CQU Project Management education

Choosing project team members

PM Oracles
June 26, 2014

Many project managers have likely been subjected to resource selection well before they knew what the selection criteria, roles and responsibilities or level of project management required was.

Many may recall their primary school days, and perhaps the selection of sports team members in the schoolyard or playground. Typically, two captains chosen by someone in authority (such as the sports teacher) would select their teams based on a perceived ability to perform, the positions or roles they needed, and maybe how well the captain thought the people would fit into their team.

That was then. Fast forward to today. Schoolyard ‘captains’ are now the equivalent of project managers and/or resource line managers, and their ‘sports team’ has become the project team. How different is your project resource selection from that of the schoolyard and do certain risks exist in your current approach?

It is commonplace to create a project roles and responsibility matrix to define required team members or ‘resources’, and the skills and competencies required to effectively staff a project. The organisational environment in which you work will dictate how much flexibility you have as the project manager in the team members selected for your project.

You may rely on functional managers to provide all resources, based on the needs you have indicated, or you may pull from an available resource pool and have all or some control in selecting your specific project team. The latter approach is typically the case in a matrix or projectised organisational system.

What is important to recognise is the criteria for which project team members are evaluated and selected. Does the criteria you use solely rely on the hard and soft skills each team member must possess, or does it lack detail on the technical and professional competencies for your project? If so, we contend that an element of risk exists in your project roles and responsibility matrix that may ultimately impact the success of your project.

Resource risk

Let us elaborate. Consider the example where your project is an agreed top priority for the enterprise. The CEO or other authorised person assigns his or her best people to oversee the project and to give you, the project manager, the control to finalise all required team members. On the surface, this is a good situation for the project manager to be in. After all, how can the project fail, if staffed with the best possible talent available that you can choose?

The key is to make sure the most appropriate people are selected. Choosing the best functional expert does not necessarily translate to performing well within the confines of a specific project. We have all probably been on a project with strong functional team members. Having a strong functional representative can be powerful when it is leveraged in the right way, but it can cause tension if too much reliance is given to functional department needs and not enough on the project needs, with no consideration to how the whole team will gel together. Project resourcing decisions need to go beyond a functional skills assessment.

This idea is not new; followers of traditional leadership and management disciples will recognise similar suggestions put forth by the likes of Ram Charan and the Blanchard Group. Charan, in his book Execution—The Discipline of Getting Things Done, says to be effective, leaders must possess ‘heart’. Lack of heart will add risk or could lead to a failure to execute.

The Blanchard Group has published works on the ‘work passion’ of employees and how a lack of work passion poses a risk to the organisation. It defines work passion as “an individual’s persistent, emotionally positive, meaning-based state of wellbeing stemming from continuous, reoccurring cognitive and affective appraisals of various job and organisational situations, which results in consistent, constructive work intentions and behaviours”.

The crux of this position is that when team members lack the passion or heart for the work they are assigned, there is significantly more risk to the success of the activity they are assigned to perform. Passion and heart correlate directly to motivation. Less motivated people increase risk to a task’s successful execution. Within the confines of project management, this situation is very real. A project team member who lacks passion or heart is at risk of missing deadlines, or may cause roadblocks and tensions, and perhaps significant team disruption. Passion is not the only behaviour or competency one must evaluate, but it is certainly a key one and it is an area of focus for us in this article.

What measures can a project manager take to ensure their team selection gives due consideration to work passion and heart?

1. Do not base your team selection solely on functional skills. Selection criteria should include personal behaviours and traits as to provide a more comprehensive perspective of the person. This may include official performance review outputs, key behaviour indicators, and past peer, manager and direct reports reviews. For example, has the person recently been given a positive review, or have they been passed over for a promotion? Have they shown real team spirit on past project, or is there evidence of derailing behaviour on past projects? These are all vital questions a project manager should know before staffing a person to the project.

2. Conduct interviews and ask questions beyond the skills assessment. If your situation does not allow for this (for example, if you are taking over an existing team), there should always be one-on-one on-boarding sessions with each project member so that you can get to know them, their motives and behaviours. These would be starting on-boarding meetings if they are new, or if you are the new project manager, get to know them with one-on-one interviews. Such an action should not be a one-off meeting. Have recurring meetings with each resource, as their behaviours, motives and desires are likely to change throughout the project. The frequency of each recurring routine should be based on the criticality of the resource to the project. The more critical the resource is, the more frequent your routine should be.

3. Ensure you hold team meetings and gatherings, particularly when milestones are reached—take the time to celebrate your successes.

4. Add all risks about team structure and strategy to the project’s risk register, and make sure the right actions are taken to prevent them turning into issues. Base the severity of each risk on the outcomes of the routines. If you start to see behaviours of any team member changing in a negative way, update the risk and know when to set a prescribed mitigation plan into action. As a project manager, you must be prepared to take the lead on this, regardless of the person in question. A team member may have been a superstar on one project, but if they show signs of behaviour that is detrimental to the current project you will need to quash it.

In conclusion, when you are setting up your project team, basing your resource and team structure decisions entirely on functional skills adds risk to your project. Focus also on personal behaviours and traits of potential candidates to join your team: a core element of which is passion and heart for the work at hand. Once people are already in place, ensure you can continue to ensure the team performs effectively.

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PM Oracles
PM Oracles is Gareth Byatt, Gary Hamilton, Jeff Hodgkinson and Duke Okes, all experienced PMO, program, and project managers who share a common passion to help others and share knowledge about PMO, portfolio, program and project management.
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