Any project manager worth their salary will tell you that order and teamwork don’t just happen on a project. To get either one requires hard work. That works starts in the initiation stage and continues all the way through close out. It is never a once-and-done action. Instead, it’s an evolutionary activity requiring the project manager to read the internal and external environment and apply their emotional intelligence skills.

Teamwork is easy to define. Any one of us involved in project delivery know the difference between an effective and a dysfunctional team. While it takes deliberate action to move a project team through forming, storming, and norming to get to performing, it take a lot more deliberate action to generate order in the project.

What do I mean by “order”?

Order on a project consists of the processes, structures, responsibilities and behaviors, or PSRB, of the project delivery stakeholders.

On an in-house project, establishing and maintaining PSRB can be relatively simple. Each element becomes codified over time and likely captured in company operations manuals and outlined in standard operating procedures.

However, when you find yourself in a multi-organizational environment where each entity has its own PSRB, order becomes a bit more difficult to arrange. In fact, it can be downright impossible to secure.

Related: 7 Tips for Managing Global Teams

An environment like this is highly chaotic and often times comes with more than one project manager. If you find yourself in a situation like this, you need to shift focus away from scope, schedule, and cost and put it on negotiating a collaborative PSRB.

If you cannot get the main project stakeholders signed-on to collaborative processes, structures, responsibilities, and behaviors, the likelihood of delivering the project successfully to scope, schedule and cost will be exceedingly low.

Create Order to Form a Team

The process to create order on in a multi-stakeholder project isn’t complex and can be arrived at through a few key actions. However, like many things in life, the lack of complexity doesn’t mean it’s easy to obtain.

Developing processes, structures, responsibilities and behaviors that are shared across the key stakeholder organizations will absolutely require a sizeable investment of time and continuous maintenance.

1. Build an RRA matrix.

Often times, chaos reigns on a project because roles, responsibilities, and authorities aren’t clear. Or worse, aren’t accepted by all organizations involved in project delivery. The RRA Matrix will help you get clear on what each organization does and where decision making authority rests.

A RACI Matrix—the venerable project management tool that highlights which project team members are responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed—is interesting and can be useful for outlining who’s who.

However, I’ve found much more utility coming from the clear delineation of the roles, responsibilities, and authorities of the key stakeholders.

Whereas the RACI Matrix indicates information flow and decision-making authority amongst the key stakeholders, the RRA Matrix helps clarify who makes what decisions and how much skin they have in the game. To be effective, this matrix must contain clear-text definitions of each project stakeholder’s role, their responsibilities, and their authorities.

It’s best if the development of the RRA Matrix is done with a small group of project team members representing each of the key stakeholders. This allows for more open discussions in thrashing-out the matrix content. You can then circulate this for comment and ultimately put in front of your project’s executive management board for approval by each stakeholder organization.

2. Build Predictable and Structured Meetings.

Another chaos generator for complex project delivery teams comes from a lack of structure around meetings. The more involved a project is, the more meetings there will be to plan, solve problems, or prepare for other meetings. One of the best things to do as early as possible is to establish an agreed structure to meetings: frequency, order of occurrence, terms of reference, and inputs/outputs.

Related: How to Run an Effective Meeting: Lessons from Pixar, Apple, and Amazon

I’ve yet to meet a project manager who wishes they had just one more meeting to attend. However, I have met many project managers who wish they had more predictable and structured meetings. The biggest issue with meetings tends to be a lack of rationale, lack of structure, and lack of output. These issues won’t solve themselves and will require someone to invest thought and time into making it right.

Here are a few items to focus on to make your project meetings more predictable and structured:

  • Define why the meeting is occurring; what it will cover, what outputs it will provide, and what is its intent (i.e. for decisions, for information, for problem solving); and then define how it will occur and who needs to be present. Capture all of this in a document and you have the meeting’s Terms Of Reference, or TOR. If you can’t define why, what, how and who with buy-in from the key stakeholders, consider cancelling the meeting because it won’t be effective.
  • Consider the order in which meetings occur and their frequency. If a meeting is currently happening out of sequence (i.e. it’s outputs are required for a meeting that occurs beforehand), adjust the order.
  • Identify a meeting owner and scribe. The owner is responsible for generating the agenda, maintaining an issues/task/decisions log, promulgating briefings and papers for decision, and facilitating the meeting. The scribe takes notes during the meeting in order to let the owner facilitate. All too often, the facilitator is the note taker, meaning that the person doesn’t take good notes and hence, the record of actions and decisions is left lacking and the same issues are discussed over-and-over.

3. Build Proper Governance.

The creation of a purpose-structured governance framework is a necessity in multi-stakeholder project delivery environments. Most organizations have their own governance framework for project implementation. The problem comes when you have multiple key stakeholder organizations each with its own governance framework. Which one’s decisions take precedence?

The ideal situation is to have a combined, purpose-structured governance framework. The framework consists of action/tactical-level working groups feeding into an operational-level management board that, in turn, feeds into an executive-level management board. Each body consists of decision makes from each key stakeholder organization so that decisions are arrived at collaboratively.

Related: 5 Governance Steps for Distributed Project Teams

This is likely to be the hardest task to sort out, but one with the greatest return on investment if it’s done right.

Bringing order to your project will play a large role in inspiring teamwork among the key stakeholders. From my observations, chaos forces constituent stakeholders to put their shields up and retreat to a place where they have order—internally to their organization.

Teamwork in a multi-stakeholder project delivery environment requires order in order to build trust, which is a foundational element of taking a team from storming to performing.

Order starts by defining each stakeholder organization’s role, responsibilities and authorities. By bringing predictability and structure to project team meetings, constituent stakeholders have a framework in which trust can be developed, decisions can be made and problems can be solved.

Finally, through purpose-structured governance, key project stakeholders enact a framework for operational- and executive-level decision making that allows for timely response to risk and more effective use of resources.

3 Steps to Bringing Order and Teamwork to Your Next Project was last modified: June 7th, 2018 by Christian Knutson, P.E., PMP