Our Product is Steel…Our Strength is Our People. That’s a slogan coined by Defasco back in the 1970’s. Since then, several corporations have developed a corporate focus in their respective mission statements based on customized variants of this famous slogan. It’s clear that “the people” form the fabric of any company; therefore, their ability to collaborate effectively underpins the mechanism by which individual contribution is summed up to form the value position of the company. It’d be fair to say that most folks would whole heartedly agree with this statement, and would endeavor to believe that simply putting the right people together will cinch this secret formulation to achieve greatness. When looking at corporate practices, this formulation is often thought to be solely based upon an individual’s core characteristic criteria. Upon establishing the fundamental characteristics possessed by the individual, such as during the interview process, then a subsequent assessment of the chemistry that exists between individuals (i.e. those working together) form the bonds that produce the “Strength” formula as stated by Defasco in their slogan.
For many companies, the essential collaboration mechanism is thought to be the automatic result of good team member choice in the same way that a great culinary masterpiece is a mere product of the recipe’s ingredients. This is not to say that a great leader is just another selection along the same lines. There’s no contest or debate on the importance of leadership; hence, the Project Manager’s (PM) role to lead the team successfully (as measured by one form or another of earned value) is highly dependent on the very strength of the people. The fallacy that can and does trip up the PM is that task collaboration is automatic if the belief is that individual intelligence and interpersonal characteristic chemistry are the only two ingredients.
Collaboration is and has always been thought to be a result of assembling the team at the designated brick & mortar office location. Of course, if you believe in the formulation mentioned earlier, then you’d pretty much have to insist that a project team would have to be collocated in order to have any change of tapping into the strength formula. The big mistake here is to think that the leadership direction will automatically blend into the team’s membership daily activities in exactly the right balance in order to achieve the desired output. It has been my experience that collocated teams foster a foundation of tribal knowledge as the basis of their daily execution; hence, tend not to engage in any form of task formalization. This loose form of collaboration is more of a hindrance when it circumvents the application of a structured framework. In my experience, it is often specific groups within organizations that resist structured collaboration. These groups will also resist the recognition of task collaboration. Agile, as a framework, is one of the systems being successfully implemented that augments the intelligence ingredient creating an even more powerful library of tribal knowledge. When applied in conjunction with currently available technology, this powerful collaborative environment minimizes the collocation “curse” in that it enforces a much more succinct form of communications in the form of written comments in place of in situ conversation. Having a permanent record provides all members of the engaged team the benefit of the conversation thread.
Agile Project Management is the management of the full suite of groups forming the wide project team. Many companies are organized as matrix organizational structure of one type or another, with each functional group having their unique processes. It is rare to find a case where the wide team contributors from Sales, Marketing, Finance, Manufacturing, Quality, Technical, etc are of a unified vision or mission in regards to the project. Each of these groups will operate in their own circles using their own processes to collaborate amongst themselves. In larger organizations, these various group are often not collocated and have several ventures on the go at the same time. As human resources to the project are essential, it is critical to ensure that task collaboration is managed across the entire project. Task management must be proactive, which means that all contributors must primarily contribute by way of producing task results in the form of tangible deliverables. This must start by recognizing these deliverables on the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). Effective collaboration is both an open forum general communications as well as planned time correlated communications. As a PM, a key ingredient for successful task collaboration is to structure the known issues (i.e. write them down in the form of Epics and Stories) and plan for the communications in a sensible coordinated fashion. This is especially important for fractional team members because you likely will not have impromptu access to their undivided attention on an unstructured basis.
In conclusion, successful task collaboration must accommodate and take advantage of the strength of the people. Considering that several distinctly different disciplines are involved in most projects, the PM must recognized that one size does not fit all. A delicate balance of planning the high level “big rock” tasks (Epics and Stories) early in the project is the right thing to do. Trying to sequence every last detail early in the project is not productive and almost always leads to contention and wasted effort. Agile Project Management plans for the boundaries upon where the team can effectively operate, and plans for handling dynamics as opposed to predicting the specifics of the daily battle.