Regardless of what project management methodology you’re using, organizing work within a dedicated project team requires special attention and effort. Distributing roles and assigning responsibilities is the first step towards the project goals.
Bringing the right people on board is another thing to handle before kicking off a new project. For management and non-management positions, both professional abilities and soft skills matter. This is what needs to be taken into account by HRs and hiring managers when building a functional team.
Clear understanding of roles, ability to work in a team, and professionalism of team members is what drives a project team to success. Below, we’ll discuss how to organize an efficient team and establish clear roles and responsibilities within it.
Key Project Roles
“Everything is individual” seems to be the mantra of project management: roles, responsibilities, approaches and practices significantly depend on the particular project, its goals, environment, and requirements. While this is true, there are several typical roles that work for literally any project team.
Sponsor is the most senior member of a project team who has crucial responsibilities and is accountable for the project performance. Sponsor is the key person in communication of the team with the company’s management and key stakeholders. This is also the person who provides necessary resources for project performance and approves or rejects the outcome.
In some teams, there can be more than one sponsor, or they can act as a sponsoring group. Sometimes, sponsors appoint a senior responsible owner who translates the vision and the strategy to the team’s plans and assignments.
Key responsibilities of a sponsor:
- Defining project’s goals and expected outcome;
- Providing necessary resources;
- Managing communication between project team and key stakeholders;
- Translating company’s strategy and vision to the team;
- Approving or rejecting the outcome.
Some project teams have a project steering committee that consists of the sponsor and key stakeholders. It represents the interests of parties involved in project implementation, provides leadership in the work process, and resolves issues escalated by project managers and team leads.
Project manager is the team member who defines the framework and course of the project, sets estimates and milestones, defines required resources, and manages project activities. While the responsibilities of a project manager can include a wide range of activities that depend on specific project. In general, the key activities are:
- Defining project milestones and estimating upcoming work scope;
- Identify resources necessary for successful project implementation;
- Scheduling project activities;
- Coordinating team members’ work;
- Solving problems and issues that appear in the course of the project implementation;
- Managing change;
- Monitoring work progress and results.
In smaller projects, this role is merged with the project manager’s one. In larger ones, team lead (in the widely used Scrum methodology also called Scrum Master) takes on team management responsibilities that mostly require soft skills:
- Initiating work processes;
- Identifying and handling possible issues in work and team environment;
- Providing and receiving feedback;
- Coaching team members and maximizing their potential;
- Leading by example by performing their share of work.
Needless to say, this role is the heart of any project. By participating in project activities and performing their work assignments, regular team members contribute to the expected outcome of the project. Alongside with that, their project responsibilities include:
- Clearly understanding project goals and contributing to their achievements;
- Following project plan and meeting deadlines;
- Escalating issues related to their responsibilities to the team lead.
How to build a functional project team?
Historically, it’s been considered that only professional skills matter when it comes to creating an efficient project team. However, recent trend is taking soft skills into account. This ensures better communication, teamwork, and outcome of the project work.
Below, we’ve listed the key parameters to pay attention to when hiring and building a project team.
Skills and experience
Seems to be obvious, but this is the most important criteria for most positions. Relevant previous experience and related skills are critical for a smooth start of a project work.
Willingness to learn new skills
Some hiring expert advice that it might be useful to look beyond the skills needed for the role. Employees need to be willing to get out of their comfort zone to help the team – and learn something new.
Personal traits are often a reason why a team of professionals turns out to be dysfunctional. They are nearly as important as professional skills, experience and expertise – if you won’t be able to get along with a person in everyday life, it’s hard to expect that healthy collaboration with them is possible.
Unwillingness to help, arrogance and other types of toxic behavior impair teamwork too often to overlook this – so it’s better to prevent this on the first steps of building a project team. And, while this is one of the most subjective criteria for hiring, eventually this helps build a healthy work environment and trust on the team.
It’s a matter of fact that professional cultures are very different and depend on industry, region and many other factors. Making sure all your employees fit in your office culture not only simplifies their onboarding process, but also prevents work environment issues in the future.
How to efficiently manage a project team
Creating an efficient team is essential but obviously not enough: bringing it to success requires a wise management approach. From the perspective and experience of many project managers, in order to get the best from your team you must:
Be a decisive leader.
If you are the project leader, then be a decisive leader. Make decisions on the basis of the information you have at the time, and make sure to involve your team. Team members, being a part of that process and seeing you as a leader who is focused on the success of the project, will be motivated to focus on their work, identify and point out possible issues, suggest improvements, and perform better.
Involve everyone in planning processes.
When planning strategy or planning the early phases of a tech project, involve the entire team, not just the top techs on the team. Make sure you receive each team member’s feedback on the process and their particular part of work: they might help you identify weak points and suggest great process optimization ideas that will help you plan better.
Look for contributions and accountability from everyone involved.
Don't just go to the stars. If you are a project leader, get productivity from everyone. Assign tough tasks to all project team members and expect weekly accountability from each team member for their respective tasks. One of the best practices for monitoring team members input into the project is to use some project management software.
Acquire team members who can work well and play well with others.
Teamwork and communication is key to productivity of the team. That’s why just finding great professionals for your team is not enough: it’s not uncommon that the best ones come with big egos. Arrogance and unwillingness to communicate are extremely detrimental for productivity of an otherwise great team – and for overall results too. It's not always easy to identify that during hiring processes or team selection processes, so be careful to ask tough questions and not just take the best talent with blinders on.
Building a highly productive project team may seem to be challenging. How to identify who is the right person for the team? How to distribute the roles and make sure everyone understands their part? What if a team of great specialists turns out to be totally dysfunctional?
While some part of the knowledge that answers these questions is quite intuitive, there are rules and recommendations to follow that help create an efficient project team. Seek advice from your colleagues, receive feedback from your employees, and don’t forget about learning from failure if it occurs. Project management is a field where individual approaches and custom solutions bring success, so use your experience to find the right approach for the team you manage.
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