The coach approach to quality management
Many organizations encounter challenges when deploying organizationally accepted methods to projects. Developing the methods, templates, and tools is frequently the easy part; it is much more difficult getting projects to use them. As a result, organizations become overly focused on compliance at the expense of business value and results.
This paper shares Deloitte's approach to using method coaches in conjunction with quality assessments to assist pursuit and project teams with methods and tools awareness and training to confirm that high-quality services are delivered to clients. The processes employed by coaches emphasize project “enablement” and business value, rather than the dictatorial approach sometimes seen in organizations. The attributes and skills coaches should have are explored, as well as the relationship between coaching and quality assurance and how they can work together to benefit the project and the organization.
What is the Coach Approach?
Basic Principles of Coaching
The coach approach is used simply to provide sales/proposal and/or project teams with experienced coaches to assist with the implementation of a methodology and helping projects to adopt the method quickly and correctly. Deloitte provides coaches at no cost to projects, which minimizes any resistance. Coaches primarily focus on tailoring the method to attain the desirable value, assisting projects with achieving their delivery and quality goals, and helping projects to realize the value and benefits of organizational methods. Coaches aid project efficiency by facilitating the deployment of tools, templates, and training as the project is executed.
Typical coaching activities across the proposal and project life cycle are shown below (Exhibit 1).
Exhibit 1 – Method Coaching Activities across the Pursuit/Project Life Cycle
Why a Coach Approach?
How do projects in organizations with standard methodologies typically get started?
An example from a real organization tells a typical story. The company had trainers who would come from the corporate process and compliance team and train everyone on the standard methodology. The project would then kick off and the team would be expected to “just do it” and “just follow the process!” They had the tools and the training — what else could they possibly need?
The next contact the corporate team had with the project was to send out a quality assurance resource to start the quality assessments. Only when the assessments revealed non-compliances that the project could not (or would not) resolve, did the corporate team reach out to mentor, retrain, or help the project in whatever way was needed. The only support the project had was through the quality assessment process, which did not engender positive attitudes toward the corporate team.
Deloitte uses a different approach. Deloitte invests in coaches, who are deployed to work with projects proactively. They serve as “just-in-time” trainers, advisors, and mentors, before issues arise. This approach results in increased adoption of the standard methodologies, increased adherence to the methods, and increased quality on projects. Deloitte also helps its clients conduct quality assessments. The integration of the coaching and quality processes will be discussed later in this paper.
Starting Your Journey or “We Are Ready to Go, Aren't We?”
Whether you are forming a project management office (PMO), an engineering process group (EPG), or just trying to improve the quality of your projects, there are some things to consider as you get started. Executive sponsorship, funding, and staff are critical, and you may need to develop your own methodology if it does not already exist. Once all of that is in place, you may conduct training; however, you may find yourself asking, what else is needed?
You should develop a plan for the long-term support of projects from initiation through closure. Consider the following: think about how to collaborate with the project team and be invested in their achievement and outcomes. Help them get the most value possible from using the standard methodology. Treat your projects like your most valuable clients. Measure your own accomplishments by their achievements.
Project Managers Appreciate a Coach
Consider how a coach might be viewed from a project manager's perspective.
As a hypothetical example, meet Nicole, a new hire to Deloitte. She is an experienced project manager, but has only recently been trained in using Deloitte's tools and methods. She has just been assigned to her first project and it has some challenges. The project is large and complex, with requirements being gathered at the client site and development and testing being done offshore. Nicole is particularly concerned about getting the project started quickly, while also producing broad and detailed project plans. She would appreciate help in identifying the risks specific to this domain and specific to a development team that is distributed globally. The client also has some requirements regarding project execution, and she isn't sure how to tailor the standard method to address the client's requirements.
We will return to Nicole's story later, but for now, just think about the challenges she is facing as she tries to apply her experience and her recent tool and method training to a real project.
- How can Nicole navigate the chaotic period of a project start-up and confirm that the project has a well thought out plan to move forward?
- How can she confirm that she has identified the risks specific to complex projects with distributed development teams?
- How can she tailor the processes to address client-specific requirements?
Coaching Skills and Attributes
A Great Coach Is…
Coaches must be experienced resources. They are individuals who understand project management and are experienced in the work being conducted by the project team. They have significant methods, tools, and quality principle knowledge. In short, these are your most experienced Project Management Office (PMO) or Engineering Process Group (EPG) team members, and their experience is critical to gaining credibility with project teams.
Coaches need to be able to influence people — not an easy task. They need to be able to convey the value of methods and show people how to use them to achieve their goals. They need to have patience and at the same time hold individuals accountable. Coaches need to be advocates for the project and also for the organization, even when goals appear to conflict. They need to be collaborative, solution-oriented, and understand how processes may be tailored to address varying needs. Many organizations take a hierarchal and dictatorial approach and focus solely on compliance — “just do it because we say so.” Although this may provide the short-term force needed to getting things done, methods may not get institutionalized and projects can revert to their old ways at the first opportunity.
The coach is also in a position to contribute to the development of the project team members. The teams should be more knowledgeable after working with their coach. Coaches celebrate successes and drive improvement in increments and iterations. The coach is able to facilitate knowledge sharing across projects and gather effective practices from projects for use by the organization.
In summary, a good coach has:
- Experience in the realm in which the projects operate, in the standard methods, and in the approaches to tailor methods to individual project requirements
- The ability to be an advocate for the organization and project and is solution oriented
- The aptitude to be persuasive and collaborative
- The capability to convey the value of methods and show people how to be most effective
- Patience, but is able to hold individuals accountable
- The ability to earn the trust and respect of project teams
- The skills in conflict resolution and negotiation
A Coach Is Not…
A coach is not expected to contribute as a project team member by performing day-to-day tasks or management activities. He or she is not solely focused on compliance (although they are aware of and informally monitor compliance to standards) and he or she is not the quality assessor, an important role that should be kept separate and distinct from the role the coach plays. The responsibilities between the coach and quality assurance are discussed later in this paper.
Leadership Support for Coaches
We've discussed the attributes and skills a coach should have to be the most effective, but is this all it takes? Senior leadership support and commitment are also critical. The coach supports the project, but is also accountable to organizational leaders.
Although coaches strive to work with projects and prevent issues, inevitably, issues may arise that cannot be resolved with the project team. Coaches should have support of the leadership and be able to escalate issues to them when needed. This support should be established early, communicated widely, and periodically reinforced.
A structured coaching process also helps…
The Coaching Process
How do Coaches Coach?
Deloitte maintains structured processes that govern coaching activities. The process of deploying our methodology to a new project is called “project enablement,” which emphasizes the focus on enabling projects to achieve their goals, rather than forcing “unnecessary” processes on them.
Exhibit 2 – The Coaching Process
Deloitte's coaching approach has its own life cycle (Exhibit 2), with phases including: Assess and Plan, Train and Adapt, and Implement and Sustain. Coaches report status to leadership, executive sponsors, and to project leadership. Coaches collaborate with the project teams, investing their efforts to help them achieve their goals and staying with them from the beginning to the end. The goal is not just a compliant project — it is a winning project!
The coaching process is performed iteratively until all the project phases are complete.
Phase 1 – Assess and Plan
Exhibit 3 – Assess and Plan Phase
The Assess and Plan phase (Exhibit 3) constitutes the planning for the deployment of the methods and tools to the project. This should be started as early as possible. If a project has any existing processes, they are reviewed for compatibility with the method and applicability to the upcoming work. Any project-specific requirements are also reviewed at this time and incorporated into the plan.
Critical activities of the Assess and Plan phase:
- Identify project team members to serve as process champions
- Review the project's existing processes and assets (if applicable)
- Identify gaps (if applicable)
- Define the project's enablement plan and schedule
Phase 2 – Train and Adapt
Exhibit 4 – Train and Adapt Phase
The Train and Adapt phase (Exhibit 4) focuses on training the project team on the methodology. Additionally, focus is on tailoring the method to help address project-specific needs, requirements, and developing the project's training materials to reflect the tailored processes.
Critical activities of the Train and Adapt phase:
- Identify and train project leads on the methods and tools
- Customize processes and assets
- Develop project-specific training and communication materials
Phase 3 – Implement and Sustain
Exhibit 5 – Implement and Sustain Phase
The Implement and Sustain phase (Exhibit 5) focuses on long-term support once the methods and tools deployment is complete.
Critical activities of the Implement and Sustain phase:
- Distribute communications as appropriate
- Conduct project-specific training on tailored processes and artifacts
- Provide continuous coaching support
- Facilitate quality assurance (QA) assessments and collect metrics
- Support the project throughout the closure activities
Benefits of the Coach Approach
Remember Nicole, the hypothetical project manager who was new to the organization? Her coach helped her get her project off to a great start by:
- Assisting with the use of the project estimation tools and confirming that the detailed estimates were assessed with the team leads.
- Holding working sessions to identify how the client's processes would work in conjunction with the project's processes and tailoring the standard processes where necessary.
- Jump-starting the creation of the project plans as the process and tool decisions were solidified.
- Assisting with the identification of risks based on the lessons learned from similar complex projects in the organization.
- Facilitating training sessions with the project teams on the project processes.
Coaching provides a number of advantages over traditional training. It is even more effective when used in support of training:
- Activities are designed to suit the individual needs of the project.
- Training is focused on teaching skills, whereas coaching focuses on developing and fine-tuning the skills.
- Coaching is performed in the “live” project environment, where and when the needs exist and actual results can be realized.
- Coaching transfers and extends knowledge learned in training to the real-world application, where tailoring and value realization must occur.
In an internal Deloitte survey (Deloitte Services Quality, 2010) of the 26 technology pursuits or projects that had method coach support in the last fiscal year, the respondents (principals, directors, and senior managers/specialist leaders) indicated that:
- Method coaching is highly valued by both pursuits and projects — respondents would overwhelmingly choose to have coaching support again.
- Coaches minimized the impact of the learning curve that naturally results from introducing the methods and tools on a project.
- Although coaching comes at no additional charge to the project, one respondent commented that he should have received a bill!
Coaching and Quality Management
Engaging Quality Assessors
With coaches focusing on collaboration and support, how do coaches determine whether the level of compliance expected by the organization is sustained? It can be difficult to be both the “good cop” and the “bad cop” with a team with whom you are working closely. This is where quality assurance comes in, working in conjunction with coaches to assess compliance to the organizational standards and requirements. Although this seems like considerable overhead for a project, it can be done efficiently.
Coaching Versus Assessor Responsibilities
The coach should facilitate the QA assessment and be involved throughout the project. Any concerns the coach may have about compliance are factored into the assessment scope and may influence areas of focus for the assessors. The draft assessment findings are reviewed with the coach first to determine that specific available evidence was reviewed and any outstanding questions or misunderstandings were resolved prior to sharing with the project. The value of assessments is increased; because the coach can provide project context for the assessor and confirm findings are truly non-conformances as opposed to misunderstandings. An independent assessor greatly helps the coaches by providing an avenue for the coach to illuminate areas where the project may be failing.
Responsibilities of the project, coach, and assessor are shown below (Exhibit 6):
Exhibit 6 – Project, Coach, and Assessor Responsibilities
Increasing the Efficiency of Coaching and QA
The resources that perform quality assessments are frequently the same resources serving as coaches on other projects, but coaches do not perform assessments on the same projects they coach. This keeps the organization efficient and cost effective while providing the objectivity needed for credible checks. Coaches serving as assessors stay abreast of organizational expectations and also gain visibility into the good (or bad) practices in use on other projects. Quality assessments are also more efficient, because the coach can answer many questions directly, reducing the need to take up project team members’ time. The coach can often exclude issues due to misunderstandings or provide evidence the assessor may have missed.
Deloitte uses method coaches to deploy methods and tools to projects. Coaches facilitate the rapid and efficient adoption of processes and tools, helping in the completion of a project using methods and tools the first time through. Coaches assist with tailoring the method so that it meets project needs while maintaining organizational standards. Coaches also work in conjunction with quality assurance to increase the value of both activities.
- Coaching is an approach that goes beyond training and quality assessments on standard methods and tools.
- The most effective coaches are committed to helping the teams achieve their objectives but are also responsible to leadership.
- Leadership should demonstrate support and take a strong stance or else the coach will face many obstacles.
- Coaches must help everyone on the project understand his or her role in the process.
- Coaches need processes too — coaching processes should be structured.
- Use the same resources for coaching and quality assessments, but not on the same project. Confirm that the differences in roles are understood.
- Coaches help projects get value from the organizational methods and tools.
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Copyright © 2011 Deloitte Development LLC. All rights reserved.
Member of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited
© 2011, Stephanie Archer
Originally published as a part of 2011 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas