Apollo 13: Lessons About Rescue Projects and Team Work

Insights | 05 December 2017

It’s rare that Hollywood enters the life of your average project management consultancy but then again, we’re not your average project management consultancy.

At our recent OnTarget event, the PM-Partners COO, Derek Quayle, and myself presented our perspectives called Lessons from the Field: what are optimal team behaviours during critical change management and organisational transformation?

We could have titled it ‘Lessons from Space’, given how we used the Apollo 13 story as an example of how collaboration, commitment and problem resolution by the team saved the day.

Ideally the programme wouldn’t actually reach such a critical point in the first place, but we also know the reality of change management. You have to drive commitment, accountability, and develop the level of trust within a programme and your team to create successful outcomes. Tweet: You have to drive commitment, accountability, and develop the level of trust within a programme and your team to create successful outcomes. [@PMPartners] https://ctt.ec/Ychg0+

This is what we’ve learnt from our two decades in business:

Lesson 1:  Start from the top

If you don’t have the highest executive level buy-in and commitment, it won’t be passed down and felt throughout the team. You need to get to a point where everyone in the room buys into the plan.

Lesson 2:  Excellence by design

High performing teams don’t just happen by accident. You need to know what the dynamics of a high functioning team are for your project.  Understand from your teams what their views and requirements are for expected behaviours. Ensure these align with what the business requires, then agree on the set of behaviours and combine them with foundational principles such as strong Risk and Issues Management and Programme Governance. Everyone needs to have visibility so there’s no ambiguity or resistance.Tweet: Everyone needs to have visibility of the a project so there’s no ambiguity or resistance. [@PMPartners] https://ctt.ec/bFPn7+

Lesson 3:  Stay hands-on

Never lose contact with what happens in the business and what’s happening with the people working on the project or programme. That’s when projects head off track, stay close enough to adjust, quickly.

Lesson 4:  Talk about the taboos

Someone is undermining a process or someone’s work. The executive sponsor is distracted. Everyone’s working long hours but the project just isn’t on track. No-one dares to mention the culture is unhealthy.

These are often taboo subjects on major scale projects.

People are challenged talking about the taboos, and people need to know (via the foundational principles) how and when to call things out. If no-one is prepared to have the difficult conversation, you are less likely to achieve effective project change management and your goals.  Equally, the project must create a safe environment where people can call out the issues and behaviours.

Lesson 5:  Rescue and reset

During a rescue job, behaviours need to be reset. All too often the existing behaviours which created the issues remain and are not resolved. These need to be addressed at an individual and team level, regardless whether they are employees, project management consultants, vendors or temporary contractors – make it about the right behaviours and the outcomes required.

Need some help getting your critical mission back on track? We’ve run large-scale programmes, projects and transformations across both public and private sector, so get in touch. 1300 70 13 14.

About The Author

Geoff Howard, Program Director at PM-Partners group

Geoff has more than 35 years’ experience in the consulting, project management services and IT industry spanning marketing, insurance, finance, outsource and Government sectors. He has held a number of senior executive roles while retaining his trademark ‘hands on’ and structured approach to management and delivery assignments. The assignments have included strategy, systems development, systems and operational reviews, project and program management.

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