The Role of Incentives in Project Management

The Role of Incentives in Project Management

One of the most interesting aspects of working at a consultancy like GBS is that we interact with many different organisations across New Zealand (and internationally), who need support with GIS and IT. We thought it would be useful to start sharing some thoughts on what types of working approaches seem to provide the best results both for our clients and GBS.

Our short posts in this area will no doubt have alignment to Agile Values and Principles and while we don’t want this to be just another Agile blog, it is important to give proper acknowledgement to this framework, which informs a lot of how we work at GBS.

A motivated team is more important than a project plan

Any working relationship that GBS has with a client will struggle if there are not positive incentives for success for both parties. Relationships that GBS and our clients view as successful, often have additional positive incentives that keep a team (GBS and the client) engaged, other than just a contractual obligation to do the work. Examples of these incentives might be:

  • Gaining new skills – If contributing on a team enables someone to learn new things that are both interesting and aligned with their career goals,  this is a massive bonus and encourages their commitment to the success of the team.
  • Making a difference – A solution doesn’t have to be saving the world (although we try to make it a better place), but when a team understands that what they are doing will actually change things for the better, this provides great motivation.
  • Making connections – It is a cliché, but humans are social animals, and some of the best projects are where the team feel they are building their own career networks and having fun working with different people.

Teams can be successful without any of these incentives, but having one is good, two is great and all three is the dream.

One takeaway from recent collaborations with our clients, is that the make-up and incentive structure, which leads to a motivated team, is a higher priority than project plans, contracts and budgets. You could almost go as far as to say that if you could only have a motivated team or detailed project documentation, it would be a much higher chance of success to have the former.

Diving into the above statement a bit more, anyone that has worked on a large IT or software development project understands that in many cases it doesn’t matter how much planning and designing you do beforehand, the original scope and schedule can have a short half-life, and in some cases gets almost disregarded as soon as things veer slightly off track. No-one wants to admit it, but from our experience, many large IT projects start off with the best intentions with a structured plan and team, but often fall into a period of chaos with everyone holding on for dear life and hoping for the best. 

Although much can be done to avoid this chaos, one obvious mitigation is that the project team is motivated to work together collaboratively on the project through difficult periods. Where projects are going off the rails, incentivised teams can self-lead, organise and drive the project.

Applying this within your teams

The first decision to make is that without any of these incentives in place, is a project too risky to kick off? Can a change be made in the project technology stack, the team makeup itself or the way the outcomes are explained to the team?

  • Gaining new skills – Could you change the type of technology used on the project to make it more interesting to the team? Can you get a better balance of experienced team members who can mentor others in a new technology? Are you providing the right environment where staff feel it is ok to make a mistake learning new skills?
  • Making a difference – Does the project have a real story to tell that you don’t think the team understand? Have the team had a chance to interact with users and understand what this will mean for them when completed? Could you think of a change in scope that would lead to an even more positive outcome aligned to the team values?
  • Making connections – Is the team encouraged to get to know each other and interact (outside of core project work)? Is it a high trust team culture where everyone feels included and where best intentions are assumed? 

We welcome your insights and experiences on this topic. Let’s continue this conversation and explore how we can together enhance team motivation and project success.

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