Have you ever worked on a project that lasted longer than expected? Did you know that team morale plays a big factor in the successful completion of such a project?
Recently at Nulogy, we completed a project that lasted 13 months, instead of the usual three months. I'd like to share the various things that happened throughout the project, and how it affected the team's morale.
A New Beginning
A new project was announced and there was a lot of buzz around it around the company. Everyone who was working on the project was excited to be part of the team.
The initial estimate for the project was three months. Great!
As we started working on the project, we quickly realized that it was going to take longer than three months. Every entity that we were modifying introduced sweeping changes throughout the application. And when your application is as large as PackManager, this is a big deal.
The type of work we were doing was mostly classified as 'grunt work'. The kind of work where you chug away and update all the affected places. Over and over. Again and again.
What made it even more unfortunate was that it wasn't the brainless type of grunt work. (e.g. When you see A, replace it with B.) It was the type of work where you had to understand what was actually happening in the code so that you could decide what change had to be made.
Things got worse because our team’s hard work was only noticed when something broke. This is because we wouldn’t be adding new features until a much later phase of the project. Then eventually...
Bring On the Complaints
The inevitable happened. We became that team. We were working on that project. When we went for coffee runs, people on other teams would ask "How's that project going?" and the response would be shaking heads. Team morale was getting pretty low. We would talk about how we'd rather work on other projects, and how there were so many other projects that were much more interesting. We could not wait for the project to end, and there was no end in sight. So what’s a team to do when work gets lost in the plot?
Thankfully, one of the things we do quite well at Nulogy is having Iteration Retrospectives. One of the things we identified was that not everyone was fit for this type of project. Some people's motivation came from working on new features and trying out new things. Other people got motivation from the big value that the project added to the product, and found the tediousness of the project to be bearable. Different types of people, different sources of motivation.
The complaints were addressed in two ways:
The people who did not receive sufficient motivation from the far away goals of the projects were moved to projects that interested them.
The people who chose to stay on the project now had no more reason to complain about working on the project, since they personally decided that the project was worth working on.
In case you were wondering, I was one of the complainers. I also chose to stay on the team. However, there was one behaviour change that I implemented for myself. I chose to never complain about the project outside of my team. If I complained outside of the team, I was basically complaining for the sake of complaining. Instead, I only brought up things that bothered me when the whole team was present. This allowed the group to discuss the issue, and see if there were ways to address it, if it indeed was a real issue.
What I Learned...
The end result was that the project completed with much more energy than it had in the middle of the project. It wasn't smooth sailing all the time, but everyone on the team pitched in towards the success of the project.
If you end up working on a long project that is not the most interesting work-wise, but does deliver high value in the end, keeping up the team morale is key. Don't let complainers become poison to the team's morale. Address it immediately! You will be surprised at how big of a difference it makes.