Delivering your project – will it make your boat go faster?

rowing eightMany projects struggle to deliver successfully. How do you build a team that can overcome the trials and tribulations of project delivery and excel at project execution?

Earlier this week I watched the replay of a talk by Ben Hunt-Davis at an entrepreneur’s convention where he talked about the approach his rowing eight took to achieve gold at the Sidney Olympics. His talk was both inspirational and enlightening. And much of it can be directly applied to the world of project delivery.

Ben’s eight were the least experienced and probably one of the weakest teams on paper going into the 2000 Olympics, but they developed an approach that gave them an edge. They knew from the experience of previous championships that doing the same things again wouldn’t work. That working harder alone couldn’t do it. They had to think differently.

So as a team they started out by clearly and simply defining their goal. It was a shared goal that everyone in the team was 100% committed to. That goal was to win Olympic gold.

Now you’re going to say ‘well of course that was their goal’ and ‘that’s the goal of every team’. And you’d be right of course. But it was the way that goal was targeted and set about that was different. They recognised a collective responsibility. They could ALL either win, or they would ALL lose. There was no me or I, it was the team. They had a responsibility and commitment to each other. If any one person broke that commitment they ALL failed.

Having established the common goal and team commitment and responsibility they then examined everything they did with one maxim in mind – will it make the boat go faster. If the answer was yes, they did. If the answer was no, they didn’t.

The whole ethos required a level of openness and honesty between team members that can be painful. If one team member saw another do something that wouldn’t make the boat go faster they had to be told. It can be hard giving those messages, and even harder receiving them. But if they are given and received in the spirit of the objective – we ALL want to win – then it can work. It won’t be easy, but it can, and did, work. Such feedback must be made based on the facts and the goal or objective. Personal feeling must never come in to it or else the trust that comes from that honesty and openness is destroyed. Not everyone in Ben’s eight liked each other but they all agreed to subordinate their personal feelings to the overall objective.

So how can this be applied in the project world? How often is the goal or objective of a project absolutely clear and unambiguous? How often is it distorted by personal agendas? For your team to succeed as Ben’s eight did, your objective must be clear, unambiguous, and agreed upon by everyone in the team, from the Sponsor to the most junior member of the team.

A good way to achieve this is to create a project charter with everybody having input to it. Keep it as simple as you can and ensure it is reworked and reworded until everyone buys in to it.

Include the ground rules on openness, honesty and respect for each other. Through these will come the trust needed to achieve excellence in execution. The trust in your team mates that means you know they will do the right thing. There will be people that can’t put aside their personal agendas, who will always ‘bat for themselves’. Where ever possible you need to weed them out of the team. Otherwise they will be a drag on performance. They will damage the synergy of the team.

With the goal agreed and the bond of trust established you can focus on execution. Look at everything the team does and ask your self these questions. Does it improve execution. Does it improve delivery. Does it make OUR boat go faster.

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