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Program Team Design: Considering “Fit”

In my last blog, I discussed the importance of maintaining Clarity in order to achieve a company’s goals. In this blog, we will discuss an important factor that relates to Organizational design, or what enables an organization to execute on its strategy, reach its goals and complete the project to plan. In particular, I would like to stress that the “Fit” of the team to the project is instrumental in making the expected program deliverables. David A. Nadler and Michael L. Tushman created an organizational modeling tool to help analyze the “Fit,” or in their terms, “congruence,” in the 1980s, and it is still applicable to organizations today.


What Works

I have seen that successful organizations who want to conduct transformational changes to the Organization, move the Program team or even create new business units outside of the normal business operations. The reasons for doing so are that the Informal organization design (culture) has a significant impact on running strategic projects. Moving the teams in an environment where a new culture can evolve is critical to addressing “Fit” or congruence of the Work, People, Formal organizational structure and Informal organizational structure. For work groups and organizations to be able to interact effectively these four components for “Fit” need to be aligned tightly. Meaning:

  1. The Work, i.e. Program/Project/Strategic Business Unit, needs to be aligned in a way where the People have the right skills.
  2. The Formal organization is structured to support the Work and
  3. The Informal organization (or culture) is aligned at the individual level and group level to deliver on the goals of the organization.

Ignoring “Fit”

In some cases the existing organization tries to perform a transformation project without addressing the “Fit” issues. There may be any number of reasons for this, including smaller companies who are spread thin with resources. Either way, a structure to analyze the existence of “Fit” issues should be applied to shore up any Organizational design issues.

In David A. Nadler and Michael L. Tushman’s book Competing by Design, the process they recommend includes the following steps:

  1. Identify the problem areas and symptoms.
  2. Collect data on the symptoms as a way to specify the input that is causing the symptoms.
  3. Identify performance or output. Analyze the ability of the Business Unit/Teams/Individuals to deliver on required output. (For example, Harvard Business Review reports that 1 in 6 IT projects have an overrun of 200% and a schedule overrun of 70%.)
  4. Identify problems. Pinpoint specific gaps in performance and identify organizational, group or individual performance. Describe organizational components by gathering information on the internal and external impacts to the Program/Project.
  5. Assess fit. Determine the degree of congruence within the organizational components, and then generate a hypothesis for the problems.
  6. Identify action steps.

Common Problem Areas

The “Fit” problem analysis results I’ve typically run into working with clients can be categorized in three areas:

  • Execution of the Organization’s current project processes and methodology.
    • Adherence to slow broken processes elongates projects and diminishes return on investment.
    • Agile, in some cases, is introduced, but adherence to new methodologies is slow to evolve.
    • Action steps:
      • Introduce new methodologies with smaller projects to get turnaround results.
      • Incorporate into bigger projects; however, for bigger projects only use the new processes and methodologies where they make sense. Use existing processes, but prototype and use Agile within the project to speed up requirements gathering, development and user acceptance as an example.
      • See my Blog for Agile successfully used by Army Corp of Engineers.
    • Skillsets tied to executing Processes and methodology along with technical skills to deliver the new system are limited to current systems.
      • New methodologies require facilitators to be experts at commandeering resources, soliciting requirements and producing the right deliverables specific to the Organization’s industry, business processes and the technology being implemented.
      • Since most projects require new software or releases, the existing skillsets do not meet what is required to deliver the new system.
      • Action Steps:
        • Ensure the right vendor or consulting resources are engaged to get the team up to speed from the get go.
        • Develop the knowledge transfer plan up front creating a vendor exit strategy and internal resource competency.
        • Get training early.
        • Prototype system to learn in safe environments.
  • Goal alignment top down and bottom upExecutive, Managerial, Subject Matter Expert levels.  
    • Something always gets lost. Keeping a high degree of alignment is the key to any successful project to make sure the project stays on course.
    • Schedules and time constraints contribute heavily to misalignment of goals.
    • Action Items:
      • Establish metrics, deliverable list and overall goals up front.
      • Create traceability dashboards to identify gaps in alignment.
      • Most important: Set up reward systems for individuals and teams for embracing and overcoming the “Unknowns” of the project. If you want your teams to move faster, empower them to fail fast—as long as they don’t keep making the same mistakes. Reward the teams for learning new methodologies, technologies and communicating upward to ensure goal alignment.

The key to addressing Program/Project team “Fit” is managing the degree of congruence between People, Work, Informal Organizational components and Formal Organizational components and creatively, quickly and thoroughly resolving the “Unknowns.”

What “Unknowns” are inhibiting your Organization from achieving your strategies and goals?

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