Understanding and Using Launch Cross Functional Teams
Launch Cross Functional Teams (CFTs) can be a very effective tool to expedite a launch. If not used properly, they can also be your worst nightmare. You need to consider the purpose of the Launch CFT, organization, how to manage meetings and discussion, tracking progress, and gaining committment. Too often Launch CFTs are introduced as a response to poor execution of a launch. The belief is that if we could get someone from each department that is affected by a launch in a room on a regular basis and make sure we get their input, everything would magically improve. The intentions are good but when you’re on a deadline to launch, a democratized approach will more often than not fail to meet these expectation. Purpose First let’s start with the purpose of a Launch CFT. Launching a product, particularly in a larger organization, is a process with lots of details that can easily be missed. Expecting one person to remember every detail is not realistic. A Launch CFT has two purposes. The first is to bring the widest possible range of expertise to the party so that, hopefully, every detail is surfaced, documented and addressed - thoroughness. The second purpose of a Launch CFT is to improve time to market. They may seem to be opposing purposes, but they work very well when organized and managed effectively. Organization The organization of the Launch CFT is critical. My first experience with a Launch CFT was walking into a conference room with 22 people. I knew immediately that I was going to fail unless I got the number down to a manageable size. An effective Launch CFT has one representative from each functional area that has the ability to make commitments on behalf of that functional area. If the representative cannot make commitments, they will be wasting everyone’s time. If team members start to get a sense that their time is being wasted, you will find them not showing up to meetings. Picking the right representative for each functional area is key. Don’t assume that the department manager will select the best representative. She may pick the person with the least workload. Do your homework and identify the best available resources. Expectations As the leader of the Launch CFT it’s important to clearly define the goals of the Launch CFT to the team and what is expected of them. There can be no ambiguity or assumption. Even if you have experienced Launch CFT members from previous teams, it’s still vital to set expectations, including the consequences if those expectations are not met. It is also vital for the management team to understand the importance of the Launch CFT to the organization and why their support is fundamental to success. If a VP doesn’t believe a Launch CFT is important his attitude could spill over into his organization have a negative impact on your ability to manage the Launch CFT. Managing Meetings Launch CFT meetings should be as brief as possible. For most Launch CFTs one hour is plenty of time. Every meeting should have an agenda that is distributed several days before the meeting. You want your team members to have sufficient time to prepare. The frequency of meetings is up to you, but Launch Clinic suggests increasing the frequency as the launch nears. For example in the Planning Phase of the launch you my want to meet every two weeks. In the Readiness Phase you would shift to weekly meetings, possibly down to daily as the Launch Phase approaches. Depending on the agenda, it won’t be necessary to invite every member to every meeting. In the agenda, be sure to indicate which members are required to attend and which ones are optional. To move the meeting along and keep discussion flowing, include someone to keep track of time and document action items, issues and decisions. This frees the Launch CFT leader to focus on driving the meeting. Use a consistent and structured way to keep track of action items, issues and decisions. Launch Clinic has a Launch CFT Tracker that has been proven in years of use that you can download here. When an action item is identified that needs to be addressed, document it, assign it and get a date for completion. When an issue is identified, document it and assign it. Likewise, when a decision is made, document it. Use the contents of the Launch CFT Tracker to keep track of details and drive the launch forward. Communication As the leader of your Launch CFT you have a responsibility to communicate progress - good and bad. In many cases the Launch CFT Tracker may be all you need to communicate progress. In other cases a summary email may work better, particularly for the management team. Driving the Process The Launch CFT leaders responsibilities don’t end with the Launch CFT Tracker and Launch CFT meetings. You have to drive a process forward using resources that are not under your direct supervision and may have priorities (or incentives) that are not consistent with your objective of delivering a successful launch. Reach out to Launch CFT members by phone and give them reminders that help them keep their CFT commitments at the top of their priority list. Common Launch CFT Issues Below are some common Launch CFT issues and suggestions on how you could approach them. Failure to gain commitment - sometimes you have a CFT member that you just can’t get a commitment from. He consistently dodges deadlines and makes excuses. Because of the transparency of using the CFT Tracker, his lack of performance is obvious. Either the member is the wrong guy or he has an issue with you the product or the process. You may be better off replacing him and moving on. Too much product discussion - Launch CFTs are not forums to iron out product details. If discussion about product issues are dominating the Launch CFT meeting consider having a separate meeting dedicated for that purpose. Product feature discussion can denegrate into very heated (and often irrational) non-productive debate. Get it off the table as quickly as you can. Members don’t show up to meetings - discuss the issue with the department manager first and escalate it to the management team if it doesn’t improve. Reach out to members to find out why they’re not attending. What are the other priorities that are impacting their participation in the Launch CFT? Too many people attend the meetings - a simple technique is to hold the meetings in a place that is just barely large enough for the required attendees. Have one chair short of the required needed. If that doesn’t work address the issue directly with the people who invited themselves and explain your rules of the road.
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