Throughout my career, I have worked on projects of all sizes, ranging from migrating millions of users to the cloud within a matter of 3 months, to changing the color of a banner to appease one large client. Most have been successful; others abject failures. Regardless of outcome, there has been one common thread across every project: collaboration as a leading indicator of success. There are projects I reflect on and feel proud to have been a contributor. Each of these successes benefitted from a few hallmarks of collaboration that stood out to me.
Motivate Your Project Team with a Shared Goal
Professional services teams benefit from a well-defined, compelling, big-picture goal. Typically, that might be an imagined headline and a few sentences that would grab your attention. Companies like Apple do this really well. As an example, “Apple Watch SE: The ultimate combination of design, function, and value.” Apple knew there was a market for Smart Watches at a lower price point, which I believe was the key value proposition their internal team rallied around as they set goals for the product launch.
The first line of their press release is what excites customers, users, employees, and even executives: “Apple today announced Apple Watch SE, packing the essential features of Apple Watch into a modern design customers love — all at a more affordable price.” Starting a project with universal alignment around an end-goal allows team members to develop a sense of purpose and autonomy in their work, fostering a connection to the team and the shared outcomes. If the goal doesn’t feel quite right, or isn’t easily understood by everyone in your organization (plus your clients and your users), that’s a leading indicator of a treacherous path.
An Agile Attitude Drives Project Success
The only constant in life is change. A general principle in project delivery is that at a project’s inception, you’ll understand only between 60-80% if what it actually takes to carry out your goals. That means, at best, there will be 20% of changes, or unknowns, that have the potential to derail a project. I’ve always disliked the phrase “building the plane while you fly it.” When a pilot takes off, they have a defined flight path, but over the course of that journey, due to weather, air traffic, avian migration patterns, or a host of other unpredictable events, they change course. Delivering projects is no different. As they begin a project, teams must be prepared for uncertainty and changes in direction. Likewise, each team member must feel empowered to speak up when something isn’t working or simply needs attention.
Occasionally, that could mean landing in a completely different location than you planned for, but most of the time it will be a matter of determining simple mitigation strategies and staying the course. If a team can aim for progress — not perfection or adherence to a pre-defined path — they will feel emboldened to seek opportunities for continuous improvement throughout the project lifecycle.
Project Leadership Requires a Selfless Mindset
Finally, I want to talk about the role of the leader. When things go well, we get too much of the credit, much like a quarterback in football. As a leader, every success is attributable to a greater amount of grit, persistence, and hard work produced by your team. “I” statements have no place for a leader in victory. Every moment you have to celebrate wins should be a “we” statement. This subtle change in how you communicate about projects and successes with your team will have an exponential return on that investment. Every great leader I’ve worked with has also displayed an understanding of this truth: when things go wrong, great leaders shoulder the blame. This doesn’t mean team members aren’t responsible for their work; it means that leaders bear the responsibility for the decisions and outcomes delivered on their watch. Looking at failures as an opportunity for improvement, starting with the leader, will create a cascading effect where everyone on the team will assume greater accountability — meaning delivery and outcomes will continuously improve.
Collaboration looks a little different than it has previously for most professional services organizations, due to the shifting dynamics resulting from COVID-19. In fact, a recent survey of CEOs conducted by Fortune magazine and Deloitte showed that 77% of CEOs reported that the COVID-19 crisis accelerated their digital transformation plans. Remote delivery for projects is now table stakes for services teams, meaning collaboration has never been more important or more difficult. At the same time, ill-defined goals, stubborn adherence to process over outcomes, and lack of leadership become even more detrimental in this environment.
These new market conditions have led to more interest than ever in bridging the gap between winning a project and services delivery. Professional Services Automation software fills in the blind spots between quoting, selling, scoping, and delivering projects by providing insight, connectivity, and accountability across a true lifecycle. I am proud to be a part of an organization where our customers continually rank Projector PSA at the top of our category for utilization and project profitability. This is no small task, as it requires hours of analysis around project metrics with an independent third party, our partners at SPI Research. At Projector, our internal focus on collaboration and partnership is shared with our clients, and we have made this perspective a foundational key to our continued growth.