Feb 6, 2015
Building and bringing a product to market is exhilarating. When all parties are aligned and you ship on time, there are few better feelings. But the process is not without its occasional challenges. Misunderstanding, insufficient communication, and a lack of accountability can sink a project long before launch.
Below are the 4 ways I’ve learned to consistently assure long-term success and keep client, stakeholder, and internal team on the same team.
First and foremost it’s critical to recognize our innate humanity. At the end of the day we are just people and people aren’t perfect. We show up to the workplace with a whole life behind us and more ahead.
That means recognizing that our client may have quit their job and sunk everything into getting this product to market. Or they are under incredible stress from their CEO. Maybe the designer’s kids kept them up all night. Or the developer is simply having an awful day.
These aren’t excuses for bad work. They are reasons to show each other the respect we deserve as people. That means being honest, open, and sincere. We should ask questions before making accusations. When we treat each other humanely, we build trust. Trust affords us the space to challenge, be challenged, and make great work.
Being accessible is crucial. If we cannot be in the same room sitting next to each other, we need to speak regularly. Regular communication allows for the surfacing of impediments, reduces the need for impromptu meetings, and abates foxhole mentality.
I work in the software industry. We maintain accessibility with a strict but loose meeting rhythm that begins with daily stand-ups. If you’re unfamiliar with stand-ups they are fast-paced, daily project-team meetings that occur every morning. Each person briefly states what they did yesterday, what they will do today, and if they have anything slowing them down (a blocker). This affords the whole team the ability to quickly converge, prioritize, and expose issues. The stand-up shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes.
Seeing everyone at the start of the day is vital but accessibility does not stop there. We are chatting through the day; especially any time a blocker surfaces. At the end of every week we have a formalized retrospective meeting. This gives the entire team a safe and open forum to discuss what is working and what isn’t.
If you are thinking this is a lot of time being “accessible” then view it this way — over the course of a week I spend 5% of my time in meetings and 95% of my time doing the important stuff. I wouldn’t be able to get this much done if I weren’t so accessible.
Aligning a team requires clear expectations. State the goals. Question the goals. Then restate the goals. Then question the goals — ad nauseum — until the goals are etched crystal clear and we are mumbling them in our sleep.
When stating a goal or expectation, we can’t take for granted that we are being clearly understood. This is an opportunity to ask if we are being clear and open ourselves up to being challenged. We should have to explain ourselves until we find the simplest, clearest way to state our expectations.
When we are receiving a goal, if there is even a little doubt about its nature we need to surface it immediately. Small yet obvious ways to put this into practice are by asking constructive questions, taking notes and echoing everything back at the end of a meeting.
Being clear about expectations requires fearlessness, fearlessness for the client or manager to not seem overbearing and fearlessness for the rest of the team to not seem inattentive. We should be fearlessly clear and aligned.
A team will fail if any one individual is not accountable for the group’s work. This means owning not just our individual mishaps, but the mishaps of our team. The weekly retros provide a safe forum for accountability but there is only so much we can accomplish if we are not willing to own failure with success.
Balls get dropped and mistakes are made. As I said, we are only human. The trick is to avoid resorting to blame. Finger pointing solves nothing. It’s lazy and divisive. Instead, we need to own the issue collectively and perform a concise root cause analysis. Focus on solving the problem, not deriding your teammates.
It doesn’t matter if your team is comprised of internal employees, freelancers, or a development partner… these principals remain the same. When we are accessible, clear, accountable, and most of all humane — we build trusting, productive teams capable of great things. After all, isn’t that the goal?
photo credit: Luca Zanon