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02/07/2010

CRT - Elements at the heart of a Successful Project

by Michelle Platter

As ShapingEnvironments.com makes its debut this month, it seemed only fitting that one of our first feature stories explain the spark of motivation that started it all.

It has long been said that the hallmark of a successful project is the ability to maintain Quality, Budget and Schedule. True enough, but what happens when something slips in the delivery? The likely truth is that we all have been involved in at least one project where this has occurred. Unexpected things happen and the true key to a successful project is having a process and a mindset that allows you to address any eventuality. A well functioning project team can create success out of the most difficult circumstances - the critical elements are: Communication; Respect; and Trust.

Communication
Overstated and undervalued, true communication between project team members is rare. Without it, nothing else works. Review any litigation case and you will find that somewhere in the fray, there was a breach in communication. So how do you gauge communication success? Here are a few tips to measure against:

  • Does everyone on the project team know the chain of communication and who the lead coordinator is? Does everyone have access to that coordinator?
  • Does each team member know the specific roles and deliverables of the other team members?
  • Does each team member know who on the team will be delivering the work product that will allow them to do their job effectively?
  • Has each team member completely spelled out to the rest of the team what their needs and requirements are?
  • Has each team member explained to the others exactly what they will be delivering and do they know who their work will be impacting?

If the answer to any of the questions above is "no", there is a break in communication. If the answers are "yes" then the communication framework is in place and it just needs to be maintained. Every team meeting should end with a few questions that are asked of everyone at the table: Do you have what you need to do your work? Do you know where to go to get what you need? What is the schedule for your next deliverable? Specifically, what will you be delivering? Are you aware of anything that could impact your work or the work of others on the team? If so, do you see options for resolution?

While the approach above may feel like an oversimplification, it is a start for clear communication and without it, Respect and Trust are impossible.

Respect
We all know that respect is earned, not given, but you have to start by giving someone the benefit of a doubt. Very often project teams consist of people and companies with no prior collaborative experience. Through the communication steps above, each will learn who those team members are, why they are needed on the project, and how they fit into the framework of the project as a whole. When you understand a person's usefulness, and you see them perform in a way that benefits the group, you learn to respect their capabilities.

Respect needs to be acted on. Each team member has value - therefore their input matters. Pay attention to what they say. Listen without challenging. Then if you question, do so with respect. You may not agree with their position, but they have earned the right to speak and their input may impact you and your work. This creates a positive and collaborative working atmosphere. It is the gateway to Trust.

Trust
One of the most difficult things for any of us to do is trust someone - especially if we do not know them well. And in our small industry, we have often heard about an individual or company long before the first introduction. Preconceived notions can be a helpful tool, but should be abandoned in the face of reality. Pay attention to what you see, keeping in mind the guidelines for communication and respect. As a Project Team, it is in our best interest to be able to rely on each other and if someone has earned your respect, eventually they may be able to earn your trust. If you can trust your team members to do their jobs well, it frees you up to focus on your own performance. In the long run it saves you time and streamlines your work process.

I have had the fortunate opportunity to work on many successful projects in my career. Some were over budget or behind schedule at completion. Some needed changes in materials or design along the way. Even these were successful because as issues came up, the project team discussed the problems, weighed the alternatives together and trusted each other to have the best interest of the project at heart when recommendations and decisions were made. No matter what goes wrong, a team that communicates, respects and trusts its members will work together to resolve issues in good faith. This is what every project owner needs. They count on it... and will return for it again.

The end users of our structures and facilities trust our industry to provide them with safe shelter and infrastructure. Our clients trust us with their money and their livelihoods when they commission us to develop their projects for them. We owe it to ourselves and our industry to work harder to understand each other and faithfully work together as we shape the environment around us.