Taking the Project Team where It Wants to Go

Taking the Project Team where It Wants to Go


While were putting together our new Program Management Professional (PgMP)® exam preparation course, we noticed that the Project Management Institute put a lot of emphasis on finding out what people are interested in and assigning them work that would like to do. Sadly, it is often the case that the program or project you are managing does not offer the sorts of opportunities that will inspire the majority of your team members.

So how do you gain the motivational benefits of assigning interesting work to your team when that sort of work just is not in the scope of the project? This is an important question because it is widely agreed in the literature that the work itself is the primary motivator. Better pay and working conditions are what Herzberg termed “hygiene factors” – if they are not adequate, they will cause unrest among the team, but increasing them beyond contentment levels will not result in improved motivation or performance. In fact, people will work for less money, if the work they are doing is interesting and engaging.

So carefully assigning work among the team can have significant benefits. Someone who is keen to tackle their assignments will require less monitoring and controlling during the project. The Project Manager just has to make sure the person is always going in the right direction. That is a lot more preferable to pushing someone every step along the way.

But back to the original question: what do you do when there is little or no interesting work? Not all projects involve the development of cutting edge technology or have life-changing consequences. However, all projects do offer team members the chance to develop and refine those less regarded skills that are needed to function effectively in a team.

For a Project Manager, it is important to include a “getting to know you” step in the Acquire Resources process (remember Project Resource Management from your PMP® exam days?). Take the time to speak to potential team members. Where are they in their careers and where do they see themselves going? A big mistake Project Managers (and recruiters in general) make is assigning over-qualified people to routine work.  If the best engineers are available, there is a tendency to grab them. But this should be avoided – if you do not have the work for them, they will not enjoy their time on the team and may prove disappointing in their contributions.

If the project does not have work packages (Are you preparing for the PMP® exam? What is a work package?) that will stretch the technical skills of a potential team member, be up front about it. However, do not meekly declare the project a benefits-free zone. Any project is an opportunity for someone to learn about project management and how to function effectively on a team.

While Project Managers make it their business to learn the skills necessary to manage projects – going off doing PMP® exam preparation courses, for instance – very few hands-on technical workers learn about how to be effectively managed. As a Project Manager, you probably do not know the technical details of the work as well as the people tasked with doing it. So you will depend on their resource and duration estimates (PMP® students: what knowledge area are we in here?). You will also depend on their reporting to record status. In some cases, you will need their input into the decision-making process.

Sadly, these vital skills are often neglected and really good technical people prove extremely frustrating to work with because they cannot estimate effectively, cannot report progress in a useful manner and cannot provide the evidence needed on which to base a decision. As the Project Manager, you can sell these as vital skills and your project as an ideal conduit to develop them. In many cases, an effective team player is a lot more useful than an inspired loner.

When you have picked the team, take the time during your monitoring and controlling to study your team members. There is a tendency in some companies to put the onus on the individuals concerned to develop their own careers. However, in several disciplines – computer programming is one that comes to mind – team members tend to be introverted. They do not look beyond the algorithm they are currently wrestling with. You need to assess these people’s strengths and weaknesses and offer your thoughts at the end of the project.

This is not the same as contributing to the person’s annual appraisal. This constitutes feedback to the individual – a sort of personal post-mortem as it were. Highlight the person’s strengths and gently point out the areas needing development. However, also listen carefully – their feedback to you can be vital. But whatever their opinion of you, this session may have started them thinking about their own future and where they would like to go. Who knows, you might have inspired someone to become a Project Manager some day!

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