Project Management Institute

People prowess


by ross foti



There's no doubt that project management skills lead to improved performance. In a survey, the Center for Business Practices (CBP) reported that 90 percent of organizations that offered project management training saw moderate to extreme improvement in on-the-job performance. And in another CBP survey of more than 100 senior-level project management practitioners, 94 percent of respondents stated that implementing project management added value to their organizations.



Paul Jerram, PMP, is vice president-Operations & Delivery for Novations Project Management, Atlanta, Ga., USA, a global professional services firm that delivers project management training, consulting, technology and measurement solutions.


Martha Haywood is president of Management Strategies Inc., San Francisco, Calif., USA, a consultancy that has focused on training geographically dispersed teams since 1995. She authored Managing Virtual Teams: Practical Techniques for High-Technology Project Managers (Artech House, 1999).


Brian R. King, PMP, is president of Millennium 3 Inc., Winnipeg, Canada. The consulting and training firm provides development training and consulting in project management, leadership, teams and organizational review.


Denise L. DeCarlo, is president of Mindavation Inc., Denver, Colo., USA. The company specializes in project management services, primarily training and consulting around project management leadership and team-building.

Although the proof is unmistakable, project managers continue to struggle because there is disparity in the depth of project knowledge across their teams. In some instances, team members see project management as added work rather than added value. Despite these challenges, project managers must find a way to make their teams work cohesively and effectively, if not just consistently.

PM Network recently spoke with four experts about team-building issues project managers face and how they can improve working relations.

What team issues contribute to project failure? How are these issues compounded when teams operate virtually?

Martha Haywood: Most projects fail due to misunderstandings of mission and goals and competing priorities in the organization. Lack of trust among the team, particularly for virtual teams, lack of structure and agreed-upon work processes and scarcity of resources all contribute.

We interviewed 514 companies and asked managers what difficulties they faced in managing virtual teams, and communication was No. 1. When you work virtually, a lot of people from different functional cultures have different expectations about the form and frequency of communication, and that creates a lot of distrust. People make assumptions that everyone has the same priorities. The most correlated factor for success of virtual teams: communication agreement.

Are project managers often involved in forming their project teams?

Paul Jerram, PMP: We often talk to project managers who are not directly involved in the forming of their project teams, often because the organization just doesn't do it that way—or even know they could do it that way or the potential benefits. A more typical experience is that the project manager often gets assigned to the team when the project already is underway, when detailed planning or even work already has taken place.

Brian R. King: Usually, the project manager should be the one who determines the members. They fall short when they don't think about the competencies people should have, and just the positions people presently have by looking at functional roles.

When project managers solicit resources, they need to think of the levels of competencies a project requires. People are so transitory in organizations these days, you can't just assume that someone in a particular department will have the competencies you need. Also, by thinking in competency terms, you allow people who may have those skills you need but have never been involved in a functional role to step up to the task and demonstrate their competencies.


Team members from various functional areas don't always understand the importance of project management, let alone the formula for earned value. To address the need for consistent practices, PMI has reintroduced its Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM®) credential.

“Not everyone in their roles on a project team will want to become a Project Management Professional (PMP®), but they may want a credential to recognize their value to project team performance,” says Denny Smith, Ph.D., manager of PMI’s certification program. “CAPM gives them recognition that they have demonstrated an understanding of the terms and processes detailed in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide).”

Three major audiences could benefit from the CAPM:

Project team members who may be specialists in a particular arena

Undergrad and grad students with an interest in project management

Junior project management practitioners.

Although a certified, trained project manager increases a project's chances, if the rest of team is not equipped with best practices, performance becomes a problem. “If team members have a CAPM, the project manager will have a much higher success rate, because he or she will have a team full of people who already understand, and more importantly, practice project management to get their jobs done more efficiently and effectively,” says Laurie Cooke, R.Ph., director of career management at the PMI Global Operations Center.

For those on the road to PMP status, CAPM is a good first step because it demonstrates basic knowledge and expertise around the project processes. Candidates must have a high school or global equivalent diploma and either 1,500 hours of project team experience or 23 contact hours in project management education.

The study guide for the credential is the PMBOK® Guide—Third Edition, and many of PMI’s Registered Education Providers now offer both PMP and CAPM prep training. After passing the 150-question examination, CAPMs must retest every five years to demonstrate their knowledge.

Since the CAPM program was revised and relaunched in 2005, PMI has seen renewed interest. There are currently 400 CAPMs globally and more than 400 more have applied and will soon test. Microsoft even has included CAPM as a step in its career path. “Any time individuals aspire and achieve a designation and credential, they have positive feelings of accomplishment, they are able to talk the same language as their peers, function to a higher level on the team, and the chances are they're going to get better assignments,” Dr Smith says.

What are the biggest challenges project managers face in team-building?

Mr. King: Often, people don't understand the importance of the team-building process. It's critical at the front end— “team” is a verb, not a noun. You must work with people in a group to “team,” it is not a name or title that you give a group of people solely because of what they are supposed to do or how you want them to function. Think about what you really need, understand who the team members are as people and come to a group understanding on the importance and success factors of the project.

Ms. Haywood: Aligning process and getting agreement on it—those who can get agreement definitely have a lot less conflict. Project managers must make sure goals and process are in line. It's very difficult when the stated value is quality but the de facto value is time to market.

I‘d work closely with the sponsor to figure out what can be done in the short term vs. long term about stated and de facto values. You may be able to negotiate something with the sponsor that ensures you can be truthful and realistic with your team.

Is there anything project managers can do to have more of a say in the roles, functions or resources involved in their teams?

Denise L. DeCarlo, PMP: We have to start to establish relationships with the functional managers who own those resources. We have to use our project management skills to demonstrate the importance of specific types of skills or even particular people in some circumstances.

I always like to give functional managers options—for instance, if I can't have a person for the whole time, can I have him or her for two weeks during a critical juncture? I have to use good negotiation skills to try to get the resources I need when I need them. If I can't, then I try to explain what the impact to the project will be if I don't have the optimal resources.

Mr. Jerram: One key is to bring the project manager into the team or project as early as possible. We want the team— including the project manager—to speak in terms of “my team,” “our project,” etc., because taking ownership increases pride in the team, the project and the product.

Giving project managers enough say in the roles, functions and resources on the team is an organizational and cultural change that needs to be made. A project manager should challenge who is placed on the team based on personality, background of behaviors shown by the team member in previous projects, or a definite gap in skill set requirements. Ignoring this or “just putting up with it” increases risk.

When there's no project management career path or enterprisewide buy-in for project management, what can project managers do to encourage consistency and measurable results at the individual project level?

Ms. DeCarlo: The first thing you have to do is educate the team to what project management is and is not. Then I like to have them help me figure out the best project management techniques to leverage for a particular project. They'll feel like part of the solution rather than poke holes in the full methodology.

Ms. Haywood: Realize that you can't let perfect be the enemy of good. The fact that people won't swallow A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) all in one bite doesn't mean you can't make small improvements. I try to point out the benefit of a scope statement or detailed schedule to an individual naysayer. If you can cite a specific past issue and what's in it for that person to do it the right way, then you can make progress.

Mr. King: You are accountable for your actions—because no one else is doing it or not doing it does not give you the right to lower your standards. Use the process, and people will see the results. Sell the process by demonstrating the results. Don't spend more time marketing; spend time producing and the product will sell itself.

What can project managers do when team problems are personal, not technical, in nature?

Ms. Haywood: Any conflict resolution class will tell you to try to understand the root of the conflict—it's usually a difference in values or goals. Over time, it becomes personal.

I‘ve found it's helpful to emphasize to the parties that we're not there to impose our own values; we're there to align them with what the customer wants. It's not about what we want. Depersonalize it and focus on the third party.

Mr. Jerram: I‘ve found that the best way—although it's uncomfortable for a number of people—is direct confrontation of the issues. When I think of confrontation, I don't think of that in a negative or combative way. It means initially talking through problems with the team members individually and allowing the team members to spell out their views of the problem and to propose a solution.


When working on a critical project at AT&T, Paul Jerram, PMP, put his teamwork skills—which he attributes to experience and great mentors—to the test. The fast-track project involved process redesign, systems upgrade and redesign, utilizing virtual resources in multiple states. “One group felt threatened by job changes or potential job eliminations because of system changes and ownership issues,” Mr. Jerram says. “The team was already in several ‘factions’ and not working together or cooperating.”

To overcome a conflict he had with one team member with whom he had previously worked, Mr. Jerram had a “clear the air” session with the co-worker. “After some time, we agreed that we had to work together because we both had an equal stake in the outcome of this project,” he says.

The team walked through roles and responsibilities on the project. “We talked about what was at stake for each of us by ensuring the success of the project,” he says. “The team created ground rules and a team operating agreement. This was signed off on by all team members, like a contract, laminated and displayed on the wall of our war room.”

Thanks to team-forming and team-building activities, working relationships were strengthened. The project came in on time, under budget and realized annual cost savings to the company of more than $500,000 annually. The remote team wrote up recommendations to move their systems (and work) to one of the regions, but the team worked with management and human resources to place them in other positions, some in the same division, some in other groups. Perhaps most telling, Mr. Jerram and his formerly warring colleague got along so well after the initial discussion that they acted as job references for each other, later in their careers.




Ms. DeCarlo: Conflict management can be healthy or it can be horrible. At the beginning, I explain my expectations as a project manager on how conflict will be handled. The team must focus on the problem, not the person. It's my job as a project manager to ensure attacks are not personal.

We have to respect everyone on the team and understand what they bring to the table. If everyone was alike, we'd all go down the same wrong path together. Different perspectives mean that we're being thorough in exploring our options. PM

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.




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