It’s a good problem to have: Your team has been asked to expand a small project into a much bigger one. But flattery won't get your project anywhere. As a project manager, how can you develop and implement a strategy for scaling up your successes?
Start by knowing your enemy. Where are your pain points likely to be when you scale up your project? It's important to identify these issues when your work is still in its fledgling stage because they’ll become bigger and more complex as your project expands.
Here are the challenges you're likely to face, as well as the experts' solutions.
Challenge: Uneven workload
Solution: Share the work
When workload is uneven across the team, it becomes more obvious as the project grows. Someone has too much work, while someone else doesn’t enough. Where is the problem coming from?
Sandy McGilliver, a digital asset manager for a southern California advertising firm, found an interesting hitch when she took over her asset management team. Each individual she worked with thought they “owned” a specific portion of the pipeline, which brought in digital assets, managed them, and delivered them to their internal clients. This resulted in a lack of “team ownership.”
Her solution? “I started taking people who were ‘idle’ and pairing them with people who were doing a different task. This way, everyone learned to do every part of our task from end to end. When our digital assets grew exponentially, we still maintained and increased our efficiency in curating and delivering products because now more people could do more tasks.”
Problem: Not enough hands on deck
Solution: Increase teams sensibly
You need to acquire more resources to cover the work, and you need to introduce these people to your organizational culture—as quickly as possible. How do you manage it? Begin with fixed teams, says McGilliver.
After you decide how small or large your team can get, bring in new people. For example, if you decide that you need to have a minimum of eight and a maximum of twelve people on a team, split your team to create a new one. Pair the newcomers with current team members, and assign a mentor so the newcomers learn the ropes quickly and efficiently.
Acquiring new staff and growing your project will increase your management and communication challenges: Plan for this. Use the disruption to your advantage to streamline, improve communication, and standardize workflow so that everyone can learn.
Problem: No cross-functionality
Solution: Introduce "pair programming"
Many members of your team are not cross-functional, so moving them around won’t work when the project grows. But “pair programming” can work both for bringing in new people quickly and improving your current team’s cross-functionality.
Devin Randalston, a team manager for a large aerospace firm and defense contractor, found that pairing team members together can be useful for two reasons: to strengthen cross-functionality and to prepare for explosive growth. Randalston suggests pairing people with others who are only a few steps ahead in expertise, whatever their titles.
This was his argument: “One person’s secondary strengths are someone else’s primary strengths and vice versa. In my organization, an engineer might be great at technical details but knows less about reviewing customer’s specs. I’d pair her with someone who was better at spec review but might or not be an engineer. You could put new people with ‘experts’ – they have a great deal to share. However, these experts often forget what it’s like to be new to a task and are likely to overlook obvious things.”
Problem: Finding the “right” team structure
Solution: Think agile thoughts
As anyone who has led a cross-functional team knows, the problems you face will be compounded when you grow. Before you tackle a new project that has the potential to be much bigger, ask yourself how you can structure teams so that you have everyone and everything you need.
Whatever you do, don’t group your team by areas of expertise.
McGilliver's secret to scaling up quickly: She found that instead of making teams bigger, she focused on increasing the number of smaller teams.
As she noted, “I needed small, specialized teams, but I wanted to avoid siloes, and I wanted to be able to scale up. Each team had learned to deliver the full product – from taking assets in from the designers, organizing them, and then searching and delivering them. When we scaled up, we kept this emphasis (to a point) even when we grew, rather than moving to a bigger model where this team took assets in, this team organized them, and then this team searched and delivered them.”
Problem: Growth feels threatening
Solution: Challenge your culture – and be prepared to hurt
Remind yourself and your team that your goal is outcome. You need to maintain quality and value in the face of growth. There will be growing pains. Always. Keep your eye (and your team’s eye) on challenges and goals, and be willing to experiment and communicate (even over communicating) what you’re doing. And people will rally to your cause.