Project Management Institute

The Future of Teaming

Transcript

STEVE HENDERSHOT

The nature of work is changing—it already was changing, even before so many of us started working from home. Some of that is due to new insights about the ways people can better collaborate and get along with one another, and then there’s also another piece: how people best fit in alongside emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence.

INGRID SMITH

A lot of the old legacy skills can be achieved, you know, things around data collection and algorithm construction, these things can all be done now through artificial intelligence. So the emphasis is moving more towards those really authentic people skills such as emotional intelligence and being collaborative. They’re achieving a far greater value.

NARRATOR

The world is changing fast. And every day, project professionals are turning ideas into reality—delivering value to their organizations and society as a whole. On Projectified®, we’ll help you stay on top of the trends and see what’s ahead for The Project Economy—and your career.

STEVE HENDERSHOT

This is Projectified®. I’m Steve Hendershot.

Do you ever stop and count the number of projects you’ve worked on over the last year? For the average project professional, it’s just over six teams per year and trending upward, according to PMI’s new Pulse of the Profession® report on project-team trends, called Tomorrow’s Teams Today.

It’s not just that people are working on a lot of different projects within a short time frame. When they assemble project teams, project leaders are looking for a different mix of roles and skills: There’s more emphasis on collaborative leadership, for example, and on a customer-focused mindset.

Projectified®’s Hannah Schmidt spoke with Ingrid Smith, head of PMI Thought Leadership in London, England, to get a clearer insight into why and how project teams are changing.

MUSICAL TRANSITION
HANNAH SCHMIDT

What skills do teams need to succeed in The Project Economy?

INGRID SMITH

Okay, so at the moment there’s a major focus on people skills, and it’s a focus ... I suppose it’s quite a new focus because many people would have previously called these skills soft skills. So they’ve been identified as power skills, and they are collaborative leadership, empathy for the voice of the customer, risk management, having an innovative mindset, and having the ability to develop and employ methodology and framework governance. But beyond those five, there are a wide range of skills, so adaptability, critical thinking and problem-solving. And there’s this one that some people sort of don’t perhaps value as much as they should, and that is emotional intelligence.

HANNAH SCHMIDT

What are some examples of people or organizations that exemplify these skills?

INGRID SMITH

Our U.K. Ministry of Defence is very much into examining the right skills, and there’s a fear that there will be a lack of talent if they don’t have the right skills in place. So we’ve got Dr. David Marsh, who is the director of the U.K. Ministry of Defence, who looks at skills from the point of redefining team members. So he says that you should be looking at the way teams are made up, not based on the old legacy titles of project manager or assistant project manager, but on subject matter experts. So the skills that they’re looking for, and also wider industry and wider organizations, are those skills that really emphasize collaboration. I think collaboration is one of those major skills that organizations have identified that can encourage change within projects.

HANNAH SCHMIDT

Another major focus for project teams is being cross-functional. How can this help teams be more successful?

INGRID SMITH

If you like, old-school practices meant that you could have teams focus just on one specific theme, working over a much longer period of time. So things, for us a bit easier, and that’s because technology wasn’t interrupting what you were doing. There wasn’t that much disruption in terms of technology. Now, because the requirement from projects is far more immediate, having a cross-functional team is extremely important, and that means having a team that can work in a way that pivots constantly. And in terms of resources, you need that because if you’re addressing a lot of different issues at a different time, you need to have people who can hop and skip to a different project.

Our research shows that high-complexity teams, the average number of team members is around 24. Well, you can’t have 24 people on each project. So you need within that 24 to have different groups within it who can move to different projects. So I think it’s a very important concept. And with that concept, you have to embrace the fact that you’re giving people authority in different areas, but perhaps you may not have seen them operating before or thought that they had the capacity to operate before, which is why it’s very important of course then, at the very beginning, to identify your team members. And it’s extraordinary that companies like IBM are using technology to identify their team members and team skills so that they know that they have people in place who can be highly cross-functional when needed.

HANNAH SCHMIDT

In the Pulse report Tomorrow’s Teams Today, it talks about three core principles for ready-for-anything teams. And I want to go through them to get your thoughts on each of these principles.

INGRID SMITH

Of course.

HANNAH SCHMIDT

So the first is agility always. What does this mean to you?

INGRID SMITH

It really means being flexible, being able to respond to immediate change because project teams are being asked to pivot in reaction to emerging themes and emerging trends on both global and regional levels. So really I think it’s about being fast and flexible in terms of team management.

HANNAH SCHMIDT

And then the next is collaborate and listen.

INGRID SMITH

I think the notion now is that it’s not really about your status within a team, but it’s about what you can offer in order to push through change. So a lot of organizations are recognizing that change happens through projects. Before, I think projects were seen as a separate add-on function to allow operations to progress. But now we’re well aware that it’s the project that drives the progress. And so people need to be able to collaborate across multifunctional teams in order to achieve success and be able to listen in terms of ideas that they may not have been aware of before, coming from sources that they may not have had access to before, but that are truly valuable because they’re bringing innovation.

HANNAH SCHMIDT

And the last core principle is put the customer first.

INGRID SMITH

Absolutely. So it’s very important to understand that the customer is the hero, but you should always be aiming to solve the issue that the customer has posed to you. And so in all cases, it’s about making sure that you’re prioritizing their needs, that you understand what good looks like to them and that you’re working to achieve that for them. 

HANNAH SCHMIDT

Virtual teams aren’t new, but we’re seeing more and more teams going virtual in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. So what role do power skills play in virtual teams?

INGRID SMITH

I think one of the main ones is empathy. So, I think it’s very important for people to demonstrate real understanding when you’re working in virtual teams because the issue with the virtual teams is that there can be a lot of misunderstanding, a lot of miscommunication just because you’re not in the same physical space. So there has to be a sense of kindness, all working together in order to ensure that you are all on the same page, not just in terms of the aims of the project, but in terms of being collaborative and understanding that you’re all in it together. And while that phrase, “All in it together,” has come very much to the fore around COVID-19, I think it’s something that teams had been appreciating for the last year, that really they have to be really highly collaborative in order to be successful, and especially with virtual teams.

HANNAH SCHMIDT

How can teams best adjust if they haven’t worked on virtual teams before?

INGRID SMITH

Well, it’s a big question, and I think people are learning how they can adjust, you know, in this very instance. I think the thing about working on virtual teams is to make sure that there are absolute clear briefs around what the aim is for any project. You know, when you’re in a physical space with someone, obviously you can reconfirm things, you can talk face-to-face and chat, and there’s that personal interaction where you get an understanding of someone just by facing them. Over virtual sort of communication, it very much is about making sure that you begin at the beginning with a clear brief, a clear understanding of what’s required from all the team members. And you also understand that you need to give leeway for expression of ideas. You know, there needs to be a freedom amongst people in terms of their roles and acceptance of that freedom and an understanding of the need to pivot at any minute.

MUSICAL TRANSITION
STEVE HENDERSHOT

That’s the high-level, thought leadership perspective, but how is this playing out on the ground within the teams and organizations trying to figure it all out? Australian telecom Telstra is at the center of several of these project team trends, and I spoke to Peter Moutsatsos, Telstra’s chief project officer, to get his take.

MUSICAL TRANSITION
STEVE HENDERSHOT

One of the trends PMI’s research shows is organizations building flexibility into teams. I know that’s something you’ve written about as well. How is that adaptability reflected in the teams at Telstra?

PETER MOUTSATSOS

The big issue that Telstra has had around flexing teams and making resources adaptable to move to different priorities has really been a challenge for us. Now, we have typically operated in a very rigid, siloed organization where the resources were fixed to a particular manager or a particular area, and it was very difficult to be able to move them into new projects as we needed them to, largely because the manager didn’t want to release those resources.

What we have done over the last 18 months is move to a more enterprise agile-at-scale environment, where resources now sit in dedicated chapter areas, and the chapter denotes their competency area. And those resources now flow to certain projects or initiatives as they’re needed. And when that initiative then runs down, that person returns back to their chapter to be allocated to a new piece of work. That has dramatically improved our flexibility. We now have people moving between different types of projects. It’s improved employee engagement, because people are trying different things now on a more regular basis. But it’s also given the ability to do resource management separately from delivery management, and that has then given us the ability to do greater discipline and greater employee utilization tracking, and being able to move the best people to the best projects and the like.

STEVE HENDERSHOT

Also, with the sheer number of projects that you have going and that move toward agile at scale, how do you sort of fold those projects in that agile sort of way of being into the larger ongoing operations side of the corporation? Is everybody sort of rowing in step here?

PETER MOUTSATSOS

Our agile-at-scale journey is quite complex. We are now Australia’s largest agile-at-scale experiment. We have moved 8,000 people out of their team structures into the chapters. In terms of the people who flow to work on projects, it would be about 6,000 of that 8,000 moving to projects. However, we’ve broken it up into sort of two major areas. One, run the business, and two, grow the business. The run-the-business team are those resources who largely stay on rolling engagements, rolling pieces of work, which largely won’t change, say, quarter to quarter. For example, rolling out the 5G network or boosting our connectivity capacity. Those people will stay on that project quarter to quarter, but they’ll still come back and check in every quarter on progress.

The other group, the grow-the-business resources, they’re the resources who will flow to the projects that are discretionary or strategic in nature to deliver an outcome, whether it’s a new product, a new feature, a new service. And what we do with those resources is try and grow the team or at least size the team appropriately for the resources needed to achieve that objective. So, there’s a greater level of scrutiny about the size of the team and the capability that needs to flow into that particular project.

STEVE HENDERSHOT

Has the transition helped you adopt a more customer-centric approach?

PETER MOUTSATSOS

Our move to agile at scale has really changed the focus to being more about measuring the actual outcomes that we’re achieving and delivering to the customer. So what I mean by that is, you know, are we hitting certain go-to-market time frames? Are we hitting certain customer satisfaction scores? Are we hitting certain customer signup rates? We’re worrying less and less about, you know, whether we hit a particular interim budget, or did we hit any particular interim milestone, or is our risk register up to date? Those things still matter, but what we’re now measuring even more so are the outcomes and the utilization of that team, less about the hygiene of the project management itself.

STEVE HENDERSHOT

So, there’s one way that you’ve made a change in the last couple of years. Anything else that you’ve tweaked?

PETER MOUTSATSOS

Probably the one that doesn’t get a lot of airtime in terms of some of the changes we’ve made is the role of the sponsor. Going back, a sponsor was an executive who was largely hands off, attended the occasional steering committee or read the occasional report and intervened if there was an issue. Otherwise you didn’t really see the sponsor. Now, the sponsor is a core member of the team. The sponsor is actually, if anything, driving the team now. So, we have most of our larger programs are sponsor led, so the sponsor is acting as the de facto project manager now for a lot of our larger programs. That is a wonderful change, and it is so invigorating to see executives and leaders be more hands on in terms of removing impediments, helping set the priority for the team, and giving the team more encouragement and more energy and support to just continue. It’s been a wonderful improvement, I must admit.

STEVE HENDERSHOT

Having the sponsor as leaders you mentioned seems very useful. Culturally in terms of having someone to advocate for you upstream, but in another way, it kind of cuts against a trend to have all of these teams flat in terms of hierarchy. So, how do you approach beyond that sponsor role, hierarchy, collaboration, how do the responsibilities get worked out?

PETER MOUTSATSOS

Well, I would say, having the sponsor lead an initiative, the hierarchy is inverted. So, what I mean by that is that think of it as an upside-down triangle. The sponsor is leading from the back, and so the teams are out front, they’re setting their priorities, they’re working through what they believe are the most urgent and important tasks, but they’ve got the sponsor there who can at least be sort of casting their eyes forward to see if they are going okay and will intervene if they feel that they need to be provided with some support. So, it’s not that it’s a sort of old-fashioned, dominant, top-down model; it’s more a servant leadership approach, where the sponsor is present but doesn’t have their own gravitational pull, if you like. They can shine a light, but they’re not generating any heat, so they provide the guidance to the team. It works well because we trust everyone to deliver, and it’s a core Telstra value around trust, and we do trust that people do work around the correct priorities and deliver to a high standard. But having a sponsor present at all times at least is giving us validation that that trust is being verified.

STEVE HENDERSHOT

How much rewiring has it taken to sort of make that the cultural default?

PETER MOUTSATSOS

A lot. It has taken a lot of rewiring. It required an organizational restructure, quite a dramatic organizational restructure to implement that. And the number one thing we did was project sponsors prior to our transformation were large leaders of fixed teams. Sponsors now have no team members reporting to them outside of the project. So, when the project stands down, the sponsor stands down, and the sponsor has no one working for them. And it’s quite a dramatic change. It’s actually been a very difficult adjustment for our executives to deal with.

STEVE HENDERSHOT

Another aspect here, and this goes to your own background, relates to industry-specific expertise. You jumped industries a few years ago rather dramatically from mining to telecom. How do you think about the value of domain expertise in 2020?

PETER MOUTSATSOS

I believe the better project managers in the industry have some type of domain knowledge. I do also believe that some domain knowledge and some technical knowledge is very transferable across industries. I mean, as you correctly pointed out, I’m a very good example of someone who has jumped five industries but have been able to still perform project management in all of those cases. I do believe, however, that you don’t want to become too domain embedded, because then I think you run the risk of becoming a technical specialist first and a project manager second. And I think there has to be a case in everyone’s career to ask themselves, “Am I a project manager first, supported by my domain, or am I a domain expert who happens to do project management?” And there’s no right or wrong; both are completely fine. I think it’s a career choice that people have to make at some point.

STEVE HENDERSHOT

How do you think about that from a team composition perspective? I imagine you don’t hire 20 people from mining and have them completely lead your 5G effort. Right?

PETER MOUTSATSOS

Correct.

STEVE HENDERSHOT

So, you want some balance. How do you approach that?

PETER MOUTSATSOS

That’s a good question. I think you have to go to the competency. You have to go down to what are the sort of values that you’re looking for in terms of how people will work together, what are the guiding principles about how we will be successful, and how we will deliver and execute. Then I think competency comes on top of that, which is depending on the complexity and the achievability of the initiative, you know, what level of competency is required? Are we looking for someone to be the world leader in UX CX, or, you know, can we get away with having someone who at least has a general understanding of it? And so it depends on the importance of the project. It depends on how important those people can work together in a team construct. So I would still value behaviors and principles over competency as a priority, but I would still make competency fit for purpose, depending on the complexity.

STEVE HENDERSHOT

So, looking forward to the future of project teams, which of the trends that you’ve seen take shape over the last few years do you see accelerating, becoming a new normal, but more or less staying fixed in place? What do you see coming in team composition?

PETER MOUTSATSOS

I’ve struggled, I think, with the concept of thinking about the future of project teams because I see so many different variants emerging about how teams are successful these days. For example, with more agile at scale, we’re seeing a return to face-to-face teams and the need to be co-located and performing the tasks, you know, in the same space so that we can share progress and information better together, which runs counter to also findings that suggest we’re going to be moving to a more virtual space where the global virtual team will become the norm. So, I guess in my opinion there’s no right answer. I think it’s what is right for your particular project challenge and what is also most appropriate for the cultural composition of the team. You may not be able to avoid a globally diverse and virtual team if, you know, all of your resources are spread across the world, so you will have to make do with executing in a virtual environment in that case. Equally, if you’re lucky enough to be in the same city, then maybe co-locating should be encouraged so that there is a better experience by all involved.

In terms of the functions, I do believe that the construct of a project team will persist into the future. I don’t think projects are going anywhere. If anything, I see more activity being executed as projects rather than not. It might just mean that projects become perpetual in that you may have a persistent team of people working constantly through a series of iterative projects. They just continue on and on. That will bring its own challenges and its own opportunities in terms of how you compose and keep the team energized and engaged throughout that.

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STEVE HENDERSHOT

I like Peter’s notion of a perpetual project team that just rolls from project to project like the corporate equivalent of a circus troupe from a century ago, bringing its magical blend of empathy, customer-centricity, domain expertise and project know-how wherever it goes. We don’t know exactly what that might look like, of course, and we’ll also acknowledge that the right approach to running project teams, just like the right formula for team composition, is going to vary by a thousand shades based on all the different cultural and organizational contexts.

But that’s part of the fun, right? This is a golden age of experimentation, not only in terms of the work that we do, but also in the way that we organize ourselves to do it.

NARRATOR

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