Planning the Project Team - Project Management

One of your most important jobs as a project manager is building the project team. This is probably the most fun activity of all the project processes. But it doesn't end there; you also have to keep everyone working well together. Sometimes you get lucky, and you have a fabulous team that gels right from the beginning and works well together throughout the entire project. It's rare for this to happen without any intervention on your part, however, so don't think you're off the hook. Usually, great teams come about as a result of careful planning and consideration of skills, personalities, knowledge, and so forth. This chapter discusses finding and matching the skills of team members with project tasks.

There are several things to consider when thinking about what resources you need for your project. Organizational policies regarding job descriptions and the transfer of employees from one manager to another are one example. For instance, I work in a government agency that has strict, formal procedures for transferring employees among departments. Job descriptions are also rigid and formal without much room for flexibility. In order to recruit resources from another area for one of my projects, I need to follow the organizational policies and make certain the job description adequately reflects the work of the project.

Recruitment policies are something else to keep in mind, especially when you know you're going to hire some or all of the resources for your project from outside the organization. Some organizations have policies regarding hiring practices that must be adhered to or you'll never get the resources on board that you need. Perhaps your organization uses one or two recruiting agencies to assist in the recruitment process.You'll want to get to know those folks so you can describe for them the skills and knowledge needed for the project. Some organizations have policies against recruiting family members, for instance, or even close friends. Others welcome your friends and family with open arms. Be aware of the recruitment policies and make certain that you're following through with all the necessary paperwork. There's nothing like assuming that your new team members will be raring to go on Monday morning, only to find out that the Human Resources department is still waiting for sign-off from you or your manager on some important document before they can make the offer!

Aside from the organizational and recruiting policies, you should consider several things when planning your project team, including:

  • Skills needed for each task or group of tasks
  • Ability to learn new things
  • Knowledge
  • Personality
  • Availability
  • Experience
  • Ability to work well with others

We'll explore each of the areas in depth in the next few sections. Before we jump into them, let's look at a department-wide skills assessment.

Skills Assessment

skills assessment

A document that details the skills each team member possesses and their experience level in those skills.

One of the first places you might want to start planning your team resources is with a skills assessment of your existing staff. If you know that you're going to be using people from your own department or from some of the other functional departments in your company, you should think about putting together a skills inventory like the one shown in Table below.

Table skills inventory

You can use this table as a template to develop your own skills inventory for your department members. This example is the actual form I use to record my team's skills and training. As you can see, the table lists employees' names, skills, degrees and certifications obtained, and experience in years at the listed skill. Once you gather this information initially, I recommend updating it on a yearly basis. Incorporate an update of this inventory as part of your annual performance review process. Ask team members to update you on training and additional experience in their areas of skill, and then plug it into your skills inventory. This way, you'll know at a glance who has what skills, and it will make assigning internal resources to tasks one step easier.

Now down to specifics—who do we need for what tasks?

Deciding Who's Needed

Imagine that you have been appointed the project manager over a new product launch for your company. You work for a software development company that specializes in the insurance industry. With the advent of wireless technology, the field representatives have started asking for a new program that allows them to access account information from their handhelds and laptops when they're at their client's site. You are heading up this project.

Since you've already defined the work of the project through the scope statement, WBS, and task identification processes, it's time to find the right people for the right tasks.

Determining Potential Team Members

We know from our skills inventory table that Jason has programming skills, Leah can help with the database development, and Aziel can do the technical writing we need for this project. All other potential team member names will be determined from our skills inventory as well (our example skills inventory shows only a few of the names available).

Now we'll use the RAM and the skills inventory of your existing staff from skills inventory Table to construct a chart like the one in the below table “skills definition by task “to help match skills to people. The first column shows the task or work package detail, followed by the type of skills needed to complete this task, the level of experience necessary, and finally the team member assigned to this task.

Table Skills definition by task

This is another template that you can use or modify to suit your needs. Remember for all these templates to add the General Information section at the top so that the name of the project, date, and so on are associated with the chart.

You may have more than one person who fits the qualifications for each task. If so, list their names in the Potential Team Member box. At this point, you don't know their availability, so if you're requesting Paul to work on the "Determine platform and languages" task and it turns out that Paul is not available, you know that Ross also meets the qualifications for this task. You don't have to backtrack and figure out who else is available since you've defined all the potential candidates here.

Don't forget to list all the resources you'll need for the project on your skills definition chart. The example in above Table focuses on one type of resource, but you'll need resources from other areas of the organization such as finance, procurement (to assist with vendors and contract work), training, marketing, human resources, customer service, and so on.

If you're working on a medium-to-large project, you may want to consider adding a column to this chart that indicates the number of resources you need for each task. A project of this size will likely require five or six programmers with similar skills but varying levels of experience.

You may find that you don't have enough resources in your own department to perform all the tasks. That means you'll have to discuss the availability of resources from other departments with the functional managers in those areas, or hire the resources, or contract the resources for the length of the project. After you've identified the potential team member names, it's time to meet with the functional managers and begin negotiating for the resources you need.

Negotiating for Team Members

Unless you work in a projectized environment and have control over all the resources in the company, which few of us do, you'll have to negotiate with other managers for resources. This can include negotiating for folks from the finance department to help determine and track the budget, for programmers, for customer service personnel, and more. The types of people you will negotiate for depend on the skills you identified in the previous section.

The next step is a visit to the functional managers. I'd send ahead a copy of the project charter for them to review before you meet with them. This gives the manager the opportunity to see what the project is all about, informs them that the executive management team is behind the project, and helps them to begin figuring out who from their department might be the best fit for the project.

Meeting with the Functional Managers

Depending on the culture of your organization, you may need to set up a face-to-face meeting with each manager, or you might be able to send e-mail detailing your request for resources. In either case, you'll want to have completed the WBS and identified the tasks that you need the resources to work on. The functional managers will want to know what types of work you have for their employees and how long you'll need them. That's one place where the activity duration estimates come in handy.

Tip:Come prepared to the meeting with the functional managers. They'll want to know what types of resources are needed, when, and for how long.

Buyer beware! Functional managers may see this as their opportunity to hand off a less-than-ideal employee. You're not interested in inheriting problems; you want folks who are willing and able to do the job. Ask the functional manager specific questions about the people they're recommending for the team, such as the following:

  • Does this person have experience at this activity?
  • Is their experience in keeping with the level of complexity of this project? Ask for some examples of their past work.
  • What kind of training and/or certifications does this employee have?
  • What are their personal interests?
  • What about personal characteristics?
  • Is this person interested in working on this project?
  • Has this person worked successfully with a variety of team members in the past without complaints from the other team members?
  • Are there any outstanding personnel actions against this employee you should know about?

The answers to these questions will help you determine whether the folks they're recommending are the right people for the job. While you aren't always going to get all the star employees, you surely don't want to be stuck with all those "retired on the job" types either.

Team members who are needed from the beginning of the project should be assigned to the project now. People with specific skills who are needed intermittently on the project, or maybe aren't needed until close to the end of the project, can be assigned as they are needed. However, at this point you don't yet have the project schedule completed , so you don't have specific dates and times when the special resources are needed. Tell the functional managers what you do know—tasks, estimated durations, types of resources, and an estimate of when you think you'll need the resources to be available. Let the functional managers know that you'll give them the specific details regarding the need for people with those unique skills when the project schedule is completed. In the meantime, the functional managers should keep those resources available within the estimated time frames you think you're going to need them.

Staffing Assignments

Now you're ready to assign names to the tasks. Like most everything we've done so far, you'll want to document this information. You could simply update Skills Definition by Task table to reflect the actual team member name in the last column or construct a new sheet with the tasks down the left and resource names listed next to them. In the case of those highly specialized folks with unknown availability, you can put their manager's name next to the task temporarily until you have an actual resource identified.

Experience and ability are only part of the picture when making staff assignments. Personal interests and characteristics should be considered when making team assignments as well. Unfortunately, some employees are picky about who they work with. If someone has made mortal enemies out of some of the team members on the last project they worked on, you probably don't want this person on your team. However, you may not have a choice, as this person is the only person available with the specific skills you need. If that's the case, try to manage their time and assignments so that their exposure to other team members is minimal.

Another factor to watch out for is team members who don't want to work on the project. They may be terrific at the job they came from but have little interest in your project; therefore, their performance will be less than stellar. As the project manager, it's up to you to motivate them and rally the team around the project's purpose.

Defining Training Needs

What happens when your resources don't quite measure up to the skills needed and you don't have the money to hire consultants? There are a couple of ways you can deal with this. Encourage the senior project team members to act as mentors to the junior members, allowing the junior members to learn and ask questions of the senior team members. Don't forget to account for additional time on the project activity estimates if this is how your project team is structured.

Outside training is another option, depending on the skill you need the team member to acquire. You'll have to weigh this option to determine whether the investment in training is worth the payoff. For example, if you're working on a small project of a short duration, it would probably make more sense to lengthen the project schedule to give an experienced team member the time to complete that task rather than training someone else to perform the task. In the case of our software project for the field reps' handheld PCs, suppose we have senior-level programmers with lots of experience writing programs for regular desktop PCs but no experience writing software for wireless devices. You could hire a consultant with expertise in this area to come in and work with your senior programmers to show them the ins and outs of wireless communication. Since the senior programmers are seasoned professionals, all they need is a little boost in this one area of expertise, so the benefits of hiring a consultant outweigh the costs.

Creating the Project Team Directory

project team directory

Directory of contact information for everyone involved in the project.

This is a good time to construct a project team directory. The directory lists the names and contact information for all the stakeholders, the project sponsor, all the team members, and any vendor contacts working on the project. I would include the team directory as an appendix in the project notebook.

If most of the folks you're assigning to the project are from your own department, you're probably ready to hold a team kickoff meeting. If you've recruited folks from other departments and they aren't scheduled to start on the project until after the work begins, invite them to the team kickoff meeting so that they have the benefit of hearing the project overview and goals with all the team members present.

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