Hemant: Welcome to the Product Dossier podcast. Today we are going to discuss how to create a high performing project team. To tell us about such project teams and how to form them, what you all need, we have with us Sandeep Kumar, CEO and founder of ProductDossier Solutions India. Sandeep has spent a lot of time in executing projects, in watching the projects being executed both on his own side and on the client side and has good insight into different aspects of project planning, execution, resources and all that. So we are going to have a very busy session. Welcome Sandeep to our talk.
Sandeep: Thank you. Thank you Hemant. Thank you for having me.
Hemant: Sandeep, can you share, to start off, can you share a project which you will remember for a long time, where you were part of it and you found it very interesting and many earnings came from that.
Sandeep: Well, I have many to talk about and to pick one would be really very challenging. But I would, we did a recent project with one of the customer and there we were digitizing and automating their entire billing operations and it’s almost a billion dollar in revenue that we were automating from all across the world, I mean different countries. So that project I think was very challenging because you know, billing is a monthly process, it is, they are doing it in a certain manner and more challenging was to shift from way A to way B after the project. So in that sense, it was high stakes project because it was sponsored by the CFO and the, you know, the management team and there was no room for error. So I think I would rate that as a very interesting project in the recent times.
Hemant: Okay, so did you learn anything about the formation of project team in that project?
Sandeep: Yeah, I think so. Basically, see this project or any good project in my mind, I think it starts with the, what is the objective of the project. If that should be very very clear to the people or what would be the outcome and there should not be any sort of vague things in it. It starts from there and then what happens is the team, one thing should be that they should be, I mean in terms of knowledge that what is to be achieved, how to achieve and all those things should be available. Now, the next very important thing comes is even if a person is knowledgeable, how do you execute it, right? The main thing is about execution. So these teams have to be motivated. I mean, one is the what they know, what they can do but more important factor is the motivation. I would say the purpose of the project should be very clear to them and they should be motivated by them. So in my experience, that makes all the difference. If the purpose is more than just a nine to six job. H:So they should find it worthwhile? S: Yeah, absolutely. Basically, it is like they should say it’s like the pride is their personal. So that is very important.
Hemant: Okay, now there is a talk about this high performing project team. A lot of management literature is available but most of it is very general, very generic kind of a thing. As a practitioner in project execution or supporting project execution or providing tools for project execution, do you have some practical tips for forming high performance project teams?
Sandeep: Yeah, so as I said, how do you how do you form a high performance project team? First, the purpose, you know, it has to be there. That is number one. And the second thing is, they should have the right skill sets, because what kind of skills you need. And in my opinion, so you should, it should not be like if I want to do something in financials and the person coming on board has no knowledge of financials, because not that the person cannot learn but the project time is very limited. So, you know, there should be a generic a sort of matching of the skill. So that is number two. And the number three is, again, you know, they once they are clear on the purpose, we also have to be very clear on what each one of them are going to do their role in the project should be very clear. And if possible, if you can quantify, most of the time what happens I tell you are the project manager, but I don’t get go beyond that, that what I mean, what is the expectation from each one of them. So I think that is another thing, if you can define the expectations from each person, that what you have to deliver, then that also plays a very, very important role. And then, you know, the fourth thing about this is how our team formation because there should be a lot of positivity, everybody should respect the other person. So these are some of the common things we should do in the project, it should not be seen as you know, a project of one person, it should be seen as a project of a team. And then everybody has a role to play in it. And based on you know, what their skill sets are. But if we say that each role is very important, if one person fails, it will become a reason for failure of the whole team. So I think that those are some softer aspects, which are very much required to build this high performance team. And I think the last one is what is the organization doing in terms of tools, technologies and all those things, which will help them to think of the next level of the problems they can anticipate and find solutions. So that is also very, very important.
Hemant: So I would come to a, there is a belief that project work is equated with mainly a last ditch heroic effort. I mean, people also take a lot of pride, I did this project, we stayed three nights and days continuously, and then made it work at last minute. Is this the way projects are done always? Should they be done like this? Is it inevitable to have last ditch heroic efforts?
Sandeep: In some sense, you know, whatever planning you do, whatever, there will always be moments in the project, you know, during the life cycle, where an individual has to go beyond and show some heroism, there will always be opportunities, right? So, so there is nothing wrong in it. And that is the right way, because that’s how you grow the heroism you are showing in one project, then becomes your skill for the next project. So some of it, but what is the ratio now it’s about 80 20 principle, right? If you’re 80% is the process, then each individual has the energy has the freshness to do that 20% heroism like work, right? And some of it is good to keep them really motivated. But if it imagine if it changes the other way around where it’s 80% heroism and 20% processes, then there is a lot of, you know, burndown and people are not able to then perform. So I would say a little bit of heroism is actually good. That keeps everybody motivated. It’s like my moment, so to say.
Hemant: You have mentioned two important points is one is the project planning has to be good enough so that 80% is process driven is in a very planned way. And there is a certain need last minute or sometimes when you’re caught by surprise, you need some extra efforts or heroic efforts. So that is one part. Second part you brought mentioned earlier is about heroic effort of one project becomes process for the next project. We’ll return to this point is a very important point. Before that, let me ask you a question about project planning itself. Does a project planning go a long way in making the performance of the team much better?
Sandeep: I would say absolutely. Because project planning is which sets the baseline, right? Without a plan, you cannot go there. So that is the my basis of moving forward and the more granular. And also what I have seen is there are two kinds of people and nothing in between. One is who don’t do any planning, you know, they everything is in head and they are like they say always I will have a heroism attitude. And the other one is who do such such detailed planning and so much in advance that that they realize that it is failing on day one itself, right? So I think we need to have a balance that I don’t want to go with the zero plan. But like people talk of agile, right? So I would want to use the agile. So there should be planning, no questions about it. But how much to plan when to plan and how much agile I am how much flexible that I can see four weeks very clearly. So I will define a plan, four weeks, very detailed plan. But over the breadth of the project, I will have a, you know, a high level plan, which I will put details as I go there. So that sort of a common sense approach, I would say is very much required. But plan keeps us sane. It reduces my risk, because I am always thinking what can go wrong. So absolutely, there is no question about planning.
Hemant: In your practice, how often have you seen project planning given importance, the rigor that is needed to plan the project, even if you want to plan detailed planning for four weeks and then broader planning, even that requires certain attention, certain attention to detail, some certain rigor or even shout out kind of thing. That means somebody has to question the plan, is that thing done rigorously or people generally there is a tendency to jump into the project, the project has come, let’s jump into it.
Sandeep: Yeah, I would say the tendency is to do that, that, you know, once the project has started, you maybe build the Gantt chart on day one, but then nobody really cares. I mean, then it is more issue based governance and all those things. And only the key dates are sort of put visibility to. And so, this is, I mean, I know most of the time we do that. But I think more focus on planning, as I said, maybe not too long in the future, that is always going to help you. Today I see the practice is a little bit less, and people should do more about it.
Hemant: And in that connection, you mentioned about de-risking. So that de-risking should also get a, you know, play in planning process.
Sandeep: Yeah, absolutely. This is like, for example, sometimes, you know, when you are planning, you have assumed something will happen, but then there is a festival period or there are a lot of leaves, people are going to go. So those are the things I think, I mean, I’m just giving you one example. And also what happens is, it’s like a preparation, right? When you have thought about everything, what can go wrong, and then you have put it in form of a plan, you yourself are more confident, you as an individual and as a team, that look, you have done the hard work, you have thought about it. And it’s like if you have prepared, if you have done your homework, you are more confident in the classroom next day.
Hemant: Now, let’s talk about this learning from previous project. How does it happen? How should it happen?
Sandeep: There is a basically learning from that is the what I would say very low hanging sort of fruit. But we seldom care about it. We do the same things in the next project. And so because in organizations, there is no culture of learning from the project, when I close a project, there is no formal way that what are the learnings there is a, you know, meeting of the team that what was your learning? Can you tell? And then, you know, even if there is a meeting, and there is a discussion, what we learned, there is no formal way to put back into the process. And that just remains a half an hour. If the project is successful, people talk about their heroism and all people put claps. But there is a lot of learning in that because you don’t want that heroism to come again and again on the same point.
Hemant: Yes, on the different points. Yes. So, one is to capture that learning. And the even more important thing is how do you put back into the processes in whatever tools, technologies you are using. So I don’t see that practice being followed very rigorously.
Hemant: Then what happens what may be happening is a hero in one project becomes hero in another project. The heroism remains with him or her all the time. And he becomes a bigger and bigger hero. Absolutely.
Sandeep: That’s not good for the project. That’s not good for the organization.
Hemant: And eventually, if he becomes a project manager, you have a hero as a project manager, then I think it is a very bad thing. Yeah.
Sandeep: And then the belief is developed that you know, project can only be done with heroes. Yes. And the processes then takes a backseat. So as I said, we have to make hero but 80-20 principle.
Hemant: Very well. Now let’s come to the, you mentioned about the right skill sets and all those which is basically talent is general term for that. So can you describe the talent in the context of high performing project? Can you throw some light on that?
Sandeep: See, it is like this. How do you define talent? I mean, there is one definition is if you are from a great school or college, you know, then you are very talented. But I see as an individual, if you have the basic ability, common sense, thinking ability, etc. You can nurture that talent. So absolutely. One is, you know, person who is a born talent. I mean, he can do whatever. So those are but 10% of the people. 10-15% of the people, whatever you do, they will not be able to perform. But there is a majority 60-70% who are ordinary people, but they can do extraordinary outcomes, right? Depending upon how we treat them, what we do with them. So I would say, you know, what we have to do is we have to have the right processes, right training and the right tools in which we are helping them to think of the next level in which the tools and processes are helping them to think of what can go wrong, what they can do better. So I think it’s the responsibility of the organization to make that 60-70% who are not maybe seem to born talent, how do they become talented?
Hemant: That’s a very important point. And do you think there is a technology can help in supporting this process of making the 60-70% perform better?
Sandeep: Absolutely. In fact, I feel a technology and, you know, so technology can
definitely in fact, I feel it is perhaps the only way in which you can develop this talent at mass.
Hemant: Given that you are hundreds and thousands of people.
Sandeep: So how does it start? Basically, in my mind, it starts with culture building. If, you know, there is a culture of project management, if there is a culture of planning, if there is a culture of reviews, that lessons learned and all those things, right? Then everybody watches what the other people are doing, and they quickly pick up. And if there are today, like, for example, you know, we are working with a company. So there were about 1000 people out of them 100 project managers and all. So that company was struggling with the rev rec and all those things, because people didn’t know what is rev rec, what is their responsibility. Now, after using a technology, now each project manager is reviewing their projects. So the quality of the project success has increased significantly. So I think if you if there is any process, one is to define the process, then to digitize and automate that process, right? And then whatever insights are coming out of it, you give it back to the user to further say what can improve. And this can only be done by the digitization by the technology. And then this becomes like, when I if my if I go from 1000 people to 10,000 people, as I scaled 10 times, you know, this technology will come very handy, it will become a culture and then, you know, the same person with and without technology, you can see the difference how they perform.
Hemant: Okay, now that’s a very important point. And Sandeep, thanks a lot for touching upon this important subject of forming high performance project teams. And we have an example in Chandrayaan landing, which a big project, massive project, where there is no room for failure. People could do it over a period of three, four years, and it built upon the earlier Chandrayaan 2 project, learning from that. So everything that we talk, we can see embodiment of that in that project. Hats off to those scientists. But I think there is a lot to learn from such projects. So we are coming to the end of our episode. And Sandeep, would you like to wrap it up saying a few takeaways from what should practitioners of project execution, project managers, project teams, what should they take away from this episode?
Sandeep: Oh, absolutely. So, and I agree with, by the way, with the Chandrayaan example. And if you see the project manager of Chandrayaan 3, he not only thanked the Chandrayaan 3 project team, he specifically mentioned that, you know, Chandrayaan 2 team, which has actually helped him. Today, he may be the successful project manager, but, you know, the project Chandrayaan 2 was very helpful. So coming back to what are my takeaways. So if you want a project to be successful, you definitely have to think about the planning, you have to do the planning. And this will help you to feel more confident. This will help you to avoid any, you know, risk, which can come and, but at the same time, use a lot of common sense while planning, right? Either we don’t have to go overboard or to do nothing. Both are bad. We have to have the best of both worlds. That is number one. Number two, you know, we also have to understand, finally, the projects are done not by the plan, but by the teams. And each person in the team has some specific needs, right? We have to, you know, make them make sure that they feel themselves heroes because, you know, apart from the plan, there would be moments. So we have to motivate them the purpose thing I talked about. And the third thing I would say, if you want to make it repeatable, if you want to really make your talented people more talented, you have to use technology and you have to give them that power of technology to people so that they can visualize much further and make use of that insights to do the project better. So that would be my three points in takeaway.
Hemant: Thank you very much. And I hope our listeners can approach you in case they need any specific clarification on the point that you raised.
Sandeep: Absolutely. You know, my email you can find but it is firstname.lastname@example.org and looking forward to that.
Hemant: Thank you, Sandeep. And thank you, our listeners for being with us. And see you again in our next episode. Thank you.
Sandeep: Thank you, Hemant. Thank you.