In my career as both a practicing project manager and as a leader of project managers, I see a lot of patterns in how project managers develop. One common thread is that we spend a lot of time focusing on the technical practice of project management, and less on the leadership skills necessary to successfully complete projects.
As project managers, we spend a lot of time studying our scope statements, our work breakdown structures, and our schedules. We develop our project plans and project measurement programs, and we use these metrics to determine the “health” of our projects. But is this enough? Do you really have a team, or just an assembled group of people with competing agendas? Have can you develop your team? How well do you even know your team?
As project managers we identify skills that we need for a project, and assemble project teams to complete planned tasks. Then off we go to project execution, tracking completion of tasks and publishing performance metrics. Things go smoothly until something goes wrong, and then we start our project assessment. I maintain that we can head off a lot of potential problems if we conduct an analysis of our team – as a team – up front before the project execution starts. This assessment will allow us to address potential issues before project execution begins.
What does a team assessment look like? Here are some questions to start with.
- What skills and experiences does each team member bring to the project? (Don’t just focus on their assignment, but on who they are professionally, and who they have relationships with in the organization.)
- Does each team member and stakeholder fully understand their role on the project and what work products are expected from them? What is their level of confidence that they can succeed?
- Does each team member and stakeholder have the skills and capacity to complete the work assigned to them? Do any team members have competing assignments or priorities that may interfere with performance?
- Does each team member and stakeholder understand, support, and willingly commit to the project plan? Are they enthusiastic about the project?
- Does each team member and stakeholder understand how their responsibilities affect the project success and the other project team members?
- Does each team member have confidence in the team as assembled?
- What are the specific risks (per person) that would affect each team member’s ability to succeed?
- What support (i.e. training, tools, and approaches) will each team member need to succeed?
With this information you can look at your team as an entity, its strengths and weaknesses, risks and opportunities. You will also have confirmed with each team member an understanding of what is expected, how they will accomplish their tasks, and the level of confidence each team member has in the plan and the team’s ability to accomplish goals.
While this sounds like a lot of extra work, it isn’t. It’s talking to your team members and stakeholders in a substantive way about the project and their participation in it. It’s about establishing an understanding with each team member, and about developing the fundamental knowledge necessary to successfully lead them as a team. This isn’t about letting team members off-the-hook for their performance, but about confirming that everyone understands what needs to be done, and is prepared to work together to accomplish the goal. This information is critical to developing a strong, high-performing project team, and to providing the leadership needed to bring the project to successful completion.