Are You Ready to Move Forward

  • Do you have a plan?
  • Does everyone know the plan and their role in the plan?
  • Can [team member] explain the plan to me?

These are three great questions to lay-out before your team as they finish up the planning process, before they start to implement a project. While they are simple, each questions helps make sure that the team is ready to move into implementation.

 

Do you have a plan?

This first question is designed to make sure that the team is ready to move from planning to implementation. To often, teams of people decide to start developing and implementing a solution without laying out a full plan. People want to believe that the rest of the plan will become clear once they take the first steps. While it may be true that things will become clearer, it is still necessary to start with a plan. Just because you have outlined a plan, doesn’t mean that you will not evolve your plan as more information becomes clear or unforseen issues arise. Flexibility is essential as I wrote about in a previous post, Have a Plan…Have Felxibility. Having goals of the end results of an initiative or what deliverable you will create is essential to understanding what you need to do in order to achieve it. It is also essential to determine the metrics you will use to judge success and implement a proper assessment through knowing the end result and the path to getting there.

 

Does everyone know the plan and their role in the plan?

This question is the glue of a team. Having one person who understands the goals and the plan and is directing others is having a puppet master with puppets, it is not a team. Asking this question does two things, first, it makes sure that everyone is included and involved and secondly, it ensures that each person knows and understands their role is the success of the project. Too often, there is a need to know attitude. The problem with this is that if a person is unclear on their role, they are unlikely to meet project expectations. They will not properly allocate their time or resources and ultimately, their contribution may not represent their best work because it is done last minute. It is also importasnt for people to understand how their piece of the project fits into the whole. Two things happen when a team member understands the entire project, first they feel valued because they are fully a part of the team, secondly, they are able to provide work that is cohesive with others work and with the project timeline. Further, if the project leader is removed from the team, the project will suffer less of a setback if the rest of the team understands the entire project.

 

Can [team member] explain the plan to me?

This question is the meat of determining if the team is ready to end the planning phase. The key here is to ask a team member to explain the plan and outline the different steps and responsibilities. A good team will make sure that each member understands the entire project and can provide at least overview information about the different steps and the contributions of other team members. It is best to ask a team member who has not the team leader, but a contributor. This increases the likelyhood that all team members do understand and provides an overview given through a different voice than the team leader and providing a different perspective. When a team member can provide this information, they are more likely to collaborate with others when issues arise and direct questions to the appropriate team members.

 

While the implementation phase of a project is where the bulk of the time and energy is spent, the planning phase is the most important because it prepares the team for success. You want to make sure that you do not move from the planning phase too soon. These questions help you determine if the project is ready to move forward successfully.

Have a Plan…Have Flexibility

KnotsLike most training specialists, there are standard areas that I am engaged in on a regular basis, but recently I got to go back to something I haven’t done in a few years, team-building facilitation. In my early twenties, I had been trained in team-building and low ropes and through my connection with a camp, had done team-building sessions for teen and adult groups. Recently I had the opportunity to do that with some folks as a part of an all-day retreat. As a part of most challenges that I facilitate, I have participants take time to put together a plan and have them explain it to me. When they a ready, I ask them three questions:

  1. Do you have a plan?
  2. Does everyone know the plan?
  3. What is the plan? (asked of one participant)

Part of why I ask these questions is so that I can understand what the participants will be doing so that I can make sure it is a safe experience for everyone, make sure the participants have understood the goals, and also so that I can provide the correct support as necessary.

While I use these questions when I facilitate team-building challenges, these are important questions to ask any team that you are managing. As a good manager, it is important to know the approach the team is planning so that you can understand the direction, make sure it lines up with the goals, and be able to provide the necessary support.

In this recent experience, the participants were asked to cross a “rushing river” that was about 25 feet wide with the help of four magic turtles. The turtles would help them by allowing them to step on their backs and prevent them from being washed away in the current. The stipulation was that the turtles would only help if they felt needed, which the turtles judged by physical contact. As i as they were in physical contact with someone, they would stay and allow their backs to be stepped on, but if that physical contact was absent, they would swim away. After developing a plan and getting the green light from me, the group started to cross the river and they were immediately challenged when one of the turtles lost physical contact and swam away. As they made their way across the “river” the flaws in their plan became apparent and with some on the fly changes involving passing one person back and forth between the backs of two others, the first three people made it across. It had worked for these three but it became clear this was not going to work for the whole group. The participants then spent some time revising the plan and determining a new method to cross the river and plan two was born. This plan involved people working in pairs of two in very close proximity and the group got four more people across and there were only three people left to cross. Well this presented a new challenge because their system needed pairs…and plan three was born and the last of the group made it across.

While the group had a plan to start, it was their ability to adjust and develop new plans to meet changing circumstances that made them a success. This is also true of project teams in the workplace. A good team will be able to develop a working plan but also be able to react to changing circumstances and challenges. This became one on the points discussed when we debriefed this exercise.

It is essential that we create a plan based on the information we know but we must also be ready to react to issues that arise and changing circumstances. If we lack the agility to evolve that plan, success will rely on a perfect initial plan, something which rarely happens.