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Perhaps no other technology disaster story has been told more often than Hershey's. In 1999, just ahead of the company's crucial Halloween market surge, the confectioner's brand-new ERP failed to fulfill $100 million in orders, resulting in a 19% drop in quarterly profit -- all because Hershey's recent ERP implementation did not perform as expected.
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As today's CFOs take greater control of their own financial software implementations, CIOs aren't the only ones being kept up at night by worries of such disasters. And given that a financial IT project implementation is always a challenge, success is more likely to be achieved when you put together a solid IT project team.
In an effort to compete and succeed, companies are trying different approaches to IT project team building -- in its structure, its culture, and the environment in which they work, meet and play.
The importance of trial and error
Because financial systems are complex, the way a successful IT project team is structured and operates comes about by intent, then trial and error.
"Something that works well when structuring a team is to recognize an activity's effectiveness in the beginning and then make changes as necessary; we refer to this as 'plateau and pivot,'" said Ken Perlman, an engagement leader with the management consulting firm Kotter International. "For example, if a new team meets weekly for two hours discussing ideas and objectives, eventually this plateaus and becomes ineffective. Great teams will recognize this, pivot and suggest moving to a different, more efficient schedule."
Anagha VyasVP of enterprise digital transformation, Persistent Systems Inc.
Pearlman added that from a leadership standpoint, if something isn't working well in the beginning, ask the team how to make the task or meeting more effective. This is particularly true for financial IT projects where many different functional areas are involved and many perspectives are important to the end product's success. He said this allows the leader to crowdsource answers and find different ways to solve the problem.
This also creates an environment of engagement and innovation because simply asking the team how to best accomplish a task is a powerful leadership tactic. Teams are really good at self-regulating if given the ability to do so, and, more often than not, leaders are too busy to request feedback.
Building cadence into team dynamics
Try something new, see how it works, then repeat what is working. For the financial IT project team, this formula builds cadence into team dynamics and helps it move in the right direction.
Ricardo Machado, a manager of operations excellence at business and technology consultancy West Monroe Partners, said it's all about "building the cadence" in structuring team operations. "The simplest way to keep track of the health of a team and a project is to regularly track progress via focused status meetings, ensuring that team leadership is appropriately engaged in resolving major issues or helping make tough decisions, establishing clear and consistent communication conduits across all levels of the team, and ensuring that the whole team has a clear view to the overall objectives it's trying to achieve," he said. "Establishing and balancing all these concepts is not easy, but in my experience, successful teams and projects exhibit most of these traits."
As important as communication is within the team, so is the flow of communication out of the team and to its leadership.
"At an organization level, regular and strong internal communication from the leadership to team members is very important. It helps drive awareness, understanding, alignment and action. No news causes anxiety, breeds mistrust and affects productivity. Employees fill in the blanks themselves if communication is broken," said Anagha Vyas, a vice president of enterprise digital transformation with Persistent Systems Inc., a software product and technology consultancy. "It is just as important to have channels of communication from the team back to the leadership. Leaders need to keep their ears to the ground, solicit feedback and act upon it."
Vyas added that enabling vibrant team members to connect with each other fosters open and trusting culture. Enterprise social forums are great channels for collaborative and engaged employees to share knowledge and viewpoints.
The inform, involve, inspire approach to team building
Finance and accounting systems are delicate. Any damage in their operation can be detrimental to ultimate outcome. Members need to be vigilant, engaged and just plain inspired to meet the objectives of the team.
Lawrence Polsky and Antoine Gerschel, co-founders of Teams of Distinction, a leading team building and executive coaching firm with a focus on collaboration, recommend their "3I" approach: inform, involve, inspire:
- Inform. Continuously share information. About progress, about issues, personnel changes, feedback, any other relevant topics, both within the core project but also relative to the environment surrounding it. And don't miss the opportunities to celebrate.
- Involve. Collaboratively set and update individual and team objectives, according to project progress. A project is never static. Objectives need to be updated as the project evolves.
- Inspire. As the leader, be visible. Don't hide in your office, in other meetings, or with other customers and stakeholders. Show that you are around, that you care, that you are available and willing to address any issues.
Nathan Hughes, co-founder of mobile app development firm Detroit Labs, believes it all comes down to relationships. "Collaboration is the result of effective processes combined with healthy and trust-based relationships between team members," he said. "And, though we try, process and relationships can't be established and set in stone before work starts."
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