How Integrated Product Teams Can Improve Performance and Save Money

Team ImageIn this time of tight budgets and mandates to do more or the same with less, the need for innovation through greater communication and cooperation is greater than ever.   The intelligent use of Integrated Product Teams (IPTs) that foster an organizational climate of cross-functional collaboration can drive innovation throughout your processes.

This is accomplished by having the right team making the right decisions at the right time.  Teamwork based on well-designed and executed IPTs facilitates meeting objectives for cost, schedule, and performance.

Here’s a look at why IPTs matter, plus ideas for creating a charter that lays out “the rules of the road” for a successful integrated team.

Why Teamwork Matters

Teamwork continuously proves to be an essential ingredient for success, whether sending a human to the moon, developing a cure for a disease, building an aircraft or ship for national defense, or implementing an IT system.  Across many industries, research has shown a direct correlation between a team’s energy and its productivity: as team engagement rose, so did productivity and employee satisfaction.

Without teamwork, solutions can be deployed that don’t meet user needs, are below standard, or are over budget and behind schedule.  Post-mortems on failed projects often reveal factors that could have been overcome by high-performing Integrated Product Teams

IPTs in Government

In the Federal sector, I’ve seen firsthand that leveraging effective IPTs can save an organization at least 10% in cost over the life cycle of the mission by reducing rework, improving efficiency, and promoting effective issue resolution.  Integrity has leveraged IPTs to help turn around three major DHS Acquisition programs.  IPTs expedited delivery of capability, supported the award of major contracts that were needed to avoid gaps in critical public services, and delivered a high-scoring investment portfolio that demonstrated return on investment and defended against potential budget cuts.  Several key customers and stakeholders cited the tangible benefits of time and cost savings from the cross functional teams as key drivers in these results.

In 1995, then-Secretary of Defense William Perry issued a memorandum directing use of IPTs “throughout the acquisition process to the maximum extent practicable.”  Since then, IPT implementation has evolved, as lessons learned have been documented and studied.  For example, the Under Secretary of Defense (Acquisition and Technology) recently identified critical changes that must take place within the Department of Defense (DoD) in order for successful IPTs to be formed. In a March 2013 paper he said DoD must:

“…move away from a pattern of hierarchical decision-making to a process where decisions are made across organizational structures by integrated product teams. It means we are breaking down institutional barriers. It also means that our senior acquisition staffs are in a receive mode – not just a transmit mode. The objective is to be receptive to ideas from the field to obtain buy-in and lasting change.”

What is an IPT?

Let’s break down the Acquipedia definition of an IPT:

Part I – “Composed of representatives from appropriate functional disciplines”. 

A best practice is to have representatives from different functional areas (e.g., program management, contracting, budgeting and finance, IT, Enterprise Architecture, oversight, user communities). They should think holistically and capture needs and requirements before development begins, thereby potentially saving time, money, and credibility, and avoiding redesign, rework, or folly.

Part II – “Working together to build programs, identify and resolve issues and make sound and timely recommendations”. 

Working together requires collaboration in support of shared goals. The path to collaboration begins with a clear charter from an appointing body that specifies purpose and alignment of team with objectives, and provides procedures to spot risks and resolve issues efficiently and effectively.

Charter a Key to IPT Implementation

A charter can help lay out the “rules of the road” and serve as a touchstone for the team by documenting the structure and boundaries of how it will perform.  The tenets of a successful charter include:

  • Open discussions based on facts rather than subjective judgments
  • Empowered, dedicated team members who have the authority to make decisions and commit resources
  • Support for consensus solutions where each organization commits to solution ownership
  • Respect for minority opinions, ultimately building camaraderie and solidarity
  • Efficient procedures to resolve issues in a manner perceived to be fair
  • Clarified roles and responsibilities of IPT members (See OMB’s 2012 “Contracting Guidance to Support Modular Development” for more information on the roles and responsibilities of each functional area of an IPT.)

IPTs Get Results

An effective IPT can spur creativity and innovation, and speed execution.  Establishing an environment in which one person from a particular trade or discipline can talk to another person from a different area may reveal insights that both can apply to their trade.  By ensuring your IPT is cross-functional, including people from all parts of your organization, you gain the benefit of many perspectives and ultimately will help build consensus.  Since many perspectives from empowered IPT members are considered up front, decisions can be made faster and mistakes can be avoided, resulting in more rapid delivery of capability.

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