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08-23-2017 · Business Development,

6 Tips for Nurturing Your Project Team

Universities are collaborative centers of learning and knowledge sharing, and typically employ passionate, mission-driven staff. Yet, in my experience, teams and departments within universities are no less likely than other industries to work in silos. Projects that impact people, process, and technology require not only skilled project management, but the commitment to drive cross-departmental participation and ownership. By adhering to a few guidelines, you can foster genuine shared investment in cross-departmental initiatives and help set up any university project for success.

Having managed content and technology projects in partnership with universities, I’d offer the following recommendations to ensure your cross-departmental project team is aligned with the goals of the project.

Ensure you have representation from each team of stakeholders. Do your due diligence to uncover teams that may have an upstream or downstream influence or impact on the process. In several MindMax engagements, I’ve found that the teams we were bringing together from across the university had not previously ever worked together – and in some cases, had not previously even been introduced to each other.

Don’t skimp on discovery. Discuss (and debate) existing processes and the implications and benefits of change. Document current processes, key areas of dependency and capture the team’s input on risks and mitigation. Team input informs the plan and, while all issues won’t be represented, team members will know that their voices have been heard.

Document the percentage of time that team members should plan to dedicate to the initiative. Don’t expect team participation to be an add-on to each person’s existing job responsibilities. If 10% of time is needed from each team member over a 3-month period, then ensure a plan is in place for how the slack is going to be handled by other staff within each department. Failure to document the time investment risks team members not meeting expectations because they are busy doing their “day job.” Additionally, university leadership values the insight into how staff time is being allocated.

Document the percentage of time that team members should plan to dedicate to the initiative. Don’t expect team participation to be an add-on to each person’s existing job responsibilities. If 10% of time is needed from each team member over a 3-month period, then ensure a plan is in place for how the slack is going to be handled by other staff within each department. Failure to document the time investment risks team members not meeting expectations because they are busy doing their “day job.” Additionally, university leadership values the insight into how staff time is being allocated.

Set milestones and measure performance. As universities strive to become more data-driven organizations, this is a key reporting criteria for leadership and it also has distinct benefits for the project team. Clear communication on milestones helps keep the team aligned against priorities.

Establish a meeting protocol. No one needs another meeting just for meetings’ sake. Frequent (weekly or daily) short check-ins are more productive than once-per-month meetings that too often rehash the topics from the prior month. Additionally, frequent brief meetings help keep the team connected and aligned on the highest priority deliverables and milestones.

I spent a few years working at Sapient Corporation, a technology consulting company, and one of my biggest takeaways from that experience was a meeting protocol. For every meeting, it was critical to identify the Purpose, the Activity, and the Deliverable (or Decision).