Structuring the Project Team

How to structure the project team has become more of an issue as projects become more high-tech. Before the advent of the IT age, many project team members had only to be skilled in their specialty. Generally, it was left to the team leaders or the project managers to provide any leadership or mentoring to the rest of the team. However, as projects become larger and more complex, the more members of a project team having highly developed interpersonal and emotional skills, the more successful the project. People who possess these skills are mentors and collaborators, not competitors. Hence, a team with members who possess these skills is more close knit, efficient, and effective. Fortunately, these kinds of skills also make different types of teams function more effectively.

Most project managers are familiar with the three basic types of organizational structures: the functional or traditional, the project, and the matrix organizational structures. Of course, there are many variations of these structures as organizations try to capitalize on their different advantages while mitigating their disadvantages. For example, many organizations have come to view the matrix as the most preferable structure. However, some organizations, because of their mission or function, simply cannot survive without an overarching traditional structure. The most notable example of the latter is the Department of Defense (DOD). Because of its mission, a strong traditional structure is absolutely crucial. Yet, because they recognize the benefits of a matrix organization, many organizational entities within the DOD have adopted cross-functional teams to provide the functionality of a matrix organization. Cross-functional teams are teams that are made up of members from different functional units who are brought together to perform a specific project. Although the team members report to a project manager to meet the project's goals, they each remain assigned to their original functional homes. This scheme provides the benefits of a matrix structure without transforming the entire organization.

Another type of organization that has emerged specifically as a result of the IT industry is the virtual team. A virtual team is, simply stated, a team of professionals who pursue shared objectives while based at distant sites. They rely heavily on electronic, i.e., virtual communication media. A virtual team can also be "global" in the literal sense, as well as in a cultural sense. The geographic and cultural diversity of virtual teams offer challenges to management, but even more challenges to the concept of mentoring or providing other EQ benefits to the team. Although virtual teams have become indispensable—more than 80 percent of companies use virtual teams—more than 50 percent of them fail to attain their objectives. Virtual team failures are most often due to breakdowns in members' working relationships, communication, and trust, which are barriers presented by long distances and cultural differences.

To ensure that management and the benefits of EQ are brought to the team, successful virtual companies take a 90/10 approach—90 percent people and 10 percent technology. This approach focuses on people and their needs rather than on the e-mails, teleconferencing, video conferencing, and media technology that supports them. In this way, the objectives for virtual team effectiveness, including the benefits of EQ, can be met. The objectives should strive for:

  • A strong team leader who is committed to team success, not merely his/her own success

  • Team members who are committed to team longevity, and to their own longevity with the team

  • All members that share a strongly felt, publicly avowed commitment to high team performance

  • Each member committing to adapt his or her behavior and style in order to support the team's success

  • A team that explicitly pays attention not only to task issues, but also to relationship issues

  • A leadership, their policies, and the firm culture supporting the team's success

Organizing and developing the virtual team with these objectives in mind, and a project manager who realizes the importance of periodic face-to-face individual and team meetings, will significantly improve not only virtual teams but on-site teams as well. It is especially important to remember that newly formed teams, particularly those tasked with difficult or complex assignments and who must come to consensus by exploring divergent perspectives, need a chance to get acquainted and build the intimacy and trust necessary to progress through the stages of team development.

Staffing the Project Team

Project team staffs can range in size from one person to several thousand people, but the staffing begins with the assignment of one person—the project manager.

In some business environments, notably the federal sector, the project manager is involved in the project from the time of proposal preparation through the end or hand-off of the project to a maintenance team. There are some significant benefits of this approach. A proposal to a federal sector customer is designed so that it constitutes, among other things, a management plan. So when a contract is awarded and the project manager moves from the role of proposal manager to the job of actually managing the project, she will start off with a completed project management plan. Also, by the time a contract is awarded, the project team staffing will have been determined and ready to begin work.

The majority of projects do not have this genesis in the private sector. In most cases, top management makes the decisions. Then, after the project is initiated, management names the project manager. The first task, and one of the most important tasks, of the project manager is selecting—and getting—the personnel needed to accomplish the job.

The project manager often encounters difficulty in getting the right people for the project. Often several projects are competing for the same talent at the same time. In addition, functional managers may be reluctant or even unwilling to make requested personnel available. Furthermore, if a transfer is required for someone to be part of the project team, the requested person may be unwilling to transfer. In this case it may be more cost-effective not to transfer the resource but rather set him up in a virtual office. With all these challenges, how then does one staff the project? The process of picking the required talent is simple enough; the difficulty, as we have seen, is in obtaining the talent.

Identifying the Project Team Members

The process for choosing team members should not be done by the project manager alone. Although at this stage of the project, she is virtually alone in the game, there are ways to identify exactly what skill sets and experience are needed to successfully complete the job.

First, the project manager has to do a high-level assessment of the project requirements. When doing this, it will become obvious what functional groups have to be involved in the task work, and it is likely the assessment will bring to mind similar projects that have already been accomplished within the organization. A survey of the lessons learned library should also provide some ideas about the numbers and types of personnel needed for the project.

Second, after determining generally what types of tasks are required for the project, the project manager can form what I call a core or initial project team. This initial group is not meant to be the working project team, although some of the group could evolve to that team. The initial group is comprised of other project managers, senior task leaders, and supervisory personnel—anyone with experience relevant to the project at hand. The purpose of assembling such a group is basically threefold:

  1. A group possessing this level and kind of experience is exactly what the project manager needs to completely define the project requirements

  2. Having defined the project requirements, the group can identify the skill sets that are needed.

  3. The group will know who in the organization possesses the skill sets and experience needed to assign against the tasks.

Third, knowing who you want for the project and getting that person is the next challenge. To be successful, the most critical skills for the project manager are highly refined negotiation skills with good communication skills a close second. This is because the project manager will, in most instances, be required to negotiate for the personnel he wants for the project. My advice to project managers is to always go to the functional manager and request by name the person you want for the project. You may not get this person because that individual may be otherwise committed. But when you request someone by name, that puts the functional manager on notice about the level of skill competency and experience you expect for the project team. So even if the specific individual is unavailable, the functional manager is more likely to provide a substitute who has equal or better qualifications. If you do not request people by name, the functional manager is likely to provide you with someone who is not working on a project and who also may or may not have the requisite skills and experience you need.

Once the project team members are identified and selected for the project team, the next task is to organize the project structure so that it complements the organization and provides the best structure to accomplish the project requirements.

Managing Information Technology Projects
Managing Information Technology Projects: Applying Project Management Strategies to Software, Hardware, and Integration Initiatives
ISBN: 0814408117
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2003
Pages: 129
Authors: James Taylor

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