Developing the Project Team

20 November, 2014

For experienced Project Managers, reading the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) is a bit like reading a fairy tale.  There is something idyllic about the way everything just happens in such an orderly fashion. For Project Managers studying for the Project Management Professional (PMP)® exam, three processes in particular sound lovely in the PMBOK® Guide but are often the cause of sleepless nights for unlucky Project Managers.

I am referring to the Project Human Resource Management processes of acquire, develop and manage the project team. The first problem we have with these is that they are specified in the “Executing” process group, which seems strange, considering that one of the recommended team building practices is to get the project team involved in the planning process. However, this provides an important lesson for those seeking professional project management certification – process groups are not project phases. The reason that the project team processes are in “Executing” is because this is work the Project Manager must do. It does not mean that the team is acquired, developed and managed during the executing phase of the project.

According to the PMBOK® Guide, acquiring the team involves negotiating with functional managers or hiring new staff. You are even given the option of using a virtual team. Anyone who has been promoting through the ranks or hired in as a Project Manager will appreciate that you are often given a team, usually comprising people that no other Project Manager wants. Getting a project over the line with a poor team is probably more difficult than wrestling with any of the triple constraints.

But you should not despair if you find yourself in this situation. Sub-standard individuals can gel together into an impressive team, compensating for each other’s weaknesses. This is all part of the develop project team process and this is one process that should not be ignored, whether you are studying for the PMP® exam or managing real-life projects. This work starts with the first team meeting and sinks or swims depending on the tone set there.

This could be the most boring, inconsequential project ever undertaken. But, you, as the Project Manager, need to present this as exciting, career enhancing and demanding. Set the bar high – tell the team that this is going to stretch them to the limit. This enthusiasm for the project could be greeted with cynicism – poor performers usually know who they are. This is where you convey your belief in the team – this group is going to surprise everyone. By the end of this project, everyone in the company is going to want to part of this team.

Getting the team involved in the project planning is recommended in the PMBOK® Guide. The first step to involvement should be the setting out of project ground-rules. In other words, the project team needs to define the processes it will follow during the project. The Project Management Institute is always telling us how important communications is in project management, so begin by defining how the team will interact with key stakeholders. Begin with the team itself. Co-location is a great way of establishing team identity. It also is very practical in terms of encouraging interaction among the group. Next you need to define how you interact with the team. How do they feel about status meetings? Do they like presentations on other areas of the project? How about career development opportunities – can training be integrated in with the project work?  How about customer contact? Agile methods are based on customer feedback and presenting interim results to a customer for feedback can be incredibly motivating, as a mutual understanding is built up between the customer and the team.

Define the objectives of the team. What should this group have achieved by the end of the project? This is an opportunity to address the elephant in the room – if everyone thinks that these people are sub-standard then this project is going to be the mechanism to prove them wrong. It is important that the Project Manager goes into this meeting with some objectives in mind – brainstorming sessions often need an initial idea to get the ball rolling. If your team have been constantly told they are useless, it is unlikely that they will be too keen to contribute to this. However, if you do propose an objective, put it up to the team: How are we going to achieve this?

Of course, setting objectives is no good without defining the meaning of success. Set out the Critical Success Factors for the project and set ambitious targets for them. Try to ensure that team members work together throughout the project. For instance, Person A designs part of the system, Person B implements it and then Person A tests the implementation. This creates a vested interest in what other team members are doing. It also promotes interaction.

Set down what happens when problems arise. How will disputes be resolved? The Project Manager’s goal here is to get the team to address its own problems. If there is a disagreement over a course of action, make sure that you are given clearly thought out alternatives; do not create a dependency culture by jumping in and offering solutions for the team.

Of course, all this might not work. The team might be so demoralized that no amount of positive energy will stir their enthusiasm. The Project Manager should not lose heart though. If the team sees you walking the walk, they will start to take notice. When they see what was laid down in the ground rules actually happening, they will begin to believe that the project’s objectives are possible and that they genuinely might become a force to be reckoned with.

Velopi’s PMP® exam preparation courses cover Project Human Resource Management and all the knowledge areas you need to know to obtain PMP® certification. Please visit our training page or contact us directly for more details.

By Velopi Seamus Collins

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