Achieving better projects through team alignment.

What is Team Alignment?

Managing projects is challenging. My first hand experience has been that the most challenging aspects of project management are more behavioral than quantitative.

Team Alignment

Alignment in Front End Planning

Proper team alignment, starting in front end planning, is proven to positively affect behaviors and help you lead a team focused on a common project objective.

CII defines alignment as the condition when project participants are working within acceptable tolerances to develop and meet a defined set of project objectives. People, not only need to work together, you have to ensure the team has exactly the same vision of what the objective is and how you, as a team, are going to successfully achieve that objective.

A recent survey we ran showed that the majority of our participants today indicated that team alignment of key stakeholders is a common problem.


Barriers to Project Team Alignment

This not uncommon. The idea of alignment is simple enough, but the complexity of the conflicts and barriers project teams face can make achieving alignment very difficult. Some of the most common barriers experienced during front end planning include:

  • Cooperation among specialists. Specialists tend to take off and “do there own thing”. Many capital projects are highly reliant on specialists, and it is a careful balancing act during front end planning to avoid having specialists quickly head down a narrow path that lacks coordination with other team members.
  • Decentralized decision-making. More and more project teams are in geographically dispersed locations. This calls for increased need in coordination. Without it, we end up with conflicting decisions and the classic “one step forward, two steps back”.
  • Multiple stakeholder groups. Complex relationships including joint ventures and public-private partnerships increase the likelihood of conflicting stakeholder objectives for the same project.
  • Compressed project schedules. Our required completion dates are usually driven by external factors that are outside of the project team’s control. Pressure to reduce the time to value on a capital investment frequently leads to decisions such as:
    • overlapping project phases,
    • concurrent engineering,
    • and other innovative approaches to crash the schedule.

Have you experienced any of these challenges?

The Alignment Thermometer

Often project alignment issues start in front end planning, as we try to bring a diverse group of stakeholders together. The Alignment Thermometer was developed by CII to address this challenge.

There are 3 phases and 3 logical application points to apply the Alignment Thermometer tool in Front End Planning.

CII front end planning phase-gate process

The Thermometer can be used by projects teams by taking the first 5 minutes of a team meeting to have team members answer a short 10-question survey. This will provide  a quantifiable measure of team alignment and identify the specific areas of disagreement that need to be addressed.

Each of the 10 questions in the survey correlate to CII research findings on the top 10 issues that have the greatest effect on team alignment during front end planning. As an example:

  • Are stakeholders appropriately represented on the project team?
  • Is project leadership defined, effective and accountable?
  • Is the priority between cost, schedule and project quality features clear?

The results are tallied and give a current “temperature” on team alignment. It will help you quickly measure if your team is:

  • Comfortable, and on the road to success,
  • At a level of discomfort, and issues need to be addressed, or
  • Working a stressful environment, and unchecked will likely lead to failure

As you move through the Front End Planning phases from Feasibility to Concept, your team size normally grows. With new team members coming to the table, we must ensure we maintain alignment around project objectives.

It’s a similar scenario as you move from Concept into the Detailed Scope phase. The team size will grow again, and clear roles and responsibilities become even more important. Again, using the Alignment Thermometer is a great tool to ensure the team is working together in a way that will increase the likelihood of success.

Several additional alignment tools can be introduced at this step including:

  • Team building resources,
  • The Partnering toolkit,
  • Team leadership tools, and again,
  • The Alignment thermometer

Are you facing uncertainty aligning your project team members and stakeholders? For more information on achieving alignment in Front End Planning here’s a link to a recent whitepaper:

Team alignment: the key to addressing conflict in front end planning


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Sandra MacGillivray

Managing Director at Valency Inc.
Sandra is the Managing Director for Valency Inc., an implementer of best practices from the Construction Industry Institute (CII) that dramatically improve capital project performance. She is a Certified PDRI Facilitator, Registered Education Provider (REP) with the Construction Industry Institute (CII), a Project Management Professional (PMP), and a PMI Risk Management Professional (PMI-RMP) with over 15 years of project management experience. Sandra is a past research team member with the Construction Industry Institute on front end planning, risk management and portfolio management. She holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Waterloo and a Master in Business Administration from Wilfrid Laurier University.