Friday, October 21, 2011

Beginners Guide To Project Management
Part 9, Getting a Project Team

You’ll hear this on several different subjects, but one of the most important things that you have to manage in your project is your project team. (This is no light statement, just consider Peter Drucker’s quote published here over a year ago.) But this is so in any project, even in a construction project where you probably won’t remember who actually built what - even if it was your own house. And this why soft skills play such a key role in Project Management. So the question is: what do you do with your team? How do you start one? How do you keep them productive? How do you know what they’re doing? How do you keep them happy?

Previously on the “Beginners Guide to Project Management”
The starting point
Let’s start from the beginning. You have a Gantt Chart for your project already. Look at it now and if you haven’t done it already think about the skills required for each task there. Do you need a web designer? And a carpenter? Or maybe a database architect? List all the skills necessary. In case you have some clear requirement that forces you to it, add the number of people you need for the skill (for example, you may know for a fact at this time that the project will take place in 2 different geographic locations and you may need a carpenter in each location). But in general, just focus on the skills.

Where to get the team
There’s a wide variety of possible scenarios that you can come across. You can have some people assigned to your project for some reason or another. Or you may choose from people available in your organization. Or you may need to recruit new people to your organization that will work in your project. Or you can outsource some of the work. Or all the work. And all of this can be done with a team brought together into just one place. Or you can use virtual teams (meaning that team members are scattered over different geographical locations).
The process is usually very straight forward: if you have the necessary skills inside your organization, you’ll use them as long as people don’t have too much in their hands. If not, you need to hire outside the organization. But you can run into all sorts of problems here, in particular if you have a weak matrix organization. In this case you have to negotiate with the functional managers to get their best resources and offer him back... well... very little really. Maybe some recognition at the end of the project.
One other thing that may come out of this effort is a more concrete idea about how many people for each needed skill will you have in your team. Suppose there are no carpenters in your organization and you’ll have to get one. You’ll probably have just one carpenter in your team because of the costs associated (or not, if a carpenter is needed in 2 different locations like the previous example).
Getting a team is also a progressive work. You’ll have to balance it with costs and time and all the other dimensions that play a role in project planning (and you may have noticed that I haven’t discussed costs with you; yet). You’ll be sure to revisit this article and keep it fine tuned all the project long. You know that people get sick occasionally. What if someone you need in you project some time in the future gets sick when you need her/him? Or leaves the organization? Right, you’ll revisit this article.

Responsibility Assignment Matrix
After knowing who will be part of the project team, you can and should explicit the roles and make them public within the project team. I find a Responsibility Assignment Matrix (RAM) very useful for these, including to easily integrate team members that arrive late in the project as it allows them to check who’s who easily.
I don’t think you’ll find the RAM I use the most very useful (I use it because of the Portuguese culture). If this is the first time you’re reading about RAM’s, you should probably be safe using a RACI one, where R stands for responsible, A for accountable, C for Consult and I for Inform. The idea is to list to some extend the activities in the project in a column like in the chart below. The detail will vary from project to project, but I either go for the WBS structure or the activities themselves (I don’t think I ever used another level of detail). Then for each team member clearly identified you put the role (responsible, accountable, consult or inform) to each activity or WBS entry.

Now you may think this is all too obvious and maybe a waste of time. But you’ll be surprised how many people forget about obvious stuff when working in a project and this is the kind of thing I don’t want team members to forget: their role.

Update Gantt Chart
We will come back to the Gantt Chart again, but it may be a good time to update the Gantt Chart not only with the names of the team members but also adjusting tasks durations. The durations may be adjusted for several reasons: you were thinking of an experienced carpenter but all you could find was someone with much less experience or may have now 4 carpenters planned instead of 2 and so the durations of the tasks should be less. In the end, this will give you the staffing needs for your project.
As you may have noticed we still didn’t cover the budget for the project, so if you feel the budget might be a problem, please skip this step and get some confidence on the budget’s approval first.

What about all the rest?
Remember the questions at the beginning? How do you keep your team productive, how do you know what they’re doing and how do you keep them happy? This is the topic of many Project Management books so don’t expected to know it all from a couple of paragraphs about it on this article, OK? But even on small projects with small teams there things to keep in mind.
Maybe unexpectedly for you, money isn’t a key motivator for non-manual jobs. For these, the 2 main, general motivators are the sense of belonging and the feeling of progress. Probably the easiest way to have a team motivated is making sure progress is public at the team level. That’s why a burn down chart in a board is such a key element in Scrum: everyone is looking at the team’s progress, updated daily, and visible to all in the team.
You will have to manage every stakeholders’ expectations, in particular those of your team members: are they construction workers’ that are building just another building or are they PhDs working on a break through vaccine? Can you help them grow as professionals? What do they expect to be doing next year? The scenarios are endless but one thing is for sure: you have to manage their expectations.
And these should be planned. I’m sorry I can’t give you a tool to help you carrying out this planning but if you have motivations and expectations on your mind all the time you’ll know how to do it.

Without a team you have no project. So pay close attention to what you do with it. Get the team, either inside your organization or not, and play fair with them all the time. Start with a Responsibility Assignment Matrix to make sure everything related to their role is crystal clear. And always keep motivations and expectations in your mind. And please remember your team looks to you, you're their leader.

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