Motivating IT Project Teams

Posted by Kevin Brady on Wed 4th October 2006 at 06:30 PM, Filed in Programme ManagementProject Management

When I think about this subject, the first thing which comes to mind is a saying coined by my partner:-

“If the sex in a relationship is good then it feels like 30% of what is needed to make a good relationship”
“If the sex in a relationship is bad then it feels like 70% of what is needed to make a relationship good”

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It might seem strange mixing up sex with Project Management philosophy smile but it is clear to me that if you have happy motivated & skilful staff it feels like they are only 30% of what is needed to make an IT project successful. If your staff are poorly motivated and unhappy then it feels that they are 70% of what needs to be corrected to make an IT project successful.

Small projects are where skilled, motivated and driven staff can have the biggest impact on a projects probability of success /failure. The new media industry, which predominately delivers small projects, is an example of where staff dynamism and drive can produce repeatable project successes. However, as projects increase in size and eventually become programmes staff motivation is still an important factor in making a project /programme a success, but this alone will not deliver consistent project /programme success without the presence of fit-for purpose development /project management process. Please see my post – Taylor Vs Deming

An experience which changed my whole view of what can be achieved with motivated and committed staff is when I worked for one of the new media agencies Oyster Partners (now part of Framfab) during the Dot.com era.

I had never before come across such a bunch of cheerful, smiley and motivated & capable people. The first thing that crossed my mind when confronted by this was the thought that they must all be on some special bonus scheme, or they were paid well above the market rate.

Wrong!

On closer investigation it started to click concerning what really put the D in drive and the E in enthusiasm for these people was a solid belief in the ‘Oyster Culture’. I was told that the culture could be described as “Toast” (explain later) and the feeling of being part of a large family with a common goal to make Oyster and themselves a success.

The catalysts for creating this culture were as follows:-

  • Treating staff as mature adults - Everyone was treated as professionals trusting in their ability to deliver and be conscientious in their working practices. If people turned up late from lunch they confronted unless they were failing to deliver.
  • Free Breakfast –
  • Free Sky Television – For people to watch and listen to via head phones
  • Sofas /Settees distributed all over the offices for people to relax and work on if the owner of a laptop
  • Dress down culture – Wear what you are comfortable in.
  • Free takeaway evening meals for people working after 9.00 pm in the office.
  • Free Taxis home for any staff members staying after 10.00 pm in the office.
  • Charismatic and visionary leadership.
  • Directors’ sensitive to staff views and opinions of them. This was based on the directors acting as members of the family with sensitivity to peoples feelings and views of them as leaders. All the directors were careful not to bring big cars to work or be seen in expensive Italian suits and shirts. Many IT development staff are left-of-centre in politics, and these owner-drivers of the business knew that the key to making these people happy was equality at a social level. Very important in my view.
  • Pool /Table Tennis and Pinball machines on free play around the kitchen areas. This kept people in the building. At lunch time people did not leave and stayed discussing work and indeed worked through lunch. Why go out when the working environment was like home?
Since completing my consultancy work for Oyster Partners I have seen in other places a few important improvements on this theme, which I would recommend any software house adopting in order to improve staff productivity, innovation and drive :-
  • Family based days out at weekends where families and kids would be invited to places like Chessington and festivals around the country
  • All staff being issued with laptops so they are free to work at home.
  • Comfortable high backed office chairs. This is key. You won’t get development staff to put the hours in if their chairs give them backache!
  • Centres of excellence. This is where the staff are not assigned to a manager but a resource pool with practice heads for each type of resource i.e Business Analysis, Project Management. These heads would be responsible for mentoring, handling staff complaints about management. They would also be responsible for supporting the recruitment process for new members of the resource pool group and advance resource group standards and tools.
Going back to Oyster Partners, I can’t always say everything always went smoothly, but in such an embedded “can do” culture it was not uncommon to see project teams trying to beat their own project plan estimates as a personal challenge. In my expereince staff normally do what they have to and then leave to go home. Not at Oyster. Quite remarkable! If more companies were like this perhaps IT Project Failure rates might have more in common with the much low failure rates experienced in the engineering and construction industries.

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