The 3 Levels of Alignment Required for Successful IT Project Teams

What are the root causes that lead some project teams to operate well, while others struggle? Underperforming project teams may result from a weak change management plan, lack of talent on the project team, or insufficient stakeholder support, among other factors.

In my view, all of these issues boil down to poor alignment.

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Many IT projects today have a project charter. (Those that don’t, should.) Key components of a charter include the project scope, timeline, budget, approach and expected benefits. Timeline and budgets are quantifiable and thus don’t allow for much misinterpretation. Not so for the rest of the charter.

All individuals related to the project want the best for the organization. However, when they see the project charter through their own prism, they may see the scope, the benefits and the approach quite differently. This is why it is critical to align early and often.

Typically, alignment is required on three levels:

  • Sponsors and stakeholders—around the future state vision.
  • Management—around a plan that can be executed.
  • Project team—around priorities and tasks at hand.

Sponsor and Stakeholder Alignment

Most executives feel that they see things the same way, especially when it comes to decisions that they made together. It is true that most projects are budgeted and start with consent from all appropriate executives. But does consent mean alignment? In reality, it’s likely that each executive wound up with their own unique vision of what will occur after the project is complete, and what it will take to successfully execute the project.

It is hard to convince executives to meet repeatedly to understand the changes that can push a project off target and to align their resources to the project goals. But this is the only way to stay on track and avoid wasting time on the rework that will inevitably be required if team members take the project towards the misaligned future state visions in their department leads’ heads.

Management Alignment

Middle management is cynical. They have seen these projects come and go. In fact, they say, we have more projects than we can keep track of right now. Yet, without a firm belief from middle management that a given project can and will be completed, you can count only on one thing—apathy.

It may be tedious, but it’s well worth the effort to gather all relevant data that could impact the project’s success early on. This includes concerns, dependencies, vacations and other availability information. Chances are, some of that information is relevant to the project, some of it is good to know, and some of it is just fear of change. In all three cases, you want to hear it out and account for it.

Once the project plan has been adjusted to account for relevant data, people start believing that this is a real plan and you are not just going through the motions. After all, they have no more excuses to keep it from happening.

Project Team Alignment

Most project teams consist of a core team (full-time participants) and an extended team (part-time participants). All of the members of the extended team and many of the core team members likely have other responsibilities in the organization, perhaps participating on other project teams. Not only are team members often distracted, but they each also have their own opinions about how the project should be conducted. It is very hard for a team to work in a coordinated fashion when each member has their own idea of how a given activity should be executed and their role in it.

There are many ways to align a project team around the approach: training the team in the methodology that is being used, team-building exercises, offsite workshops, communication programs, etc. All of these take time and effort, but they are well worth it.

Secure Your Project’s Success

To make your project hum along, the top priority must be alignment. It is easier said than done, because of the multiple tiers of alignment that are required—on the sponsor, management, and project team levels. Try using some of the techniques listed above as tools for improving your IT project’s chances of success.

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