I was watching Toy Story 3 with my 4 year old daughter when I got this idea. In the movie Toy Story 3, the toys get themselves donated to a daycare. The daycare is being run by an evil toy, Lotso who turns the daycare into a prison. When the toys realize that the daycare is not the place they want to be, they try to escape. That’s when they find out about the systems that Latso has put in place and the monkey that is the “eye in the sky” who watched these systems. Whenever anyone tries to escape the monkey screams and claps its hands that have cymbals attached. Basically makes very annoying noise that wakes up Latso and his team. Immediately, Latso and his team converge and take care of the escaping toys.
Application to Project Management
Risking the negative implications of assigning an evil character to a project manager, I want to still go ahead and say Latso is the Project Manager. The cameras are the automated systems that the Project Manager can put in place. The monkey is another automated process that reports whenever a risk or an issue or your finances are running out. When the monkey screams, Latso takes action. Similarly when the issue shows up, the Project Manager needs to get the issue fixed immediately.
Systems do not have to be enterprise wide that take lots of time and effort. If you are in a position to set these up then go ahead and more power to you. But the systems that I am talking about can be as simple as a three step process. Here is just one simple example that I tried with some success.
Example: Strike Two
Problem: We uncovered a major issue during the beginning of integration testing that necessitated daily status calls to resolve this issue. There were 6 teams and approx around 20 folks whose help we needed to fix this issue. Knowing that getting 20 folks to attend a call every day to get the issue fixed was in itself challenging, I put a system in place.
Steps to Resolve
I let the teams know that these are the steps that we are going to follow to resolve the issue we found.
Step 1: We needed a daily update via email or on the phone.
Step 2: If any team misses an update 2 days in a row then an escalation email will be sent out AUTOMATICALLY.
Step 3: Every team member needs to put it in writing that they understand this system and they commit to follow it.
Result: The daily calls were very effective. We got the resolution to the issue in record time and we had to sent out an escalation email only once.
I know that this a simple system but I have set up similar systems for monitoring budget variances, schedule variances and am actively working on few more.
The idea is that you need to get in the habit of systems thinking. Most problems do not start out big. So, the moment you realize that the problem has the potential to become very big then start setting up a system. Then take some time to explain the system to the team and tweak it if needed based on their input. Once the system is ready, get a written commitment from the team that they are going to follow it. This way you are not pushing your system down your team’s throat.
Have you set up any simple systems that help you run the project?