Web Reliability

40. Motivated Teams Support Motivated Customers

Mitchell Kimbrough
Written August 17, 2020 by
Mitchell Kimbrough
Founder & CEO

At the tactical execution level, maintaining your team’s clarity of purpose and passionate engagement remains paramount. After the strategy is validated and approved, and planning is completed and the team moves into the execution phase, they are doing the hands-on work of development, but they are also engaging a broader group of stakeholders. The web property owner and the group who are executing the work must partner effectively with the management layer above them, which oversees the web property ownership group as well as any outside agencies and freelancers that are partnering with the execution team. The execution team must be supported to successfully and reliably maintain their contribution to customer flow.

Above all else, the clear plan created at the strategy level is represented here at the execution level in forms that foster ongoing motivation and purpose.

There are three main types of documentation that support the ongoing purpose and engagement of teams: specifications, contracts and schedules + budgets.

Specifications may take many forms. These forms are determined by the team using them. In almost all cases specifications consist of multiple components represented within multiple tools/formats. For example, some agencies will produce narrative briefs that capture the purpose and intent behind a given execution project. These briefs are then augmented by design specifications, wire frames and layered graphic design files. Along with this documentation is some form of QA and testing plan that guides the execution of that phase of the project. In all cases, it is typical for these specifications to be both interactive and evolving. Some teams use their issue-tracking software like Basecamp, Jira, Trello as a centralized and shared place to capture their specifications, breaking them into smaller executable components, i.e. to-dos. System specifications that capture baseline system information like the locations of servers, passwords, access lists, responsible parties and the like should be continually updated as a best practice, so their usefulness is optimized for keeping teams on track as they transition members and deal with unexpected challenges.

Contracts on the other hand tend to take a single undeviating form, as a textual, legal document bearing signatures of committed parties. Specifications can and must flex and bend within a certain range, but something has to anchor a project or tactical engagement to a fixed point. The contract achieves this. As a legally binding instrument of agreement to terms and outcomes, it becomes the final reference point during execution to answer vexing questions and resolve disputes. Simplicity in contracts is a rarity, but is still a valid pursuit since simplicity and clarity serve the teams best in a time of need.

Schedules and budgets are the tools for managing time and money. They serve to wrangle the details and herd the cats during the life of a project or program. Time and money are finite resources. You can't regain lost time, and money spent is money gone. Because of this, both time and money are truth tellers from a management perspective. Anchoring your projects to this immutable fact creates an outside, objective check on team execution. A well-formulated schedule breaks down larger problems and tasks into smaller ‘bite sized’ chunks. These smaller chunks are then anchored to a timeline and assigned to team members for execution. When individuals own the responsibility for delivery of discrete, bite-sized and achievable tasks, it tends to motivate and maintain steady progress and a sense of ongoing purpose. Budget constraints bring reality-checks to the assigned tasks and force team members to own – and successfully resolve - scope difficulties. When employed mindfully, both schedules and budgets serve to encourage individual ownership and responsibility. These qualities unite the team firmly around objective reality, and invest them each in a positive outcome. A tight timeline is especially effective motivation in and of itself for the execution team, as it becomes a metric for their successes from beginning to end.

A good example of the importance and effectiveness of well-managed specification, contract, schedule and budget systems and documentation may be found in a recent project our company completed. It was a full site build for a company in a business related to the building supply chain.

This site build project had a $250k budget, an 18-month timeline, and a scope of work that involved creating a certification fulfillment system from scratch. The client team that owned the new asset had planned the project with their customer in mind at all times. This project was a response to an issue with customer flow, which was suffering from a great deal of friction within the current web ecosystem, which was not entirely digitized. It still relied in part on legacy PDF forms that were emailed to staff as part of the certification process, as well as snail mail methods of obtaining payment and reconciling accounts.

The client team had a fixed budget and a set timeline. They were understandably anxious about risk, as they had been burned in the past when a previous vendor failed to execute successfully despite what they felt was careful planning. Had they known about the Web Reliability System it might very well have helped.

Our nervous client sought not only subjective assurance from us, but very reasonably also wanted us to provide objective assurances for verification. A sound project specification, detailed contract, and carefully constructed schedule and budget provided those objective measures. They also then served our execution team very well as motivation, igniting and maintaining our team impetus.

The specification process our team conducted was lengthy, and involved multiple outside vendors who each validated project scope and complexity separately. This provided multiple points of view of the same project, so inconsistencies could be examined more closely. It ultimately resulted in a specification document we all felt confident about, one that read fluidly and comprehensively. The client organization, still keeping their end customer in mind, worked to leverage the specification we’d provided into clear contracting and scheduling documents. Their big picture objective was to ensure sustainability for their organization and protect their customer base by positioning themselves as a reliable provider of service well into the future. This meant paying careful attention to detail with regard to financials, and using all available information to support their planning.

Mutual success was ultimately achieved by having our team work closely with the client team to reach agreement on a schedule of deliverables that tied payment to milestones. Once these critical foundation pieces for the project were in place, per the contract, funds for executing the work were released by the client. This demonstrated the client’s confidence in the execution team, and sparked the momentum for our team effort. This simple coordinated management method – an agreed-on series of scheduled deliverables and payments - maintained motivation, engagement and momentum for all teams involved and was a key part of guiding the project to a successful completion.