The Fifth Essential: Team

In the first four keys we have established our business objectives, engaged our stakeholders, agreed a scope, and planned a delivery. Now the focus of the project manager should turn to enabling the team to deliver.

It is really important to understand that it is the team that delivers, not the project manager. From this it follows that the project manager works for the team and not vice-versa. True leadership is about vision and purpose – and enabling the team to succeed.

So who is the “team”? Whereas when defining stakeholders it is good to take a very wide view (everyone impacted), I prefer to be more focussed when it comes to the team. The team is the set of resources that are directly under the control of the project manager.

Often, the team members are not actually line reports of the PM. This gives rise to potential conflict between project manager and line manager, but the ideal situation is where the team member is effectively functionally assigned to the project manager for the duration of the project.

It is not unusual for staff to work on multiple projects in parallel. I suggest that a team member is someone who spends most of his working time (i.e. greater than 50%) on the project. Anything less, and that person is an internal supplier, not a team member.

The makeup of the team is often dynamic – for example it may have more designers early on, and more testers later on – but at any point in time the PM should be able to state unambiguously the current team membership.

Now we know who the team are, somehow we would like them to become “high-performing”. What does that feel like? When I’m part of a high-performing team, I experience:

  • a sense of purpose – of shared vision
  • absolute determination to deliver, no matter what it takes
  • willingness to step beyond the call-of-duty

I also feel excitement, enjoyment, and sometimes euphoric exhaustion!

How does the project manager gain this state of sustainable high-performance? There is no single answer, but here are few ideas that I have personally seen succeed:

1. Leadership and Vision

The project manager should be the second-best advocate of the project – the first being the project owner. The PM needs to be absolutely bought-in to the business objective, and to be able to articulate it with enthusiasm at every possible opportunity.

2. Clearing Impediments

I’m deliberately using SCRUM terminology here – clearing impediments is the first responsibility of the ScrumMaster. And it is also applies to project management of any kind of project. The PM needs to be sensitive to anything that stands in the team’s way, and clear the obstacle. Is there an awkward process that needs to be side-stepped? Is there a budget deadlock that needs to be resolved? Does the team have a problem with desk space? No matter what the impediment, it needs to be tackled. And if it really can’t be fixed, then the PM needs to help the team accept the constraint and agree a coping strategy.

One of the biggest impediments in a demanding project is cynicism. Cynicism diverts energy, and destroy the team’s performance. Project managers can counter this with enthusiasm and sense-of-purpose. But sometimes decisive action is needed to remove a “bad apple”.

3. Self-Determination

Teams, sub-teams, and individuals should be encouraged to think through the challenges and devise their own solutions. Trust the team to come up with the best solutions for themselves. Not only will it (probably) be the best answer, but they will most certainly be fully committed to it.

Occasionally the project manager may know better – but not very often. And even when this is the case, you are likely to have more success with a sub-optimal approach that the team supports than a “perfect” solution that isn’t supported.

This is, of course, a coaching style of leadership.

4. Push and Challenge

It is amazing how hard people are prepared to work, if they are motivated! Don’t be afraid to set demanding targets. You are not being kind to a team by giving them an easy ride; most of us prefer to work hard than to be bored. Some people actually thrive on working long hours – but we’re not all the same in this area – so be sensitive (and also take account of health and legal constraints).

5. Celebrate Success!

Always remember that when the PM delivers an outstanding result, it is actually the team that deserves the credit, not (just) the PM. Be appreciative of good performance, recognise and reward it to the extent that you can, and always try to find some beer money for an occasional team event.

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About Russell Whitworth (Q2 Associates Ltd)

In pursuit of PM Excellence
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