Team Rework

How—and Why—To Assess and Qualify Your Project Team


By James Bryant, PMP

The performance of the core project team might be the most critical success element of a project. It's also one of the most overlooked. Although competency gaps or disengagement among a team will reduce the probability of a successful project, few organizations expressly include team formation and qualification activities in their project management processes. So the role of ensuring the right team and mindset are in place falls to project managers.

Projects often start out with team members who aren't the right fit because members are assigned by resource managers at the “fuzzy front end” of the project. These resource managers lack a project manager's guidance and depth of insight. I call this first-assigned group the initial team to remind myself that it does not have to be the core project team.

To ensure that I create the right team for my project, I invite the initial team to participate in a self-reflective qualification process. This involves the team members critically assessing the project success criteria and their ability to successfully meet them. This is not for the faint of heart and might be uncomfortable for some; do not lose sight of this as you work through the process's four steps:

1. Orient the initial team. Ultimately, you want to answer why each person is important for project success and what he or she stands to gain through the project. More specifically, you must ensure the team understands the prevailing business and/or market conditions that support the need for the project. It's unlikely that you'll realize high team engagement without articulating how the project fits into the organization's objectives. This step also usually involves conducting stakeholder identification and a cost-benefit analysis.

2. Structure for optimal performance. Next, have the team adjust its own membership in light of what has been learned. Resource managers will be more receptive to suggested changes when their own resources are making the pitch! Determine who will form the permanent core team, how team groups and sub-groups will communicate, and when the teams will meet. It's here that the project manager should use the latest team performance research and his or her own expert knowledge for guidance.

For example, during a recent product development project I managed, the team decided to restructure from a flat, horizontal model to a vertical, distributed communication model with a leadership team of three people, a core team of nine and seven sub-teams reporting to the core. Although it was a unique approach for the company and added a layer of organizational complexity, we were able to realize increased agility and execution speed from the reduced team sizes—several smaller units managed the project more effectively than a single large effort.

3. Establish team goals. So much time is spent focusing on project goals that sometimes team goals are overlooked. It's good practice for the team to have its own objectives, such as developing cross-functional skills, to enhance alignment and encourage an orientation toward action. The most successful teams are driven by goal achievement.

4. Establish team norms. Rather than create fixed rules that might limit flexibility and responsiveness, the project manager should lead the team in documenting team norms that will be effective in various situations throughout the project lifetime. Norms might include communication and leadership expectations, behavior during team meetings, the application of subject matter experts, internal training plans, and how rewards and recognition will be managed.

When creating your team, keep in mind that in most instances, teams of mixed gender, age and ethnicity outperform their less diverse counterparts. And project managers should be careful when assessing “good chemistry.” I've noticed pre-existing relationships and interpersonal cohesiveness lead to less successful outcomes than teams exhibiting constructive conflict and individual autonomy.

As a project manager, you have a number of ways to ensure the project team composition contributes to the likelihood of success. Try to implement team formation and qualification activities within your organization's formal processes. If you find it difficult or don't have the time to wait for these sometimes rigid processes to change, use your project risk assessment to identify and drive team qualification as a risk mitigation action. Alternatively, define them as required deliverables within your project plan. Whatever your approach, taking the time to qualify your project team will pay off in realized value through higher personnel engagement and more successful projects. PM

img James Bryant, PMP, is a principal project manager at Waters Corp., Cumberland, Rhode Island, USA.

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