How a coach can assist an IT project

When IT project manager Destiny Moneysmith found out last year that she was about to get a personal coach, she was less than enthusiastic. "I was very skeptical," she recalls.

"My past experience with consultants on projects had been less than satisfactory."

Why was Moneysmith, who had worked in IT at Truman Medical Centers (TMC) in Kansas City for three years, getting a coach? CIO Bill McQuiston had selected her to lead a three-person team in an organizationwide information needs assessment.

"We would be asking executives, administrators, directors and managers throughout the business about information needs, ranging from data and systems needs to information to take care of patients, to information needed to run day-to-day operations -- basically any information that flows," Moneysmith said, describing the start of the project.

But McQuiston noticed that the team had a hard time getting started.

"There was some intimidation about working with the highest people in the organization and some confidence issues about whether they could accomplish a project of that magnitude," he says.

McQuiston decided to engage a coach to walk Moneysmith and the team through the process. Enter consultant Gwen Walsh from Ouellette & Associates Consulting, a firm TMC had had good experiences with in workshops and related services. Here's how the coaching engagement played out:

McQuiston asks Moneysmith and Walsh to talk, and they have the first of several phone conversations about the project and what Walsh can bring to it.

Walsh immediately picks up on Moneysmith's hesitancy about being coached. "I'm getting that you're not trusting me," she tells the project manager, who confesses her lack of enthusiasm for the idea.

Walsh responds by talking about her experience with similar IT projects, and Moneysmith agrees to give it a try. They follow up with several calls and e-mails before the engagement begins.

In those early conversations, Moneysmith talks about what she wants: help with the project charter, strategies and work breakdown structure. "If we had extra time, I had other things we could work on," she recalls. "I wanted to make sure we got our money's worth."

November 2004

Walsh begins providing TMC's team with the nuts-and-bolts skills required to manage the needs assessment. By late November, the team is documenting requirements, strategies and the project charter and plan. And Walsh is broadening her contribution. "We saw that she had all these other skills, so we tapped her for all the resources we could get," Moneysmith says.

Walsh begins working on each team member's personal development, offering tips and techniques to practice on one another.

"One of the things was body language," Moneysmith says. "When we sat in meetings, we tended to nod that we understood. But Gwen coached us that this is often perceived as 'I agree,' not just 'I understand and am listening.' She pointed out that we might have been sending mixed signals. So now when we have conversations among ourselves, we say, 'Hey, you're doing it again -- are you understanding or agreeing?'"

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