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The A team for successful data projects

 

Leading projects can be hard sometimes. All project managers have experienced delayed deliveries, changes in scope, tensions and frustrations among the project stakeholders. By reading this article, you will learn why it is important to gather the A team to ensure the success of the project.

Why is it important to gather the right people around the table to lead successful data projects?

 

Leading projects can be hard sometimes. All project managers have experienced delayed deliveries, changes in scope, tensions and frustrations among the project stakeholders. By reading this article, you will learn why it is important to gather the A team to ensure the success of the project.

So please keep reading to get the formula to form the dream team. Unless you find beauty in watching a bunch of losers trying to make a project work.

In this previous article, I shared with you the golden rule to ensure the success of data driven projects : a shared vision, acknowledged and followed by all.

At Toucan Toco, to make this rule as successful as possible, we created the ultimate checklist of alignment levers to guarantee the success of projects. And guess what is the most important element in there? PEOPLE!

Human: the key to success?

Plus, I am not someone who hates everybody. I love people, of all kinds but especially the village people (I really do), I want to come back to that specific point: PEOPLE.

So… How to build the perfect project team?

Step #1 : Identify the Personae on the project :

Just like in the A-Team series, there are 4 Personaes (i.e. key players) with their expertise and responsibilities to gather around the project.

As I have previously described here, the People you need around the table: Sponsor, Business Owner, Data Owner, and a Project Manager.

Each of them is in charge of a specific workstream of the project.

Having these 4 stakeholders committed to the project is key for its success. If one of these people is not identified or leave the project, it will fail.

  • A strong Sponsor ensures that the project will be pushed forward before, during and after the delivery phase. Often, it is the person who pushed the idea of the project in the first place. You need sponsors who strongly believe in the project to motivate the troops and promote efficiently the work within the company. We call them champions.
  • Business owners know the reason why we need to do something. They set the goal of the project by expressing their pains, frustrations or needs. In other words, without them, there is no pain, and thus, no need for a change. They give food for thoughts. They validate the implementations made during each step of the project. The Sponsor can help to identify them within the organization.
  • The Data Owner (DO) feeds the project with realistic material. The DO knows where the information is, how to extract it or how to manipulate it to output the value from it. The DO handles for the data delivery on time. This Persona is the guardian of a pragmatic approach, the key to ensure successful project delivery.
  • The Project Manager (PM) is the orchestra conductor. The PM handles the global monitoring of the project, its rhythm, its timing, its closure. The PM prevents the project from deriving from its original scope by establishing efficient communication between the other stakeholders. The PM also pushes the project forward by highlighting all points where action or decision making is necessary. The PM keeps also the other stakeholders aware of the progress and/or risks on the project.

Step #2 : A strong commitment in 5 key points

Having the Personae is fine. Aside from gathering the right people, you need a link that binds them together. You need a strong commitment.

How do you ensure such commitment?

I am happy to share not a nice-to-have but a major must-have reminder of 5 key points. With them, you pave the road to success. The Personae can indeed co-exist during the project, but it is necessary to set up a special bond, a common commitment, that links them together to make the project a success.

Together, the Personae will create a virtuous circle that ends up with a successful project delivery and initiates real change within the company. And combined with the following key points, success is at the doorstep!

To achieve this common commitment the Personae must form :

  • an aligned team on the objectives of the project and the methodology. The Personae shares the same goal’s vision of the project. They are the advocates of the reason why the project exists and to whom its result will be useful to. They also agree on tooling, method, and steps to follow to achieve the goal. The Project Manager ensures that all the Personae keep on following the methodology and that everybody has their mindset on the final goal to reach. The PM is the key Persona to foster this alignment among the stakeholders.
  • an available team: commitment without available time is just words. The staff must be officially dedicated to the project. Effective commitment comes with available time to be spent on the project. Time not only dedicated to the meetings and workshops but also to answer the other stakeholder’s questions, or to actually produce necessary work for the project. The stakeholders must clear their schedules to make room for the project.
  • a skilled team: you need experts to lead successful projects. It is necessary to have people who know what they are talking about and can provide useful insights. They will also act with experience when facing issues: they can raise warnings, and think about actions to solve issues. For instance, if there are problems in the data collection, the Data Owner, based on the knowledge of the databases, will know where to look and what to do to solve the issue. Projects are a good way for juniors supervised by someone with more experience to learn the basics of project management.
  • an empowered team, able to make choices. In a project, when facing an issue, there is nothing worse than inertia. The stakeholders should be empowered by their organization to make their own decisions. Each Persona in the project team should be able to consolidate their choices accordingly to the company’s strategy. If every supposed action or solution needs to be validated by N+n and long processes, the project is likely to drift over time. The Sponsor, in these situations, must support and push the decisions made by the stakeholders if necessary.
  • a responsible and accountable team able to defend the choices that have been made on each of the workstreams of the project. Each Persona should feel accountable for every decision made during the project. Responsibility is key to create commitment.

Step # 3: Talk, Talk, Talk.

What would do the A team without their talkies and weapons? Not much I am afraid.

SPOILER ALERT :

Communication and equipment do matter.

Have you ever been in email loops where all points are discussed at the same time AND in the same place? I have experienced it. And trust me when I say TMI: Too Much Info. Cherry on the cake: to make sure everybody follows the thread, they even write their reply in colors 😱

So it is too much information and too many colors. At the end, it is hard to know the project’s progress.

As a project manager, you want to avoid a “henhouse effect” where everybody speaks out their minds without taking into consideration the other ideas.

One criteria for a successful project is smooth information flows between the different stakeholders.

The stakeholders must know where to look for the information. Easy, centralized and permanent access to information is key to ensure the right decision making.

Thus, it is necessary to install a tool and establish processes at the beginning of the project. The A team must know how to dispatch information and where to do it in order to make quick & efficient decisions.

At Toucan, we believe that Trello is the best tool to lead dashboard projects. It is the only tool we use to communicate during the project. An introduction to the tool is made at the project launch or even before.

We use the same template for each of our projects. Communication among all the stakeholders is crystal clear, there is nothing hidden. It is easy and everybody can get an idea of the project progress at a glance.

The project advancement is given by different lanes.

A card is one subject to be dealt with. And it goes from “Backlog” (aka “To do list”) to “Done”.

Also, we store all information that matters in a “Docs & Info” list (at the far left).

Subjects can be divided in a checklist and individually addressed thanks to notifications and comments. So there is room for action and discussion for the A team.


The Project Manager: The hidden gem?

The role of the Project Manager is to get the Sponsor, the Data Owner, the Business owner to work together. The PM is the cornerstone of successful projects.

The PM is responsible for fostering the general commitment during the project. And for checking that the stakeholders are all: aligned on the objectives and methodology, available, skilled, empowered, responsible and accountable for their actions.

This commitment and efficient communication take the project closer to success.

Remember to always have the checklist nearby. You are all set to shine bright like a diamond… Even Riri says it!

Jeanne Bertrand, Head of Delivery at Toucan Toco