What do you mean have fun?

In previous articles I have ended with the statement to remember to have fun. We have all been on projects that have required excessive hours and were extremely stressful as we moved through delivery. While it is important to keep the team focused on delivery it is equally important to find ways to step away and as a team take time to have fun.

My thoughts on this have evolved as I have gained more leadership experience. Early in my career I had a valuable mentor that consistently reminded me of the need for the team to engage in team building activities, and this advice has continued to be invaluable as I have built engaged teams.

In this article I will provide some examples of different team building and team fun activities that have been successful in my experience. You need to understand the culture of your organization and the different personalities on the team to determine which activities will work to achieve positive results.

Recognition and Team Morale Lifters
Some of your projects will have unique names that you are able to leverage. I was responsible for delivery of a solution to develop an internally built application that supported a wide range of internal lines of business. We used the opportunity to name the application by holding a competition where we encouraged all the project stakeholders to submit entries to name the application. The winner was going to receive a small prize along with the recognition of being the person who named the application. The entries we received ranged from very creative to quite humorous. We engaged our internal brand team to be the judge for the winning entry. Once the winning entry was determined I had the name and logo added to t-shirts and gave these to the core project team. This provided an opportunity for all the project stakeholders to engage in a fun activity and the t-shirts allowed the core team to wear our new gear on stage gate events to promote the project.

On this same project we used a fun competition during the user acceptance testing (UAT) phase in order to find system defects or “bugs”. One of the team members created a fun animation that announced the game. Each week throughout UAT the person who identified the most bugs received a gift card. This resulted in a very high number of defects being identified prior to production which as we all know is the best result for overall acceptance.

Another project had a unique name that included the word “Star” as part of the project name. I ordered very inexpensive star shaped tchotchkes that I stapled pieces of paper that contained words and phrases of encouragement. At one of the stage gate lessons learned activities I handed out these tchotchkes with some fanfare. I still have a star tchotchke on my desk ten years later!

Internal or External Activities
One of our PMO team members was a recognized professional artist. She invited a group of us to her home one weekend and encouraged us to bring acrylic paint materials. She gave us loose instructions on what materials might be helpful to create certain types of results. During the day the biggest takeaway I had was how much we all encouraged each other. We built a camaraderie that we took back to the office that was lasting.

Other types of team events include going to shops to paint pottery, create mosaics, and going to a cooking school to cook meals together. We also would take an afternoon and go to lunch and a movie or miniature golf. These were inexpensive activities and were a lot of fun. There were the occasional nights of dinner, bowling, or arcade game venues that included appetizers and refreshments. Some of these activities brought out healthy competition amongst the team which was an added benefit.

On a more current project I was in a city that held Paint Night events which is where you sign up and they supply the painting materials and instructions on how to approach painting the picture. This provided many fun conversations post the event on how different we all interpreted our instructions!

Team Building Activities
I use team meetings as an opportunity to engage in team building activities. Recently I needed to build out a large project team to support a business transformation program. Since I was new to the team, and each week we had new team members join, I used our team meeting as the way to get to know each other. I started out by doing activities like “tell us three things about you” to actual full on team building games. Each week I would ask for a volunteer to come up with the next week’s game. We would spend the first part of the hour working through team updates. We would spend the second half of the meeting engaged in the game. A few examples of the type of games the team came up with included Pictionary like games, guess the bird sound, build a spaghetti tower, and musical chairs spin-offs to name a few. One of the games resulted in the team meeting at a nearby park to play volleyball and those that did not want to play were very noisy spectators! I heard on numerous occasions from different team members that all week they looked forward to the Friday team meetings.

In summary, it is vital to your team health to remember to step away, have fun, and build lasting relationships. There are many different ways to achieve this but the key is to consciously take the time!

Lessons on Right-Sizing Project Management

In my previous article “Progress Your Project with Processes” I discussed the need to incorporate processes in your project management solution delivery. In this article I would like to delve in to the need to right-size your processes for your project delivery.

Most stakeholders feel that your project management processes are too heavy regardless of how much effort is expended in right-sizing them. I have heard this assertion on at least one occasion from an outside consultant, however when project execution was underway it was determined that the processes in place helped ensure that the delivery team understood the complexity of the effort and were empowered to deliver on their respective activities.

The main reason for this empowerment is because there was effective planning and communication at the beginning of the delivery and as a leader I was able to articulate the direction we as a team were embarking on. Stakeholder analysis up front and continued assessment are also key factors.

The complexity of your project needs to be considered along with the delivery methodology you intend to utilize. The more complex your project the more you need to rely on formal project management techniques.

I have found that there are three essential steps in determining how to right-size your project processes.

  1. Identify your delivery needs
  2. Select the tools to be used for delivery
  3. Adjust as you go

1.  Identify your delivery needs
When identifying your delivery needs it is important to first decide on the software development life cycle (SDLC) methodology your project will be utilizing. The methodology in and of itself is not the key, but rather assessing the specific approach you will be taking and subsequently determining the impact of the methodology on your stakeholders are the keys. If your team is new to a specific methodology, then steps need to be taken up front to take them on the learning journey while continually communicating expectations throughout the delivery cycles. You may also find when reviewing your SDLC that adjustments need to be made to the methodology to better clarify the tools and techniques that will foster solid delivery. Some questions you need to think about should center around; is there an effective communication plan, is change management understood, how will the team be empowered to report activities, risks and issues, and how will lessons learned be gathered throughout to support reassessment.

2. Select the tools to be used for delivery
Selection of the tools may be driven by what is available within your company. I have found there are three main tool areas that need to be accounted for. These three areas relate to content management, development management, and test management. Content management would be the tool used for gathering and maintaining project specific documentation. As an example, you may find that it is easier to use a simple tool for managing actions, risks, issues, and decisions such as an Excel workbook, or in a more complex delivery you may want to track these items utilizing a formal content management tool and workflow. This is an area that should be right-sized based on the complexity of your project. If you are delivering using an Agile methodology you will want a development management tool that will support your product backlog grooming and the velocity tracking of your team such as Jira, Version One, or Rally. If you have a separate tool for managing test planning and execution it is important to guide your team through which tool will be used for communication management. For instance, defects may be captured in the test tool but communication with the development team may be captured in the development management tool.

3. Adjust as you go
Retrospectives and lessons learned activities are not only important for how your team works together, but also relevant for what processes need to be modified as you progress through your delivery efforts. If managing through a waterfall or iterative waterfall SDLC, at a minimum you will want to hold a formal lessons learned at each phase gate. If managing utilizing an Agile SDLC, you should ask your team to think about processes when completing their retrospective activities and support any suggestions they may have to update processes accordingly.

In summary, it is important to assess up front the appropriate project management processes that will be used to deliver the solution. In doing so you need to account for the complexity of the project and the communication mechanisms that are required. The tools you choose should support the activities to empower your project team to be self-organizing and you need to adjust as you progress through project delivery. Remember as always to have fun!