Mastering the basics of project management: Establishing Team Rules of Engagement


Generally speaking, in military or police operations, we could define “rules of engagement” as the rules of engagement (ROE) determine when, where, and how force shall be used. Such rules are both general and specific, and there have been large variations between cultures throughout history. The rules may be made public, as in a martial law or curfew situation, but are typically only fully known to the force that intends to use them. The ROE should comply with the generally accepted martial law.

The same type of mechanism should be done at the project management. As the project manager, it is your responsibility to assure the whole team is brought on board with expectations managed, an understanding of their part, and guiding principles to assure project success.

Big project, multiple teams, external vendors, multi-dimensional deliverables, MANY user groups, to many sponsors, lots of technology. The first step in the process is what I call Meta-Planning – aka Planning to Plan. What tools will you use, how will you communicate, arbitrate (aka manage the finger pointing), etc.

You want to establish protocols and communications channels in order to reduce the overhead costs and exponential risks based on the various complexities. The same principals apply to large projects as they do with small ones, but more so. The biggest issues you will have is in cooperation and communication – resource issues. You will be working with teams with conflicting interests, various levels of engagement and varying skill sets.

The tool many PMs use to bring everyone to the same place of understanding is often referred to as Rules of engagement. The rules of engagement can be viewed as the foundational step in Project Plannig phase.

Rules of Engagement Roadmap:

  1. Roles and Responsibilities – Roles and Responsibilities lay out what is one’s accountability and function in the project. This can be in the form of a RACI chart.
  2. Escalation Process – Laying out how issues and problems are escalated is a critical success factor for any project. At the beginning it is a good idea to clearly identify how and to whom escalation is done across the project team.
  3. Project Protocols – Project Protocols are the standards for how meetings, issues, risks, changes, schedule and costs are managed within the project. PMI labels this as the project management plan. I try to have it be guidance for employees
  4. What planning tools to use? MS Project (hopefully you have something better)?; Oracle Primavera? A Free Source software? Standardize the structure, terminology, information to be captured. Utilize milestones from the various teams (no one can track the meaning of 100,000 tasks, but 100 milestones is manageable)
  5. Ensure consistent definitions – what is a completed tasks? focus on the quality aspects and the hard delivery (task 23 – function X delivered to beta group with no severity 1 or 2 errors);
  6. Create a communication plan – who gets communicated on what – subscription (weekly updates), events (task W is being delayed), change management (the users would prefer blue to red), etc.
  7. Guiding Principles – Guiding principles are often the most overlooked aspect of the rules of engagement. These are the core principles which help cement the team’s outlook and perspective towards the overall goal. For example:

– We will looked upstream and downstream for impacts in our analysis and assessments.
– We will challenge each other’s ideas in a positive productive manner to help bring about the best solution for all.
– We will respond within a business day to email or phone queries from our teammates. If we don’t have an answer, we will acknowledge the query within a day with our inability to assist and help of where else to check.

The TakeAway

The value of understanding your part in the project helps to set expectations and clarity. The time spent constructing and developing roles and responsibilities will help launch your project successfully, just always remember this is a collaborative process not dictated in most instances.

The Universal Rules of Engagement Management ideally should be framed against known best practices that support the project management process,  scope, creation of a common methodology, appropriate selling skills, knowledge of the services industry, knowledge of the business issues of the client, and an understanding of process consulting. Spending time building new skills and capabilities in all of these areas is well worth your time and effor

Please feel free to share your stories of how establishing rules of engagement have either helped or hindered your project. As always your suggestions are welcomed and appreciated!

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5 thoughts on “Mastering the basics of project management: Establishing Team Rules of Engagement

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