How quickly a person makes decisions and grasps situations, versus being thoughtful, reflective, and concerned about future consequences.

 

 

In the following examples, we will look at the top four leaders in an Information Technology Project.

Their titles and roles on the project are:

 

Title Role/responsibility
Client Project Executive
  • Provide overall direction/strategy on project
  • Provide necessary resources to team
  • Liaison with line Executives on overall project status/updates
Client Project Manager
  • Ensure successful execution of project
  • Provide tactical direction, ensure alignment continues to exist among the project team
  • Develop team members' skills (technical, functional, project management)
  • Coordinating resources (e.g. ensuring right people are available, when needed)
Supplier Project Executive
  • Overall Lead on project from an executive level
  • Arbitrate between client organization and supplier organization, when needed
  • Ensure software application meets client's needs, but is still generic enough to be sold to other clients
Supplier Project Manager
  • Manage day to day activities of the project
  • Coordinate team activities including setting agendas and keeping the team focused and on track with deliverables as outlined in the project management plan
  • Manage overall project schedule, scope, and budget
  • Conduct weekly status meeting with client(s)

 

 

Below are some examples where these top four leaders in an Information Technology project are aligned, have potential disconnects, and steps they can take to mitigate potential problems in how they will work together and interact. Each of the five charts below measures a project team member's usual positive behaviors, and what he/she needs from fellow project team members so that these usual positive behaviors will occur. Scores ranging from 1 - 9 and 90 - 99 are especially significant.

Chart 1: Relating to people in groups

birkman

 

The behavioral category "Relating to people in groups" describes how much an individual enjoys working with people in groups versus enjoyment in working on an individual assignment.

In this example, the Client Project Manager's "Usual Behavior" score (4) suggests he/she is self-directed and works well alone.

His/her score (9) measuring what he/she needs from others around group relations is shown in the "Needs from others" column.

This score (9) suggests the Client Project Manager needs a minimum of group meetings and opportunities to be alone and work independently.

The Client Project Executive has the same "Needs" score (9), suggesting he/she also dislikes group meetings and likes working alone. However, the Supplier Project Executive has a "Needs" score of 84.

This suggests that the Supplier Project Executive needs opportunities to work in teams and acceptance and support from groups. One potential solution to these differences would be to have as few project meetings as possible and, when held, keep project meetings concise and to the point.

While this should be standard operating procedure for any project, knowing that the Client Project Manager would much prefer working alone than being in a project meeting makes this project activity that much more important.

Chart 2: Planning & organizing

birkman

 

The behavioral category "Planning & Organizing" describes how structured and systematic a person likes to be, how meticulous they are in developing plans, and how they deal with and finish detailed tasks.

This is an especially important category for project management for obvious reasons. In this example, the Supplier Project Manager's "Usual Behaviors" score (7) suggests he/she devises new plans quickly and easily and can be independent and autonomous when planning.

Both the Client Project Executive and the Supplier Project Executive have high "Usual Behaviors" scores (85, 92), suggesting that they insist on orders and systems, and meticulous in planning and executing and operate on carefully calculated risks.

It would be important for the Supplier Project Manager to get the client's desires known on what level of detail is needed in the project plan and the preferred style and format. Also, it would be important to craft an agreement on how changes to the project plan can be made and who can make them.

Chart 3: Being in charge

birkman

 

The behavioral category "Being in charge" describes whether a person is low key in the exercise of authority or is directive and commanding.

In our example, both the Supplier Project Manager and the Supplier Project Executive have a "Needs" score (72) that suggests they need strong, direct line supervision and firm, forceful direction from superiors. The Client Project Manager has a "Usual" score of (51), which suggests a balance between an easygoing style and being forceful in leadership.

However, in addition to behaviors, the Birkman Method also measures three management styles, that describe the preferred type of management respondents use to get results from people. These styles are:

  • Knowledge Specialist - Contribute and lead by using personal expertise and knowledge to find solutions
  • Directive Management - Personal, direct involvement in problem solving, controlling and implementing
  • Delegative Management - Arranges resources and assists subordinates and teams in dealing with resource and implementation insures

Looking at these three management styles, the Client Project Manager scored as a high "Directive" Manager. This suggests the Client Project Manager gets results from people by exercising strong managerial authority with personal involvement in problem solving, direction and implementation. Therefore, his/her suppliers' needs for strong direction from their client will be met.

 

Chart 4 - Making Decisions

birkman

 

The behavioral category "Making Decisions" describes how quickly a person makes decisions and grasps situations, versus how thoughtful, reflective, and concerned a person is about future consequences.

In our example, our Client Project Executive's "Usual Behaviors" score (18) suggests he/she usually is direct, to the point, and is quick in forming judgments. This Executive's counterpart, the Supplier Project Executive, usually weighs both sides of issues and thinks before acting (92).

In the "Needs" area, our Client Project Executive (32) needs to test ideas on the project quickly and change then as needed, with limited verbal exchanges on issues as they occur.

This is contrasted with the "Needs" score of our Supplier Project Manager (92) who needs ample time to think carefully around project decisions, and time to consider options and implications before acting. Differences such as these can be difficult to manage on a project, especially when the client wants quick decisions and the supplier needs to slow the process down.

By understanding these differences early in the project, a decision making process can be developed that could work for all four project leaders.

Chart 5 - Dealing with emotions

birkman

 

The behavioral category "Dealing with emotions" describes how comfortable a person is with emotional expression and the involvement of feelings vs. being focused on practical results and being objective and detached in feelings.

In our example, the Client Project Manager and Client Project Executive have low "Usual Behavior" scores (10, 23) suggesting they are focused on practical results and are objective and detached in their feelings.

These scores contrast with the "Needs" of our Supplier Project Manager and Supplier Project Executive (98, 88). These high scores suggest our suppliers need nonmaterial benefits and rewards, and an ongoing outlet for strong subjective feelings.

These data suggest that an occasional lunch or after work social gathering among all four project leaders would go a long way in keeping their project on track. Many projects require longer hours for suppliers than for clients. A verbal acknowledgement of this hard work by a client to a supplier costs very little, but often reaps large benefits for the client and the project in general.

Stress Behaviors

What happens in our example if our project team's needs are not met? This project alignment process also describes stress behaviors that will occur for each member of our team if his/her needs are not met. In our example, our Client Executive and Client Project Manager need:

  • Specific direction and control
  • Demanding projects
  • Close scheduling

 

The need for demanding projects and close scheduling is especially significant to our project. If our clients do not get these needs met, their stress behaviors are:

  • Become over insistent on rules
  • Resists necessary changes
  • Reluctant to confront others, possibly losing advantage

 

So if our clients do not get the close scheduling they need, they could become overly insistent that our suppliers follow a rigid methodology, or use a tool that may not really be needed. This is an incentive for our suppliers to make sure their clients' needs are met. In our example, our Supplier Project Manager needs:

  • Defined authority
  • Varied activities
  • Broad scheduling

 

The need for broad scheduling is significant to our project, especially when the client needs close scheduling. If our Supplier Project Manager does not get these needs met, his/her stress behaviors are:

  • Easily distracted
  • Distrusts others
  • Becomes domineering
  • Fails to follow the plan

 

Therefore, there is a great potential for head to head confrontations with the client without some type of understanding around each others needs.

Conclusion

Virtually every project that lasts more than six months has the potential to go off track.

Scope changes. The market changes. People get stressed, and tired. By using a project alignment tool such as the Birkman Method early in the project, areas of alignment and potential disconnects can be identified.

If the top four leaders of a project are not aligned on how they need to work together to be effective, the project will be needlessly derailed.

The top four leaders of a project do not have to like each other - but if they know what one another needs to be effective on a project, they can be effective as a team.

 

Kevin J Lewis (c) 2005 All rights reserved

 

About the Author: Kevin J. Lewis, PhD, is Director - Organizational Consulting for Quorum Business Solutions, a technology based consulting firm based in Houston, Texas. Mr. Lewis is the author of numerous articles on project management, team development, and executive leadership.

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written by gabriela, March 27, 2009
very good

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