Anna gathers together the key players in the project for a planning meeting. One by one they enter the meeting room.
Anna is first and as neat and tidy as she always is. She appears, and is, so efficient that many of her colleagues are quite intimidated by her presence. Today she is wearing an open neck shirt and her usual dark jacket and trousers.
She is alone in the room before anyone arrives and has arranged her notes and laptop and thoughts with equal tidiness.
The IT Director has become quite interested in this project and has appointed Max as the IT team leader to contribute to the e-Trolley project. Max always wears a white shirt and a suit to work, even on Fridays. Max takes work and life very seriously. He even takes humour seriously. He takes his career very, very seriously. Max plays team sports like rugby and football but never touches a computer game or visits Facebook which he considers to be girly. His role is to understand the input the company IT division is expected to make. He is early but not quite as early nor as well prepared as Anna. His tie and collar are undone from a shower after a recent game of squash.
The project sponsor, Mike, has an ingrained face that tells of many years visiting shop floors. He wears the same knitted waistcoat with a small stain that is now definitely much older than lunch. Like most people he is much less intelligent than his look-a-like, Albert Einstein.
Sue Denim, from the retail group, comes in last. Sue is fun. You know when she flounces into the room telling you about the problems she had getting away from her last meeting that she is definitely in the room. She enters in much the same way that a famous actor appears on stage: as if she expects a ripple of applause. She is ebullient and entertaining and knows a great deal about shops and supermarkets and how they work. Her background is actually in market research and she knows all about surveying shoppers to find out the fine points that persuade them that SpendItNow is the store they should choose. This combination of market research and retail experience makes her doubly valuable to the team. She has a way of getting people to do things. Her dress is frilly, her spectacles are as colourful as her life. She sometimes sings in the evenings at a local club.
So Anna; Max, Sue and Mike all assemble to start planning the project.
Anna nearly always runs a well prepared meeting and this is no exception. She introduces everyone and explains their roles. She asks each person to say a little about their normal role in SpendItNow, what they know about the project and what they expect from today and the project as a whole. After this she makes a few important points about the project and the meeting.
‘I am really glad to have you all in the team. Max, I can leave the responsibility of dealing with IT components with you, Sue will help by finding some stores to take part in the pilot and with the organisation of the market research as we will need to understand the shoppers’ opinion of this new system. Mike plays the twin roles as our sponsor and as our weighing expert and I pick up everything else.
‘In broad terms this is how I see our current activity. One month from now we should present a complete finalised definition documentation to the board for the ETP project. This will explain what we intend to do, what resources and money we need and our objectives for the pilot. Until we have a full portfolio management structure in place the board of directors is acting as a portfolio board.
‘I hope they will give us the green light after that presentation to commit to the e-Trolley pilot project. We shouldn’t commit any expense on the pilot until we have got the go ahead, but we should be prepared to press the button and get on with it. We must have a pretty clear idea of what it is by the date of the presentation.
‘At the moment the project is as clear as mud – the overall idea is contained in the draft specification and you’ll get the general idea of what we are supposed to be planning from that. In outline, in the pilot project, we are to build and test in a few selected stores an electronic, high-tech automated check-out system. The e-Trolley may use RFID, barcode scanners and other devices to make shopping really easy.
We call this initial project the e-Trolley Pilot Project – the ETP project.’
Anna hands round copies of the early draft definition documentation for the ETP project. Our current activity is to complete this and seek the green light for the delivery phase of the project.
‘I imagine that we will build, buy or otherwise acquire a number of e-Trolleys and get some IT modifications carried out to connect these trolleys to the in-house computer systems and cash registers. We will try to find some stores to take part in the trial and set up a monitoring process to observe the trials that will last about two or three months.
‘The overall objective of the pilot project is to present a report on the feasibility of the e-Trolley idea to the board. This report will detail one or more technical options. There will be costings, timescales, benefits, risks and issues; enough to give the board the information they will need to commit to a major roll out of e-Trolleys across the whole organisation, throughout all of our stores.
‘I have been asked, and I ask you all, to be dispassionate about the project. We should be neither behind it nor against it. Our job is to produce the best analysis of the case we can. The whole programme could get canned because of our report and that will be fine.’
Sue breaks in, ’that might be fine for you, honey, but we’ll all get jibes in the canteen that our project got canned.
They might say it to your face or behind your back but they’ll be there. That is just the way things are round here.’
All teams progress from a collection of individuals with different expectations to a team with a common objectives. Anna is just getting her team through the early stages. A common model for this type of progression is the Tuckman model.
For Anna this brings to the front of her mind a worry she had been unable to form into words. ‘You’re right and I don’t know right now how to avoid that – let’s think about it. If we can find a way of being seen as the independent researchers…..’. People need to understand that it is OK to cancel a programme if it isn’t going to deliver significant benefits.
Anna leaves this thought floating around the room; ‘Anyway, I wanted you all to hear what I understand we are here to do. Is that different to anyone else’s expectations?’
They all nod. Anna has achieved something important in the world of programmes and projects and aligned everyone’s thinking. She has begun the process of binding them together into a team with a common, understood aim. They even now share the common risk that Sue called jibes in the canteen.
Thanks to Geoff Reiss for contributing this book