Choosing a Project Team

Sep 03, 2010 1 Comment by

Those in the trenches know that quite often a Project Manager doesn’t get to choose the make-up of their team.  Sometimes the best a PM can do is influence who the Sponsors or Business Owners decide to put on the project team.

Who you end up with on the team can have a significant impact on your ability to win at the project game... Photo Courtesy of Univ of Missouri:

Why’s that so important? Team makeup can have a critical impact on everything from task execution to establishing team dynamics that will either energize or suck the life out of a project. Get it right and the project will hum along like a well-oiled machine.  Get it wrong and the whole thing could blow up in your face. Considering how important the selection process is – here’s a few quick rules I’ve used when helping my clients select a project team:

1. Start with the Non-Negotiables: Identify all the roles needed for the project, then identify which roles, skills, bandwidth and authority simply MUST be addressed with a specific person, talent, effort level or skill to avoid putting the entire project at risk of failure.  Avoid the temptation to place all roles in this category or you’ll water down the meaning of “critical” and be guilty of sandbagging. Ask the hard question “Is project failure assured if I have anything other than this person or this skill set?” Examples:

Oh No! I wish I had chosen project team members based on a list of critical Non-Negotiable skills! (Image by Lars Klove for The New York Times)

  • In a Lean/Agile software development setting, the must-have role of “Scrum Master” or “Agile Coach” could make or break the whole effort.
  • In an ERP implementation, the pivotal role may be “Package Solution Architect” or “Organizational Change Leader”.
  • From the business side, a must-have role could be “Process Owner with sign off authority for requirements and test results”
  • Subtle must-have criteria for a given role might include “person must be available 20hrs/week for the project”.

Talk about a serious supporting cast... The USA Basketball Dream Team crushed everyone at the 1992 Olympics. It would have been an upset had they won a game by less than 20 points. Photo by Theo Westenberger/Sports Illustrated

2. Describe the Supporting Cast: Go back to your role list and consider the ideal characteristics needed for each role. These are things you’d prefer that the team member brings to the job.  However, you may be able to build these skills as the project goes along. Gaps are especially likely in small or immature organizations that seldom do projects like yours.  Remember also that sometimes companies use projects to develop these capabilities in their own people. Examples of supporting skills might include:

  • “Should be familiar with SQL”
  • “3-5 yrs of SAP eRecruiting configuration experience”
  • “excellent technical writing and public speaking skills”  … and so on…

3. List beneficial characteristics you want in ALL team members. This is the easiest part.  Everyone wants their entire team to have:

  • great communication & listening skills
  • problem-solving and facilitation skills
  • demonstrated team work ethic, etc.

So go ahead and ask for these things… But be careful in two regards:

  1. These “soft skills” can be a sensitive area for some managers and employees… Consider that someone may interpret your request for an individual with “people skills” as implying some people lack them…
  2. Consider laying out ground rules for the demonstrated use of these skills early in the project – just to avoid mid-stream enforcement being seen as a reaction.

4. Reality Check + Some Good News: Sometimes finding people to cover your “must

We all want happy people... but it's easier to convince hard-working, highly-skilled people to get along than it is to back-fill the opposite gap!

have” list requires that you accept team members who are less skilled in the “supporting” and “soft skills” areas!  Also, be careful not to select team members just because they’re easy to get along with or they bring some “nice to have” skills – at the expense of leaving a gap in a “must have” skill or role.

One good thing I have found occurs when we openly discuss these three lists with our Sponsor(s) early in the planning process:  It often results in a recognition of their own people’s strengths and shortcomings – which, of course, is the start of addressing any gaps.

Questions for Chatter:

  1. Have you been a part of a “Dream Team”?  How did that come together and how well did it perform?
  2. Have you been on a project team that clearly lacked a given role or skill set – and discovered it too late in the process to avoid problems?

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Change Agent Skills, Change Execution, Change Leadership, Team Dynamics

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I help people and teams succeed with big changes... never a dull moment!

One Response to “Choosing a Project Team”

  1. theBigRocks Change Agent Tip #5: Celebrate Along the Way! says:

    […] Choosing a Project Team for Your Change (Characteristics to look for in team) […]

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