Motivating Team Members to Deliver the Expected Outcomes

Bill Hoberecht - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Program outcomes are so important, but those may not be the motivating factor for all of your team members.  Ensure that your program has credible and meaningful target outcomes.  As well, recognize other motivations for your program team members.


Who is motivated by a focus on program outcomes?  Is a focus on outcome meaningful to everyone who is associated with a program?

There's no doubt in my mind: Outcomes are the most important result of a program.

And increasingly, PMO advisory consultants and the PMI are emphasizing "Outcomes, not Output."

This is excellent guidance for program teams.

The program manager would do well to recognize that, sometimes, a team isn't giving ample consideration to outcomes.  

One example comes to mind.  When joining a large program, I discovered a project team that was producing output on a regular cadence, but that output contributed nothing to the overall solution - this behavior had caused (prior to my arrival) a missed program delivery with devastating impacts to business operations and end customers.

The remedy was an immediate increase in program interactions with this 35-person team and a temporary increase in oversight.  The team's engagement with program objectives was almost instantaneous as they became newly familiar with program goals, and the closer oversight helped align their daily activities and deliverables.  Soon, their deliveries into production were in direct support of business operations and program goals.

If outcomes are so important, then how does a program manager utilize the notion of outcomes in motivating the team to excel?

You might be thinking this is straightforward: explain the target outcomes to the program team and surely everyone will understand, agree and support that direction.  This might work for some team members, but probably will leave many others unengaged.

Outcomes - Return on Investment - "Show me the Money!"

A program outcome is quite a bit more than just solution delivery.  It is solution delivery, adoption of the solution, and sustained use of that solution - all with a benefit to the business or customer.

When I queried a few of my professional colleagues about measuring program outcomes, all immediately responded that "Return on Investment" is the preferred method.

The use of ROI as a program goal seems reasonable.  Allocate a monetary investment and expect a monetary return. ROI directly relates to money; typical examples are increased revenue or decreased costs.  (While ROI is commonly expressed in financial terms, the PMI has recently shifted to describing program benefits as spanning both tangible and intangible outcomes.)

Shortcomings in Using ROI to Motivate the Team

I've encountered three issues with use of financial ROI outcomes:

  1. The purported return is often a guess (e.g., decrease costs by 15%) and team members don't give it any credibility.
  2. There is no credible calculation of any financial return, but the program's output is deemed important (e.g., implementing increased cybersecurity capabilities).
  3. The program team doesn't really care about ROI.

Let's talk about that last point.

Don’t be lulled into thinking everyone on the program team will be excited and motivated by an anticipated ROI outcome.

ROI is clearly of interest to the company executives. Let’s say that is a dozen people that are interested in the success of the program because of its financial benefit to the corporation. This may be a bit unfair, but assume those executives personally benefit financially from programs that have a great ROI.  It is rarely clear to program team members that they share in such financial benefit to the same degree.  "What's in it for me?" is a viewpoint that cannot be discounted.

I’m not advocating that we toss the notion of ROI. I’ve seen too many program teams focus exclusively on the technology output, effectively ignoring the business - these teams are not bashful about quoting sections of the agile manifesto that advocate the importance of working software as justification for their focus.


Through experiences I've had with small and large program teams I've identified three motivational forces that excite teams about the work of creating a solution:  the mission, gaining experience with emerging technologies, and the quality of the work environment. The program manager has a dual responsibility for leading the team in delivery of an outcome while at the same time providing motivational encouragement to all program team members.

The Mission

I led IT programs supporting health care delivery for over a decade.  Most individuals on these teams are motivated by the mission.  And that mission in most cases has been to deliver better care to patients and better outcomes from treatment.

For those teams, the program outcome might be expressed in terms of "% of patients receiving the proper screenings," "% of patients compliant with their care plan," "% patients with in-range health values." The various programs I headed were intended to improve these measures.

Team members were uniformly excited by and motivated by these quality-of-care goals.

I'm certain that replacing these goals with an "increase revenue by 10% for annual screenings" (an entirely reasonable ROI goal from a financial perspective) would not have been as engaging for the program team.

Emerging Technologies

Not everyone is motivated by the mission.

In one of my most fulfilling programs, I was responsible for delivery of genomic analysis software that would advise an oncologist of the efficacy of a given therapy for a particular cancer diagnosis.  Tremendously motivating for me, but not for the software engineers (who were attracted to machine learning and other technologies).

A sizable number of program team members are excited by the prospect of working with new and emerging technologies.  Their individual outcome is gaining experience with a new technology.  The program outcome is a secondary benefit.  Being aware of this motivation is important, because it drives them to perform well to deliver the solution promised by the program.

Team Culture and Working Environment

For others, what’s important is the working environment. They are motivated by being in a good team, in a company that has integrity, and for managers and colleagues who appreciate their contribution.

The target program outcomes are important, but it is the company and program culture that keeps them engaged and performing.


Program Manager Tips for Delivering Great Outcomes

Here are some ideas for keeping team members engaged in delivering outcomes that are important to them well at the same time delivering program outcomes that are important for the company:

  • The Program: Ensure that your program has a meaningful outcome.  You should be able to describe the program's target outcome in business terms with just a few sentences.  Quantifiable outcomes that can be validated are best.  If you are lacking an outcome goal, then it's time to work with your stakeholders and the portfolio management function to get one in place.
  • The Team: Ensure a common understanding of the target program outcome and regularly revisit this important priority!  Relate the program outcome goal to something that is important to team members.  
  • The Team: Engaging on Their Terms. Identify an effective means of engaging team members, considering their drivers and interests.  Don't assume an immediate alignment with the program goals and target outcomes.
  • Your Stakeholders: Understand which executive stakeholders concur and which are lukewarm in their support for the program outcome.  You'll likely need stakeholder assistance at some point during program execution.  Knowing where you can depend on getting strong support will help get you through program difficulties.

How do you describe the outcome of your programs?  Are those outcomes sufficient to engage and motivate all team members?  Are mission, use of emerging technologies, and culture important factors for your team members?