The Bottleneck Effect – The challenges of managing team capacity for change projects
Team structure and role assignment is often overlooked by organisations when planning and getting stuck into transformation and change projects. This step is vital in ensuring you have set up your change project for success – a common hindrance to a project succeeding is team capacity, and ‘bottle necks’ of information sitting with key individuals.
Project Management and Business Analysis are vital for any project to succeed, and yet these skills are rarely found ‘lying around’ within a business, and their importance is often overlooked. Still, ensuring that a business functions as usual is also important – a company cannot simply pause all work to undergo change. In order to keep costs on a project low, or due to a lack of experience or understanding by management or board level, organisations often fall into the trap of appointing only existing team members to these roles. This can lead to individuals taking on multiple roles within a project, alongside daily duties – fine when workloads are low (a rare occurrence!), but a certain path to roadblocks as the project progresses.
The first and most obvious risk here is the creation of a bottle neck – serving multiple stakeholder groups and business areas creates a ‘key man’ as the one silo for critical information. A common objective for change and transformation projects is to streamline processes and make work more efficient, and the easiest way to achieve this is to facilitate the sharing of knowledge across departments and individuals. Not doing so for the project itself, falls into an obvious trap.
For the individuals carrying out these multiple functions, transformation projects can be a frustrating experience, not least as they are faced with the challenge of finding time and capacity to manage day-to-day tasks, alongside managing stakeholder expectations as they fulfil project roles. Leadership often overlook the importance of these roles, and the crucial role played by the overtaxed individual until it is too late. These challenges resurface when the project is in full flight and often are the root cause of many projects that fail to deliver on their outcomes.
THE BENEFITS OF EXTERNAL SUPPORT
Respondents to a recent study, cited employees’ resistance to change as one of the key reasons for a project’s ‘failure to launch’. For any internal teams appointed to change projects, there is also the challenge of dealing with any pre-existing inter-department or stakeholder tensions and breaking old ways of working. Guarded or defensive internal teams who have not bought into the process can be difficult to engage, and this is sometimes easier for an external consultant to achieve.
In addition, understanding capacity required on both sides (both internal, as well as the input from external suppliers), often comes from experience. It is often helpful to seek external support especially for these early stages and assessing the viability and success criteria for any given project/program.
THE IMPORTANCE OF LEADERSHIP
Ensuring a project team is properly assigned and the organisation has fully bought into change sits with the leadership of a business. Best practice is therefore to ensure any leadership and key stakeholders have a full understanding of a project lifecycle, and the stages involved for the given approach, and can apply sensible budgets and expectations to the process. A successful change project requires leaders on a project who can set the vision, show the way, and remove impediments to change.
- Leadership and stakeholder buy in – bringing leadership and stakeholders together and aligning the business and project objectives.
- Project planning – understanding and communicating the desired outcomes and the approach to the project.
- Team roles and capacity – ensuring capacity and capabilities are recognised and all roles required within a project are accounted for. Capacity planning should be a project ritual to continuously ensure that project resources have enough bandwidth and support to perform assigned tasks.
- Training – train project staff (especially senior management) and always set strong and clear definitions of project roles matched by a fitting project methodology.
- Consider external support – use external consultants where the cost of project failure is high, especially for project roles that require a ‘tried and tested’ approach to exert best practice gained from similar businesses. Ensure supplier roles and tasks are well understood to match the project activity at hand and avoid using generalists or merging roles if the cost of project failure is high.