The Right People in the Room: 3 Tips for Your Next Software Project

By Sarah Nord

This past Saturday, my husband and I attended an auction, and it was everything you’d expect from such an event: glittering lights, open bar, way too much food, and ample opportunities to spend money. We sat at a table with some good friends, but we quickly discovered that the chemistry of our crew was a bit off. Two people at the table complained the entire evening. Three were so busy helping that they barely sat down at all. And one guest couldn’t hear over the blaring band and struggled to make conversation. What could have been a very fun evening was…well…disappointing.

Getting the wrong people in the room (or at the table) happens a lot, I suppose. It’s difficult to assemble the perfect blend of wit and wisdom, effort and engagement. But when you do, the experience can be rewarding.

In our line of work at Onspring, we frequently meet with people who are ready to solve problems with new technology, but they’re struggling to assemble the right team to move the project forward. Building a solid project team can be tough, especially when multiple business functions are involved. However, I can’t overemphasize the importance of finding that “magic mix” of stakeholders. It can make all the difference between success and disappointment.

So how do you get the right people involved in your software implementation? Try these three strategies:

#1: Don’t Invite Everyone

When you’re kicking off a new software project and gathering requirements from stakeholders, it can be tempting to take an “everyone and anyone” approach. But beware: Depending on the nature of your project, you could easily find yourself jammed into a room with people who have various levels of interest and engagement. This becomes an issue of quantity over quality.

So instead of inviting everyone, focus on 1-2 individuals from each business function that will be impacted by your project. These individuals should share the following characteristics:

  • They care about the project and its outcome
  • They understand the day-to-day work that will be affected by the project
  • They are open to change and willing to negotiate
  • They have time (or will make time) to commit to the project

If you network across your organization, it will be easier for you to identify the “right people” to invite. But if you’re dealing with colleagues who are unknown to you, consider asking questions like these:

  • “Have you worked on similar projects in the past?”
  • “Will you be in the office for the next three weeks?”
  • “Do you have any pressing deadlines that will make it hard for you to attend meetings or provide feedback?”

Don’t be shy to ask these questions. It’s better to know someone’s ability to engage up front than to discover problems after the project is in flight.

#2: Nix the Distractions and Detractors

OK, you’ve narrowed down your list of team members for your software project, but now you need to take a closer look at these individuals. Here are two characteristics to avoid:

  • The Compulsive Texter. We are inundated with screens in our daily lives—smartphones, smartwatches and laptops that bend in every direction. It has become the norm to check our myriad devices every few seconds, but this leads to a mindset of distraction. If you know that a person is constantly checking messages and simply can’t resist every little buzz that emits from his or her phone, don’t include that person on your project team. Save yourself the frustration.
  • The Debbie Downer. Let me preface this point by saying that it is good to have people in the room who have differing points of view. A little bit of healthy skepticism never hurt anyone. But you need to watch out for folks who are notorious naysayers. These people are so set in their opinions that they can’t possibly see another path forward, and they can quickly sabotage your project. Don’t invite them. Make sure your team members are open to change and willing to put all viable options on the table.

#3: Keep Your Team Engaged

Is your list of potential team members getting shorter? Have you found that “magic mix”? Good. Now it’s time to get these people involved and keep them engaged. Here are a couple of strategies:

  • Start with ideas in hand. Show up to your first meeting with some basic requirements or process flows and let your team react. It’s much easier to say what you like (or don’t like) about something you can see than it is to invent something from scratch. So give your team a jumping-off point for discussion.
  • Take notes and send them out quickly. Have you ever taken part in a great discussion and then forgotten most of what was said? Perhaps I have a bad memory, but I’ve experienced this often, and it’s a frustrating scenario. I’ve formed a habit of jotting down key decisions and action items every time I attend a meeting. If you do the same, be sure to share your notes with all team members within 24 hours of your meeting. This is a simple way to keep people on the same page and maintain momentum. When you put tasks and decisions in writing, they’re more likely to come to fruition.

With the right team in place and a few simple strategies for keeping people engaged, your software implementation is one step closer to success. But I’m sorry to tell you…there’s more work to be done. Assembling your team is just the beginning! For additional guidance, templates and samples to fuel your next software project, I invite you to download our free E-Book, which we co-authored with the wise and witty Dan Plato. Dan has led software implementations and process transformations of all shapes and sizes, and he has sage advice to share in the E-Book. I encourage you to take a look and send us your questions and feedback.

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