Magazine Article | November 1, 1998

Building A Team That Gets Results

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

By carefully choosing team members and leaders to select new technology for your company, you can create a successful installation.

Integrated Solutions, November-December 1998
So you've finally decided to take that big step and implement a new technology at your company. To make this transition run as smoothly as possible, it is important to select the right group of people to make your installation a success.

You can have a number of teams, depending on the scope of your project. With larger end users, these various teams could be spread out all over the country in several different businesses. Let's say a company decides to install a new warehouse management system. That company needs a team to identify goals and determine a course of action. It could also involve a solutions provider specializing in radio frequency identification (RF/ID) and another solutions provider specializing in warehouse management software. Yet another solutions provider could be working on how to implement handheld computers in the warehouse.

Oftentimes, a project is only as good as its leaders. According to three solutions providers, there are definite opinions on who should be working on and leading projects, and what qualities these people should possess.

Advice On Selecting A Team
When end users form a team, there are three things they can do to help ensure success:
  • Keep the committee small. "If you have too many people on a team or in duplicate roles," says solutions provider Peter Nirenberg, president of Image Architects (New York), "you are not going to add anything more than additional communication issues. It's just another person who needs to be involved in the decision making provess." Nirenberg's $6 million company resells imaging solutions in the banking, insurance and government markets.
  • Include employees from every facet of the company. There should be one voice from every area, says Kim Eaton. She is vice president and managing director of solutions development at Radiant Systems (Atlanta), a $78 million company selling point of sale (POS) systems. "Putting in a new accounting system won't just affect the accountants," she explains. "It could affect many departments, including the receptionist."
  • Choose an odd number of committee members. An odd number of people on a committee allows for a vote, if necessary. "If you have an even number of people, and need a vote," says Ricardo de Senna, president of Visual WEB Solutions, Inc. (New York), "chances are you aren't going to go anywhere." Visual Web Solutions provides front-end electronic banking solutions in the banking industry, and has locations in India, Thailand, Singapore and Pakistan.
Don't Always Put The President On The Committee
A common mistake for end users is to include their most influential people – namely top executives like the company president – on project committees. Eaton, de Senna and Nirenberg all agree this can often do more harm than good.

"A company president should be the recipient of the information a committee finds," says Eaton. "It is difficult if the president of a company sits on a committee. As a solution provider, we need that person's buy-in, but don't want them to influence the decisions of the people in the group. I always go into projects saying that everyone has an equal voice, and pretend that no one is more than an analyst in a group."

"It is not worthwhile for the top management to sit in on a committee," says de Senna. "These people should be kept aware of the cost, because ultimately the buck stops with them." The risk of the project, according to de Senna, is calculated by its cost. "If an end user is working on a project that costs hundreds of dollars, a president knows he or she isn't going to lose any sleep. If the project costs thousands, or hundreds of thousands of dollars, it's a different story."

Save Compensation For After The Project
While hard work and a successful project should not go unnoticed, compensation should be saved until the project is finished. "Bonuses are good if the project has a very aggressive timeframe and team members are spending extra time on the project," says Eaton. Typically, she points out, employees are trying to juggle their job along with the project. "If a company is set up for profit sharing, that is the way to really motivate people. They are paid for their work through the company's success."

Plan A Gathering Early On
Don't save the celebration until the end of a project. Major projects can be made up of several teams and team leaders. A social get-together can be a great way for these teams and the project manager to put faces with names before they start working, says Nirenberg. "It's much easier to get help from somebody you've already had a beer with," he laughs. "When Image Architects leads a project, we try to bring in everyone involved and take them to a baseball game or something. Projects are not always fun. This helps team members establish rapport."

Building An Army
The two key positions for a successful project are the project manager and the team leader. These key players can come from the end user or the solution providers. Either way, their importance and job descriptions do not change. According to de Senna, project managers can be looked at like senior officers in the armed forces. They are responsible for coordinating all activity - and possibly practicing a bit of politics to get the job done. Nirenberg says project managers often work behind the scenes. They deal with people up and down the chain of command.

Team leaders function similarly to a non-commissioned officer, responsible for the up-close actions of the soldiers, or regular employees. These people have firsthand knowledge of a specific segment of the project, whether it is providing a storage solution or installing new accounting software. Team leaders are responsible for the actual nuts and bolts, says Nirenberg, but also the little things that make a difference to the team. "Team leaders have to make sure that the really great systems programmer wants to work for the company again. This could mean making sure team members have a safe way home if they work late, or having the authority to order pizza."

A project could have a tough time succeeding if the colonel and the sergeant major don't have the proper skills to carry out the plans. "Project managers and team leaders both want to make sure the team members are willing to work with the company in the future," Nirenberg adds.

Make Sure Your Leader Is A Leader
There is a tendency, according to Eaton, to give a person too much responsibility without enough preparation to lead a team. "End users need to make sure their team leaders have the appropriate skills to be able to lead a project."

In general terms, says de Senna, leaders need to be knowledgeable in their specific technologies. "If a team leader is going to be involved in installing a local area network (LAN), that person should be a certified engineer," says de Senna. "It's like bringing in an automotive mechanic to really fine tune an automobile."

What It Takes To Be A Successful Manager Or Leader
According to Nirenberg, a project manager must have patience and be very detail-oriented. "Patience truly is a virtue with project managers, because nothing ever happens quickly," he says. "At the end of the day, all a project manager may have accomplished is getting one person talking to another person. It may not look like a lot on a status report, but it could be critical to the project."

"Both project managers and team leaders have got to be good at being a boss; otherwise no one will listen," says de Senna. "The best managers are people who are open and listen well," says Eaton. "This applies for both project managers and team leaders."