~ By Brad Egeland
Remember this phrase from when your kids were little or maybe even when you were younger? You really had no concept of direction or time other than you were hungry and in your mind you should have already reached your destination by now. You're getting restless so from this moment forward it's a consistent string of questions, "Are we there yet?", "How much longer?", "How many more miles?", "Can we stop and eat?", and the popular and fear inducing, "Can I go to the bathroom?" Do you mean right here and right now? No…please don't!
Does this bring back memories? Why did this happen…why were you - or later your children - asking these questions? Because they didn't understand distance very well, they didn't understand time very well, and they certainly weren't at the point were they were able to comprehend the route and road signs and everything it takes to know that you're on the right track and you're still on time and you'll be there soon. They weren't in control of the journey and they didn't 'own' any part of it - they were just along for the ride.
Unfortunately, this can be true our project team, too – especially if we let it happen. If we don't set expectations with them early that they must own their tasks, understand the big picture of the project goals and purpose and how their tasks fit into the whole project puzzle, and what it's going to take to reach a successful end destination, then we'll be stuck with a bunch of team members working on individual tasks asking, "Are we there yet?," or "Are we almost done?" That's frustrating because if they don't fully understand how their work ties into the project big picture then they won't be working with the end goal or the future in mind. They won't be looking for efficiencies, possible change orders, better ways to tie tasks and functionalities together. Quality can suffer, scope and timeframes can suffer and you may ultimately be left with pieces of the project solution that don't fit well or work well together.
How do we avoid this? I personally avoid this using these three processes:
Get them involved in planning. The project team that plans together plays well together. They see the big vision for the project, they better understand how their tasks help everyone get to the right end solution, and they take pride and ownership of their work and assignments. As soon as you can feasibly and economically onboard your actual assigned project team members, then do so and get them involved in as much of the project planning as possible including getting real tasks and dates in the project schedule.
Don't do everything important on the project yourself. You have to delegate. Don't just hand your team members tasks without explanation, but do learn to let go and trust that they can take ownership and make decisions. Even work at passing along key administrative tasks from time to time. It will make it easier over the course of a long project to know you have some individuals on the team that you can look to for leadership in key project customer meetings when you’re tied up on another project.
Get the team engaged with the customer. It’s not enough to involve the team in as much planning as possible and then delegate extra tasks to them - including administrative ones as applicable. In order to really breed ownership, full understanding on the project and how we're getting from Point A to Point B, you must also make sure they are face-to-face (or voice-to-voice) with the project customer as much as possible. Just like naming a pig or cow makes it harder for the farmer to eat it, likewise knowing the customer well and presenting information to them weekly makes it harder to do less than top quality work for them. Make sure your team knows the customer well and is personally involved with them as much as it makes sense to. The more touch points they have with the client the more they will internalise their tasks and put their best effort into it.