How critical is engagement to the execution of a smooth project?

I’ve noticed that the older I become  more experience I gain the more conscious I am of engaging those around me. I’ve worked with some inspirational colleagues, thought provoking business leaders, architects who could break down a problem 50 ways and so many experts in different fields that one would think when it comes to delivering projects, everything must be rosy. Yet, I’ve also seen many cases where projects grind to a halt for no apparent reason. Now before you jump in and call out the bleating obvious there is always a reason, hear me out.

Achieving the expected outcomes of a project is always challenging. The project manager invariably faces an up hill battle getting anything done in the organisation. Be that getting resources to do the work, obtaining signatures on every conceivable document – architecture, technical design, requirements, approvals to go to market, approvals to purchase and in some cases even approvals of a project schedule. Reflecting on projects I’ve been involved in I feel that the doing part is almost insignificant. Many a time I have joked with project managers that we will simply hurry up and wait.

Yet with age and experience I have learnt to invest a substantial amount of energy engaging my peers to help reduce to amount of waiting done within a project. I’ve done a little digging on the topic of engagement and it was somewhat surprising to discover that even the Australian Public Service Commission runs a course on it. Now, we all engage others on a daily basis yet for some reason, when it comes to projects, it surprises me how all too often, people, professionals, colleagues and team members don’t engage.

As an IT Architect I’m usually the project manager’s right hand man. Architects help project managers deal with the administration and business side of the project, reassuring project board and senior executives of the progress as well as dealing with all manner of technical experts and service delivery teams to ensure the project outcomes are delivered. All these activities require the essential skill of communication, or more broadly the act of engaging.

It is when people don’t engage with their peers that I start seeing a project grind to a halt. Time and time again I see

  • The authors of design and architecture documents outline what they think the system should look like without really consulting the different technical teams who have to build it come unstuck because widget A doesn’t really talk to widget B as the designer expected because of some quirky way it was originally deployed.
  • Service delivery teams refusing to accept a new system into BAU from a project because the project failed to consult with them and produce the necessary documentation.
  • Delays in approvals because the approver wasn’t prepared beforehand.
  • Misinformation propagate up through to the executive ranks to the detriment of the project  activities.
  • Scope creep because someone some where thinks that adding ‘X’ can simply be added without assessing impact.
  • Indecision by project sponsors because consensus was not agreed beforehand.

The general theme with all these is a lack of engagement. Working through organisational structures can be challenging enough but when you throw in the mix people, personalities, and priorities, the only way to ensure a project’s critical path is not adversely affected is to ensure you engage with every single person, team and stakeholder early and often.

My (and others) tips for ensuring a smoother operation is:

  1. Identify every single area of an organisation that will likely be impacted by the project.
  2. Engage these areas early and build a rapport with them.
  3. As things within the project change, ensure you go back to those that are affected and keep them informed.
  4. Identify what they need and start working towards providing it.
  5. Give them every opportunity to review what you propose to avoid traps later on.
  6. Where necessary, pull everyone together for walk throughs. Walk throughs are extremely effective for getting feedback and for creating an environment where different teams can talk collectively. It allows them to see how each component, aspect and element of your solution relates to one another.
  7. Identify those outside of your project who exert influence on decision makers and keep them abreast of your activity.
  8. Engage early, engage often.
  9.  Document, document, document. The importance, yet burdensome activity of this task should be underestimated.

Thoughts ?




2 thoughts on “How critical is engagement to the execution of a smooth project?

  1. Jim

    To add to this, I’d suggest the following three things to assist with engagement: document, document, document. I have seen occasions where parties were engaged, provided details, asked questions, received responses, but still held up approvals for a number of reasons. Documenting meetings, keeping records of attendance, providing written material and running structured communications campaigns all help reduce the “but I didn’t know” factor. Removing obstacles is sometimes about removing frivolous excuses, and ensuring that those people who make the decisions, actually make the decisions.

  2. Shannon McLachlan Post author

    You raise an excellent point Jim. Documenting the result of engaging with your colleagues is a very effective way of minimising disruptions to your progress and unfortunately in today’s society a necessary one. Gone are the days when one’s word was enough.


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