When you’re managing a project, To meet your project objectives, you need the right people on board—and they must have a clear understanding of their roles. Here’s a breakdown of who does what.
The sponsor champions the project at the highest level in the company and gets rid of organizational obstructions. She should have the clout to communicate effectively with the CEO and key stakeholders, provide necessary resources, and approve or reject outcomes. It’s also important that she have “skin in the game”—in other words, accountability for the project’s performance.
The project manager identifies the central problem to solve and determines, with input from the sponsor and stakeholders, how to tackle it: what the project’s objectives and scope will be and which activities will deliver the desired results. He then plans and schedules tasks, oversees day-to-day execution, and monitors progress until he evaluates performance, brings the project to a close, and captures the lessons learned. The project manager receives authority from the sponsor. In many respects, he’s like a traditional manager because he must:
- Provide a framework for the project’s activities
- Identify needed resources
- Negotiate with higher authorities
- Recruit effective participants
- Set milestones
- Coordinate activities
- Keep the vision clear and the work on track
- Make sure everyone on the team contributes and benefits
- Mediate conflicts
- Make sure project goals are delivered on time and on budget
Large projects may include a team leader, who reports directly to the project manager. In small projects, the project manager wears both hats. The team leader cannot act like the boss and still obtain the benefits of team-based work. Instead, he must adopt the following important roles:
- Initiator. Rather than tell people what to do, the leader
draws attention to actions that must be taken for team goals to be met.
- Model. He uses his own behavior to shape others’ performance—by
starting meetings on time, for example, and following through on between
meeting assignments. Leaders often rely heavily on this tactic, since they
typically cannot use promotions, compensation, or threats of dismissal to
influence team members.
- Negotiator. He gets what he needs from resource providers by
framing the project as mutually beneficial.
- Listener. He gathers from the environment signal of
impending trouble, employee discontent, and opportunities for gain.
- Coach. He finds ways to help team members maximize their
potential and achieve agreed-upon goals. Coaching opportunities are abundant
within teams because the skills members eventually need are often ones they
don’t already have.
- Working member. In addition to providing direction, the
leader must do a share of the work, particularly in areas where he has special
competence. Ideally, he should also take on one or two of the unpleasant or
unexciting jobs that no one else wants to do.
The heart of any project, and the true engine of its work, is its membership. That’s why bringing together the right people is extremely important.
Criteria for membership
Although the skills needed to accomplish the work should govern team selection, keep in mind that you’re unlikely to get all the know-how you need without providing some training. Consider the following areas of proficiency:
- Technical skills in a specific discipline, such as market
research, finance, or software programming
- Problem-solving skills enabling individuals to analyze
difficult situations or impasses and to craft solutions
- Interpersonal skills, particularly the ability to
collaborate effectively with others—a critical aspect of team-based work
- Organizational skills, including networking, communicating
well with other parts of the company, and navigating the political landscape,
all of which help the team get things done and avoid conflicts with operating
units and their personnel
When forming project teams, people tend to focus too narrowly on technical skills and overlook interpersonal and organizational skills, which are just as important. For instance, a brilliant programmer may thwart team progress if she is unwilling to collaborate. By contrast, an organizationally savvy person with average technical skills may be the team’s most valuable member, thanks to his ability to gather resources and enlist help from operating units.
Individuals who are strong on all four skill measures are few and far between. Make the most of the talent available, and take steps to neutralize weaknesses in your group. Look for people not just with valued skills but with the potential to learn new ones. Once you identify a candidate for membership, discuss her potential contribution with the sponsor. Consult her supervisor as well, since team membership absorbs time that would otherwise go toward regular assignments.
You may have to add new members and possibly bid thanks and good-bye to others over time, as tasks and needs change. One note of caution: Team members gradually develop effective patterns for working together, making decisions, and communicating. Cohesion is undermined when too many people join or exit the team.
Contributions and benefits
Free riders—team members who obtain the benefits of membership without doing their share—cannot be tolerated. However, not every member has to put in the same amount of time. For example, a senior manager who must direct much of his attention to other duties may still add value to the project by securing resources or by building support within the organization.
Just as each member must contribute to the team’s work, each should receive clear benefits: a learning experience that will pay career dividends, for instance, or a fatter paycheck or bonus. Otherwise, individuals will not participate at a high level—at least not for long. The benefits they derive from their regular jobs will absorb their attention and make your project a secondary priority.
The goals of the project team and those of its individual members must align with organizational objectives. For that reason, everyone’s efforts should be coordinated through the company’s rewards system. This kind of reinforcement begins at the top, with the sponsor. Since she is accountable for the team’s success, some part of her compensation should be linked to the team’s performance.
Moving down the line, the project manager and team members should likewise see their compensation affected by team outcomes. Such alignment gets everyone moving in the same direction.
The Project Steering Committee
Some projects have a steering committee, which consists of the sponsor and all key stakeholders. The committee’s role is to approve the charter, secure resources, and adjudicate all requests to change key project elements, such as deliverables, the schedule, and the budget.
A steering committee is a good idea when different partnering companies, units, or individuals have a strong stake in the project. Because it represents these various interests, it is well positioned to sort out complicated interfirm or interdepartmental project problems.
Likewise, it can be helpful if you anticipate many change requests. The downside to having a steering committee? It involves another level of oversight, and its meetings take up the time of some of the company’s most expensive employees. So don’t have a committee if you don’t need one.
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