Who’s on first?

Picture this. One of your IT leaders tells you they have been pulled into a project by a senior executive; they are trying to figure out who in IT owns it. You tell them that another of your leaders owns it. They arecanstockphoto2538045 working out the specific issues with yet another leader. The first person says it’s still not clear. So you pull all three of them together for 15 minutes and try to sort it out.

With a collaborative team that works well together, that 15 minutes is relatively easy. Your first question is who’s on first? You want to know who owns it and what’s going on.

My team has learned that one of my questions about problems is “who wakes up in the morning worried about it?”  Not that I want people worrying and losing sleep. But, it’s a way to identify who owns something and is accountable for it. “Who’s on first?” is another one of those questions. It may be a messy, complex project. It may be off to the side or on the fringe but it still needs a clear owner.

After just 15 minutes, my three leaders and I confirmed the right roles for each of them, and next steps. And of course we talked about lessons learned. So what did we learn again in this situation?

Role clarification – this is critical for all projects, small or large, high priority or not. Clarifying and communicating sponsor, business owner, project manager, and decision makers is key.

Communication – proactive communication throughout the life of a project to all members of the core team and the stakeholders is another key.

Setting and managing expectations – this is especially true when dealing with many concurrent efforts with the same set of users and stakeholders. It’s also important when a project that seems simple actually has a lot of complex issues:  technical, operational, legal or something else.

I’ll bet you can think of a messy project in your experience that swirled or stalled. You might have some bad memories. Most likely, what went wrong ties back to one of these basics. So clarify roles, communicate, and manage expectations, but make sure you know who’s on first.

15 thoughts on “Who’s on first?

  1. Myron Hepner on said:

    Thanks for this post!!
    Yep, that scenario happens quite alot in different ways and sometimes in exactly that way. That 15 minutes is a good benchmark for where you’re at in the “collaborative team that works well together” continuum. It’s something I’m always striving to build and maintain with my leadership team and I’m always on the lookout for ideas on how to get there and to keep it going… any thoughts you have along those lines would be of great interest and very much appreciated.

    • Sue Schade on said:

      Myron, thanks for the comments. We have a pretty collaborative culture and less politics than I’ve seen elsewhere. That helps a lot! My advice – focus on the facts in front of you, be objective, let everyone speak, and in the end do what’s right for the organization — and no drama. Hope that helps.

  2. This is a common problem – thanks for reiterating these aspects. This is about the only way to stop swirl in its tracks. A related challenge is “who in IT owns it” and “who on the clinical side owns it”. Engaging clinical leaders can be challenging for a multitude of good reasons – high census, staffing shortages, focus on other projects. Tying projects to organizational strategies is the most effective way I’ve found to ensure clinical engagement and therefore answering the question of who outside of IT owns the result. Without clinical engagement, it’s a lopsided equation. Thoughts?

    • Sue Schade on said:

      Susan, thanks for the comments and question. Agree you need to not only know who owns on the IT side but also the business or clinical side. For major projects, you need to ensure they align with strategic goals and priorities of the organization. When they do, you are right, you will get engagement you need. But many projects don’t align clearly with strategic goals yet are important to some group – they still need to through a review and prioritization process.

      • I absolutely agree – the review and prioritization process is crucial. Putting a strong and consistent IT governance process in place is challenging, so using quick huddles, as you describe, can be a powerful mechanism for keeping things aligned “on the fly.” Thanks for a great post.

  3. Rodney Nelson - UMHS/MCIT on said:

    Hi Sue,

    Thank you for this timely post. It is a simplified reminder of key points I need to focus on as a leader. What are your thoughts/ideas/key points around resource management, prioritization, and flow of work within a team.
    I know this is a loaded question, but any “pearls” you can share would be appreciated.

    I am looking for simplified points to implement.

    Thank you so much!

    Rodney Nelson
    rodtfo@umich.edu

    • Sue Schade on said:

      Rodney, thanks for the feedback and question. On resource management, need to know how time is being spent first, means some form of meaningful time reporting. On prioritization, need right group of business representatives to provide relative priorities — not everything can be #1. Flow of work within a team – using certain lean tools to show visually how the work is moving through the process might be considered. Hope that helps!

  4. Mike on said:

    Good thoughts. While not popular with all people, I think to successfully manage accountability for results there is a need to quantify supply (resources) and quantify demand (operations and projects). Yes . . . managing for results is basic economics! I’ve run into some leaders that are great at fighting fires and react well to drive-by needs but rarely step back to look at what is needed to prevent flare ups. This keeps them in a routine state of emergency because they don’t have a grasp of all of the demand.

  5. Beautiful piece Sue…. It’s a recurring problem which organizations face, especially in case of bigger & complex projects. When we at Kays Harbor handle client projects, things are crystal clear. But this problem arises more in case of internal projects.

    What works for us, in that case, is clear open communication. That has to be in the culture of an organization. You stay open to discussions, and that’s when you decide “Who’s on first”.

    • Sue Schade on said:

      Tushar, thanks for the feedback. Totally agree that clear and open communication needs to be a critical part of the culture.

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