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  • Principles of Project Management, Part 1: Forming your core team

    Posted on April 1st, 2009 Peter Tjernström No comments

    If you haven’t managed a project yet, but are interested in doing so, one way of preparing for that task would be to read a book on the topic. However, I am the first one to admit that while many books give you a good insight into the technicalities and the techniques of Project Management, they can’t prepare you for the parts more related to leadership such as how to form a team and manage conflicts in the project. [1]

    The simple reason for starting with the team is that if your core team isn’t working as a unit, you can forget about the project charter, the plan, the risk assessment and all the other stuff. In the face of even the smallest challenge, your project is going to fail anyway.

    So, how to do it? The first step is to realise that you are in charge of forming your team and of the team’s performance. Hence, you should preferably pick the team members yourself. Here you must strike the balance between specialized experts and good team leaders. If a certain position in your core team implies leading a sub-project with 10 members or more, you should definitely select the person with the best team management skills.

    You may object that your company’s way of working doesn’t allow you to freely choose your team members. This is quite often the case, but you should nevertheless try to negotiate a compromise with the project sponsor. There are often positions in a project core team, which will be more critical than others. Argue that for these positions it is essential that you’ll have Mark and Susan (or whatever their names are) on your team.

    My advice is to go with the people that you know will be committed and work hard to achieve the project targets, even if they potentially have controversial opinions or will cause disagreements from time to time. Of course, you shouldn’t inject permanent sources of conflict into your core team, but remember that a project team without intense discussions isn’t a working one.

    One team selection principle that I would caution against is to choose weak and even incompetent members with the purpose to make you seem better and stronger in comparison. One person famous for practicing this principle is the former Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson, who after the election in 2002 announced as ministers at least six previously rather unknown individuals with merits inadequate for their respective positions. Mr Persson himself failed to get re-elected in 2006, not because the Swedish electorate so much preferred the opposition but because they were fed up with the Prime Minister.

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    [1] The techniques are of course important, and one good example of a rather condensed book on Project Management is this one from Verzuh.

    It is worth mentioning that in this version from 2008, Verzuh has added a Chapter 10: “Building a high-performance project team”, which wasn’t present in the first version released in 1999.

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