Project Power

Projects differ from day-to-day tasks in that they have distinct beginning and an end. Increasingly they’re seen as one of the best learning and developing opportunities that organisations can involve themselves in, says Sheffield managing director Ian Taylor.
“In project teams you’re taken out of your comfort zone, and people with technical competence are required to apply that competence to variety of new problems. If they’re well managed, project teams will deliver the desired measurable outcomes on time.
“But just as importantly, they’re an incredible learning platform for individuals to build skills they wouldn’t normally build in functional siloed organisation that doesn’t change much.”
What makes successful project team? The key to good outcome is well-defined goal in the first place, says Taylor.
“Often it’s critical event that kicks off the need for project team. An organisation is restructuring, reinventing itself or going through merger process. For instance, if you went into Air New Zealand now, there’d be whole host of project teams connected with the merger of Ansett.
“The big question with any change scenario is how to continue with business in the midst of change.
“It’s question of how you create opportunities for people to learn and develop as result of change, rather than change being perceived as threatening,” says Taylor.
He adds that it’s interesting that organisations today are placing emphasis on managing change without any redundancies.
“People are more concerned with maintaining stability in the workforce during period of strategic change. They’re now realising you don’t create human or organisational wealth by slashing and burning your way through the workforce.
“That’s old economy thinking. We’ve now reached the point where organisations are better at planning the people side of change than they used to. That’s part of the new economy – it’s about how you change and still maintain the wealth invested in human capital. Getting the people-side right has always been vital to business success – but I think for us, as professionals in this area, it’s increasingly more valuable.”

Team members with good personal and communication skills are critical to successful outcome.
“If we say that more and more work is being done in project teams than ever before, then ipso facto, communication and interpersonal skills have to be highly developed as well as whatever technical competence you bring.
“If you’re coming together with project team, we assume you have technical skills. We assume you understand what the goals are, and what the measures are. We also have to assume you have the personal skills to work together as team that, in the next 10 to 20 days, can work under pressure to deliver an outcome.
“If these skills aren’t top notch, there’ll be few speed bumps in the way to smooth project.”

There must also be clear and measurable outcomes for the project that are consistently monitored. Daily checks on how close the team is to its goal are important. This is where the role of project administrator as well as project leaders is important.

A project team also needs time off together. “Often the pressure is so great on team. Long hours and hard work can take their toll, so you have to build in releases. Look for fun things like going out and having meal, going to movies. Things you can enjoy together. It helps build well-functioning unit and makes it more likely that the team will succeed.”

A good leader also keeps an eye on team relations, and examines where people are and aren’t working well together. So the project leader is the business manager, counsellor, motivator, mentor and coach.
“In sense you’re merging the best aspects of an inspiring leader and an efficient manager. It’s cross between the two – of leadership and management.
“Managing project teams is great learning opportunity in an organisation, where you’re called on to achieve not only organisational goals, to inspire and manage, but develop personal goals.”

Being flexible as an organisation is well-worn phrase today. But being flexible also means coping with demand for people, and that may fluctuate on weekly or daily basis.
Project teams reflect the need to break down functional and departmental barriers to service this environment, says Taylor.
“They’re probably one of the best learning and developing opportunities that corporations can involve themselves in.
“People with technical competence are taken out of their comfort zones and required to apply that competence to variety of new problems. Projects test people’s problem-solving skills. They allow people to work with people they don’t necessarily work with on day-to-day basis, and test their interpersonal skills.”

Internal knowledge
“Most importantly, project teams create new knowledge internally, and organisations can work with that knowledge not only to better themselves but also clients and shareholders. I think those trends are very much alive at the moment. So if client or new client creates new workload, projects are viable way of handling the work without disturbing the business as usual.”
The new economy is about all these things, explains Taylor – “it’s about virtual working, tele-working and of course, we’re involved in helping organisations come to grips with these realities”.
He gives the example of an offshore interest who asked Sheffields to assemble project team to do due diligence in 20 days.
“We provide that resource, firstly, in the form of project leader as well as project administrator.
“We scope what they need to achieve the outcome. For instance, given the business outcome, what’s needed in the way of expertise, technical competence, managerial competence, administrative competence, all the variables to get to that outcome.
“Say company is downsizing and in the next 10 days they need to counsel 100-200 people. We will assemble the team, by working through who’s got the skills, who’s worked in that environment, who’s free, etc. More and more of our work is project based.”

Virtuous cycle
“The other side of our business is ensuring once people join firm, that they are successful there,” says Taylor.
Organisations have role to help people succeed, and reach their goals through training and development. It then becomes virtuous cycle – people contributing to the organisation’s success and the organisation contributing to people’s success. “That’s what we call human wealth.”

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