Unlock the Power

Integrated Program Teams Deliver Value



By Eric Rebentisch

Leading teams is often one of the greatest program management challenges. Much of the literature about leading teams focuses on interpersonal team dynamics. However, complex programs also bring technical and management challenges. Leaders must not only find a common solution from diverse and sometimes competing perspectives, but also align multiple contributions to deliver the solution. Creating a collective mindset and coordinated effort requires strong integration of different perspectives and disciplines.

A new integration framework—developed by PMI, MIT's Consortium for Engineering Program Excellence and the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE)—aims to help program leaders build high-performing teams. We tested the framework through a forensic analysis of how teams behaved and performed in programs across a number of sectors and locations. (The new book Integrating Program Management and Systems Engineering: Methods, Tools and Organizational Systems for Improving Performance, for which I served as editor-in-chief, presents this framework in depth.)

Addressing critical integration gaps removed barriers so team members could perform better.

We found that integration requires:

img   Establishing and re-enforcing alignment among processes, practices and tools. This includes clear roles and responsibilities, effective use of standards, and systems that bridge the boundaries between the management and technical disciplines.

img   An organizational environment that promotes collaboration, values knowledge sharing, rewards the right behavior and performance, and ensures strong leadership engagement.

img   People competencies that promote integration in work, develop employees through experiences in different roles, promote education and certifications, and drive effective leadership and communication skills.

img   Contextual factors that ensure programs adapt to their unique situations, including stable requirements and technology, attention to pace and urgency, program stability, strong alignment among stakeholders and the program's place in the strategic portfolio.

Programs that adhered to these integration principles experienced 17 percent stronger performance related to cost, schedule and client satisfaction, the analysis found.

That sounds good on paper, but how does all of this tie together in practice?

At the Naval Postgraduate School Acquisition Research Summit in April, I had the chance to present on integration with Elizabeth “Betsy” Clark and Robert “Jeff” Morris to answer this question.

Ms. Clark, who has worked on the U.S. Department of Defense's 1990s FA-18 E/F Super Hornet program, noted that what made that fighter jet program successful was a deliberate shift from disciplinary stovepipes or silos to collaborative, cross-functional integrated product teams (IPTs). “There are lots of teams that call themselves IPTs, but they are really just collections of people from the same disciplinary stovepipes with no true integration across disciplines,” she said.

A product-based work breakdown structure helped to integrate program management and systems engineering. This hierarchical structure also was used for the organizational breakdown structure, for cost and schedule reporting via earned value, and for the allocation of technical performance measures.

Shared objectives across the entire government-contractor team were facilitated by the alignment in organizational structures and daily communication, as well as the existence of program-wide technical and management databases for effective information sharing. Top leadership demanded collaborative behavior from both the government and the contractor.

The program completed its development phase ahead of schedule and within budget. It also delivered strategic benefits including lower weight, fewer parts, longer range and increased reliability.

Mr. Morris, a Lockheed Martin engineering executive, also learned the value of integrated program teams when he was assigned to help rescue the F-35 Lightning II Strike Fighter program in 2011. The program was billions of dollars over budget and several years behind schedule. Mr. Morris interviewed more than 40 team members to understand the program dynamics and how they might be affecting performance. The more he spoke with team members, the more he realized things needed to change dramatically.

“The management team and leadership were key challenges in bringing about the change,” Mr. Morris said. “So I first spent time compiling the metrics to make the key problems visible and shared this information. Then I brought detractors into the program so they could see for themselves. This made them a part of developing the solution.”

Mr. Morris and program team members developed several key initiatives, one being a re-engineered software build-and-release infrastructure to ensure high-quality nightly builds of the F-35 onboard software via continuous integration. The team created an integrated change management process to coordinate software releases and provide transparent reporting of software being delivered. As changes took hold, team members noted the culture had shifted to one of collaborative problem-solving, innovation and alignment.

The key benefits of the F-35 program went beyond the improved performance metrics. Addressing critical integration gaps removed barriers so team members could perform better. Integration helped to turn the troubled program around, and success motivated all stakeholders associated with the program and ultimately restored organizational credibility. Most importantly, team members embraced multiple changes faster because they understood those changes produced a stronger, more aligned team, as well as improved results. Though the program ended over budget and behind schedule, the changes that were made resulted in significant improvements.

A New Mindset

Any complex work being coordinated among individuals from different specialized disciplines can benefit from better integration. As PMI and INCOSE stated in 2011 when they formed their alliance, “What is required is a different mindset, one that redefines professionalism as achieving the mission and having a satisfied customer or end user versus struggling to protect turf. … This new mindset recognizes that there cannot be two separate views of the stakeholder problem, but rather a single one that incorporates all elements of the program.”

The integration framework in Integrating Program Management and Systems Engineering provides practical approaches and examples that show how this different mindset transforms programs and delivers value. PM

img Eric Rebentisch is the lead researcher at the MIT Consortium for Engineering Program Excellence, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

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