Improving the operating dynamics
This article will share some common observations across the Australian banking industry in respect to the dynamics between the business and the project teams, and provide a practical guide to address common challenges.
1. The balancing act of project governance with delivery: Each organisation may have varying levels of maturity or rigour around project lifecycle requirements; sometimes this differs between divisions within the same organisation. We have seen some banks with 80-plus project artefacts across the lifecycle with existing templates, established governance forums and status reporting updates, whilst some others may have 10 to 20 artefact guidelines with periodic check-ins. The requirements could depend on factors such as materiality or risk rating. Undoubtedly, these add time and effort to project delivery; however, it is important for all stakeholders to acknowledge and appreciate the need for project governance artefacts, as they allow for documented traceability, stage-gate approvals and accountability and could be useful for potential future audit purposes. See figure 3 for key objectives in each project phase.
2. Back to basics — understanding project methodology: There may be different expectations among various internal stakeholders involved in a project, some of which may be based on a fundamental misalignment around how projects are run, their operating rhythm, methodologies (e.g., agile, waterfall or hybrid), ceremonies, meeting cadence, tools, and core project team roles and responsibilities. When projects are first established or when additional stakeholders are brought into the project, it’s worthwhile ensuring everyone is on the same page regarding the administrative and structure of the project.
3. Buy-in — active participation: Projects appreciate the business allocating time to actively participate in stand-ups, planning sessions, working groups, steering committees and other ad hoc meetings. It may be overwhelming for the product manager who represents the business on a working-group level to spare enough time for such activities, so we recommend there be agreement for the project on a set of meetings where attendance is critical to reach quorum, and for the product manager to have support for business-as-usual activities.
How well a project performs often relies on discussions with the product manager on priorities, approaches, blockers, risks, industry or market updates, change and communication style, and implications certain decisions have on timelines or outcomes. Questions product managers could ask the project team during the various phases to help with delivery may include “What are the current blockers you’d like me to unblock?” and “These are the latest regulatory, market and competitor updates. How do we benchmark ourselves to these, and is there work that should be reprioritised?” During important meetings, it is also crucial for the business to take accountability and defend project decisions and progress, instead of leaving the project team to provide a rationale for such matters beyond their control.
4. Engagement — navigating a complex web of stakeholders and needs: It is not uncommon to see additional stakeholders being introduced into a project as it progresses along the stages of the lifecycle. It can be helpful for business or supporting stakeholders to connect the project team with the relevant people as early as possible, to allow for a smoother engagement. Similarly, where there are project dependencies across divisions or jurisdictions, or other governance or policy requirements, it can also be of immense help if the business or supporting stakeholders bring these to the attention of the project as soon as possible, and assist the project team with understanding the impacts on the project.
5. Fostering positive and inclusive team culture: Projects may at times receive more constructive feedback than positive reinforcement. Treating project members as part of the greater team and recognising their efforts may directly uplift project staff morale and motivation, which in turn can improve communication, commitment, transparency, quality and overall performance.