There’s no feeling better than ending a project on a high—until you notice the mountain of work looming ahead for your next project. At those times, it may seem hard to start grinding all over again. The struggles of adjusting to new teammates or a new client can be daunting. When a new project kicks off, early success is a must. Quick wins secure the customer’s trust and help keep projects moving swiftly. Agile methodology has proven to be one of the most effective delivery models for early wins: According to Harvard Business Review, innovation cycles can be compressed by more than 75 percent thanks to agile.
But in search of these early wins, teams often bite off far more than they can chew. They take on the brunt of huge projects before being fully prepared. To be self-managing, teams need to take into account their group maturity before tackling new projects. So, how can teams make sure their delivery models and their maturity models are aligned?
Solving Team Maturity Issues with a Bell Curve Approach
One of the clearest ways for teams to make sure that they are taking on appropriate projects at appropriate times is for them to follow a bell curve approach.
The idea is to follow the agile delivery model, prioritizing risky unknowns and high-value work early, but not too early. First, the team needs to ramp up, ensuring that team maturity is at a high-performance level. The team dynamics models of Bruce Tuckman or William Schutz are helpful to understand how to put together and develop a group to autonomous self-management and hyperperformance.
By requiring teams to focus on less complicated projects first, a bell curve approach allows teams to adapt and refine their practice as they work their way up to the most difficult tasks. Similarly, the approach ramps down after the most complex iterations, increasing the chance of success and lowering risk. Here’s how teams can follow a bell curve approach:
The ramp-up period is part of the front end of any successful project. During this phase, the team learns its way around each member’s style. Some hiccups and tension will naturally occur during this phase, but the idea is to work it out early so that everything is running at peak optimization for the height of the curve later on.
Think of it this way: Old cars with carburetors needed to be warmed up during the winter months before they could run. Gasoline is thicker in the cold, and the fuel must heat up so it can mix with air and reach the vaporization point to be used by the engine. Otherwise, the vehicle risks stalling out.
That’s how I like to think of this stage of the project. We must first regulate the environment and work out the kinks of the team before we move forward. If we don’t control for a good foundation, the team and project may later stall out in the middle of a critical stage.
Find Your Peak
After the team finds its rhythm during small, early challenges, it’s time to ramp up and get the real business done. While there still may be smaller tasks to accomplish, you’ll get to those later. Now is when you want to capitalize on fresh energy right as your team hits its stride to deliver on the the most critical portion of the project.
This phase—at the height of the bell curve—is a true test of the rhythm that a team has found. Don’t be surprised if some moments give way to tension as the members push through the most challenging portion of the journey.
Coming Back Down
On the way down from the peak, work intensity slows as the team starts completing the lower priority pieces of the puzzle purposely left aside when the project kicked into high gear.
In addition to tying up loose ends, a slower period on the way out of a project provides the opportunity for reflection. What would you do differently during peak time on the next round? What aspects of the project can use fine-tuning? These important questions are much easier to consider with a clear head and a shorter to-do list after the most critical and complicated components have been put to bed.
This sort of approach is not only applicable to software development teams. From administrative to marketing, teams across an enterprise can institute a bell curve approach to their big projects. By embracing agile methodology, any team can streamline its members’ output and decrease risk in high-pressure, mission-critical projects.