IT Project Management 101: How to Select the Right Team and Make Them Productive
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Let's talk about how to go about selecting the right project team and how to get them to accomplish their goals.
People with the Right Skills
The first layer of screening people for a project should be based on their professional skills like .NET, ITIL® standards, networking etc.
While you pick people for their technical talents, you don't necessarily need the ones with the highest capability but rather the ones just right for the job. Let me illustrate how you can go about doing this. Map each role based on the activities they need to perform as L1, L2 and L3 and so on – where a L3 activity is far more complex than L2, and L2 than L1. Identify the level of activities that you need in the project and pick the people accordingly. For example, if you need basic .net coding to be done in the project, tag it as a L1 activity, and pick a person who has a couple of years of .net coding experience and not somebody who has years of expertise in it.
You don't want to stagnate people with higher skills in projects that won't utilize them. Project teams will get frustrated and stop delivering if you don't take care of these details.
No project runs on the ability of technical competencies alone. Communication plays a major role as well. Imagine a room full of highly capable individuals who are working on different elements of a product, but are unable to talk to each other about the integration requirements, clarify on conflicts and understand functional closure. This project will not succeed.
There needs to be an extra emphasis on identifying people who can communicate A as A and B as B. Remember the popular cartoon depicting how the communication transcends from requirements to delivery? You can see it below if you haven't already.
We don't want miscommunication to be the root cause for project failures, so pick the right people. I have personally experienced that good storytellers make wonderful communicators. So, during the interview process, I would ask them to tell me what was the last holiday they had been on and what had he/she experienced.
Think about Team Management
Costs are one of the major constraints in projects, and I have often seen projects cut corners to make ends meet. One such shortcut is creating a lack of a hierarchy below the project manager. All the team members report directly to the project manager. This is in exchange for a traditional team leader, as this role comes at a cost. Team members reporting directly to the project manager is somewhat heralded as a positive change by the IT community these days, and is referred to as flat hierarchy.
A flat hierarchy works if the team size is small, say under 10. Anything over 10 team members becomes chaotic in this set up.
I do not subscribe to a flat hierarchy. Here are my reasons: A project must be monitored on a regular basis, say as frequently as once a day. A project manager generally will not have the bandwidth to keep track of day-to-day activities. He is tasked with communicating with stakeholders, holding customer meetings, and looking at financials and human resource angles. How can he effectively do all this along with daily tracking?
There needs to be an ample number of team leaders to ensure that daily tracking is in place. Apart from this, the team leaders can address conflicts, issues and support the project manager in a number of areas, such as budgeting, reporting and forecasting. So, for the right project team that we are aiming for, ideally I would put one team leader in charge of no more than 10 project members.
In fact, having a team leader on board kills two birds with one stone. Productivity of the team is bound to increase as the team leader will have better visibility over the team. Thereby, if any conflicts arise or a process shortfall is identified, he/she can take necessary action before it is too late.
When it comes to people management, there are a few other aspects that a project manager needs to look at, to achieve maximum productivity:
- Collocation - Yes, I agree with Thomas Friedman that the world is flat, and the distance between the ends of Earth shortens by the hour. Yet, I prefer to collocate my teams to achieve maximum productivity. When you put your project team under a single roof, team bonding is the greatest benefactor. This will in turn improve the communication between team members and reduce friction. The project team has a greater chance of producing more and project success is more possible. Collocate if you can. I understand that cost factors might drive certain activities to other countries, but, if there is even the slightest chance that you can put your team members together, do it.
- Team Building Activities - This is yet another buzzword in the IT industry and is a valuable contributor to project successes around the globe. There are professional organizations that conduct team building activities, which you can opt for if you have the budget. Otherwise, there are always alternatives like going to a movie or a bowling night. A creative project manager can always find ways to bring the team together and get them to network.
- Rewards and Recognitions - If you want your team to perform over and above their ability, make it known to the team that you are watching over them and awarding those who shine. Although the rewards could be trivial in terms of financial compensation, the boost it can provide, both emotionally and competitively, will positively impact the project.
Remember that the project team is put together on a whim to meet the objectives of a project. So, it is paramount that you get the right set of people and keep the ball rolling by building the project team right from the beginning.