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Delivering at a Speed That Outstrips the Competition: It'sAbout Your People
David Mathes, CPCU, VP, Underwriting Systems, Ryan Specialty
We should absolutely recognize and evangelize the best practices with which we’re all familiar, including but not limited to the SDLC, Process Optimization flows like Lean Six Sigma, and project management methodologies. We also recognize the pitfalls of cutting corners and that doing so usually results in multiplicative amounts of rework post deployment.
However, there are times when our companies are in a race to get to market with a new product. In such a case, saying “Based on known requirements received to date, this project will take 6 months”, maycost your organization a valuable place in a desired market.
Imagine that you are an IT leader charged with bringing a new set of products in your industry to market. Market conditions are seasonally cyclical, and your company needs to be conducting business in those new product areas before the season ends. You have ¼ of the time to execute 6 months of work. How do we solve for a potentially impossible scenario when weeks to months of work must be done in days to weeks?
Methods to handle this are not anything revolutionary. I’ve collected over the course of my career a series of ways we can successfully deliver in similar scenarios. The below won’t work in every case but look for any opportunity to implement some of these ideas.
Starting with the Obvious:Team & Scope
Gather Your Team: Secure the participation of every function required to bring your work live. In so doing, treat them as the highly qualified masters of their craft that they are. Forget what your title is vs theirs. You are all on the same team, and regardless of their position vs yours in the organization, remember that you need them.
Narrow Your Scope of Work: Keep your scope narrowed and do not deviate from it. Secure crystal clear agreement with your executives and key stakeholders on precisely what the finish line looks like, and drive to that finish line only. Reiterate the defined finish line to your project team and your senior executives often.
Find Parallel or Advance Work Opportunities: Measure how much can be done in parallel and execute. If you don’t have a signature on requirements documents but you have constructive knowledge in writing that can enable your work to start, get going.
Maintain Your Control Environment: You cannot sensibly accelerate a process if you sacrifice elements of your controls framework. Work with your controllers, your audit teams, your regulatory and compliance teams. Make them part of your project team if possible. Work with them to ensure that any innovative solutions brought forth do not generate financial or regulatory risk.
Understand Tradeoffs: If timeframes are compressed materially, it is inevitable that something will be missed in development and testing. The trick is to structure your project so that any tradeoffs that require post-deployment rework do not interfere with cash flows. If you can manage to keep any potential follow-up work limited to behind-the-scenes functions, you will net positive. However, follow-through on that extra work is critical.
People – The Most Important Component
You need to make your colleagues want to follow you. Invoking the followership of your colleagues, direct reports and matrix-managed staff is so incredibly beneficial to leading time sensitive strategic, revenue generating work. Once you achieve this, your team will be a force to be reckoned with. How do we do this?
Be Genuine: Check your ego at the door. Relate to your people. Ditch unnecessarily large SAT words. Admit when you’re wrong (or so I’ve heard, never having been wrong personally).
Trust Your People: If you trust your people, you will not need to get into the weeds on every aspect of your project. Doing so will burn you out. Lack of trust leads to micromanagement.I don’t recall a single textbook that tells me micromanagement borne of lack of trust is a good thing.
Understand Your Team’s Limits: I also don’t remember reading any texts about the virtues of burning out your team. If you’ve invoked the followership needed to unite and intrinsically drive your team, they will work on their own to exceed their limits. If a hard-charging colleague has come forward saying they need a break, give it to them.
Use Thank You: It costs nothing and often means everything.Surprising how many times I’ve stunned colleagues by just thanking them for their work over the years. Individuals on project teams are often already trying to balance a day job on top of working on your project or deliverable. Appreciate their sacrifice of time and be sure your team knows that you mean it.
Use Humor: Humor is one of the most cost-effective ways to facilitate a discussion and keep your team engaged. Do not try to be the class clown, but a well-timed wisecrack will energize a discussion, defuse a conflict, and can bring levity when it’s needed most, especially when a time crunch is felt. Overuse of humor runs the risk of negating the seriousness of your work and your team’s perception of you. So do be careful with this.
Drive a Culture of Independence & Innovation: This goes back to one of the first points above regarding talent. If you have highly motivated &talented staff on your team, they need to feel respected and empowered to take risks. Forgive that first mistake. Do not steamroll over opinions if they differ from yours. If such a culture doesn’t exist in your organization, create it yourself. It often requires little more than using the “Schedule a Meeting” button in Outlook and bringing the right minds together.
Roll Up Your Sleeves: We know that as the leaderof a team it’s much more accepted best practice that you remain out of the weeds of a project you are leading. I agree with this most days. However, if you have a skillset that can be used to help bring a critical project live, temporarilyput that concept aside. Help your team; they need it.
Communicate: In a fast-moving environment it is all too easy for information to not make it to the correct people. If you are driving a business-critical endeavor, you absolutely mustkeep all around you informed regularly. Be sure that your team knows who they can and should speak to with questions/needs. Be sure that you are sharing updates with all who need them.
All the quality gates, best practices and document templates in the world won’t help you if you don’t have and nourish/support A-grade talent and A-grade drive in your teammates. You mustfocus on your people, know which tools make the most sense to use, employ them, and put the rest aside.
None of the above is meant to suggest that we circumvent best practices. Far from it. We simply need to understand which best practices and methods best apply and which ones are not mission critical when speed to market is a must.
Further, the above will not work on every project. So much of our work absolutely requires a deliberate amount of time. If building wholly new technologies, I would not recommend following the above. But if you are in a race to market and can design creative solutions with top tier talent quickly, the above will help you along the way.