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Mental Health Software Project Management: Getting Started on the Right Foot

Mental health and addictions professionals require tools. For a couple decades, Terry McLeod has been a trailblazer providing those tools in the form of Electronic ...Read More

We might as well get started on the right foot…

When a project begins we do our best to be transparent about what needs to be done. At its heart, a project can be defined in simple terms:

  • Kick-off
  • Analysis
  • Design
  • Implementation
  • Go Live
  • Fine Tuning & Maintenance

The Kick-off tends to be a description of what we’re all doing as a project team, how we’ll do it in general terms, and what management expectations are so we can achieve them. Hopefully each team member will receive some of the value that comes out of the project.

This is all fine and dandy; additionally, it’s good to pay attention to some of the human aspects involved in working with a team. Sometimes the personalities we work with are just as important as all the other aspects of the project combined because these personalities shape the project. If we get off on the wrong foot and people act like people will, copping resentments, jumping to conclusions and hiding their secret agendas, man, are we in for a wild ride. These sorts of human behaviors can derail a project quickly and efficiently or drag it on into a miserable experience.

How do we avoid these behaviors? We try our best, and in the end, who knows? The proof is in the pudding. Here are some ramblings and a plan I use to help form a group of individuals into a team.

Most of the old hands at running projects have been battered by the consequences of a lack of transparency. If the entire team is not forthcoming about details, like a key software user being just plain resistant to change or a manager not seeing enough value in what we’re doing for a big enough payoff, the project could be doomed to fail. Projects are a lot of work, and it’s good to know they will be worth the effort. Sometimes, if difficulties arise and a project fails, management will decide to try to implement the software again a couple years later. If the same people are involved and their issue is not resolved up front, trouble re-surfaces.

It’s good to get to know the people on the team and their issues early in the project and face those issues in a transparent manner with the rest of the team; no blame, no subterfuge, just honesty. There are a number of ways to do this, and a guided conversation has been effective for me in the past…perhaps not every time, but it sure breaks the ice and hopefully team members know what they have to say is being heard. I like to use an interactive diagram that lists key points like these:

  • Restate the Goals and Objectives – This helps get everybody on the same page. These are team goals. Sure, individual members will have goals that should be heard and accounted for and some of those will be added to the initial list.
  • Initial Observations – These could be about anything…maybe somebody has a better idea than one that’s been stated as part of the team’s focus.
  • Value Statement – Get a handle on the value that will come out of the project and get it down on paper or in some electronic document like a project plan; team members will likely see different value points depending on their perspective. This can be the beginning of defining a payoff for each team member.
  • Benefits – Talk about the benefits of the project…after all somebody should be getting something good out of all this work. I try to get folks to talk about the payoff a lot.
  • Concerns – What could go wrong? Where are the stumbling blocks? There are a thousand questions that could be asked about concerns. A bit of advice, though, discussions about concerns can swing into a negative vein, so it’s usually good to ask for solutions to the concerns.
  • Next Steps – In addition to the project plan, add in some next steps that are a result of this exercise that could be beneficial to the outcome of the project. Oh, and that helps fine tune the Project Plan, which we’ll discuss another time.

The point of this exercise, I think, is to encourage team members to speak up, offer solutions, and if their solution is accepted – Yay! If their solution is not accepted – Eh.

If team members agree on most of the topics above, they’re likely to participate in the Next Steps with some enthusiasm, and the less-than-stellar solutions have a tendency to fall a bit flat, even with the person who brought it up. The key is to briskly complete the current objective and move to the next step until we meet the goal. Perhaps the process described above helps us start out on the right foot.

That makes me wonder about that old saying…what if you’re left-footed?

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