“The P in PM is as much about ‘people management’ as it is about ‘project management’.”

– Cornelius Fichtner

Project managers must juggle multiple resources to implement projects. They operate under multiple constraints and uncertainties. People’s skills, attitudes and availability are the most critical variables that can overturn even the best-planned project.

At TeamFit we have been having conversations with a group of  leading project managers on the people side of project management and would like to share what we are learning and to thank the many people participating.

Project managers’ roles in building teams

Project success depends on team performance. Project managers who are involved in assembling and building teams are better positioned to succeed than are those who are simply given a team and told to manage it. According to our survey results, most project managers are involved in assembling teams at two stages of the project life cycle: initiation and planning. This involvement usually happens during project proposal writing and/or after the initial project plan estimate has been completed. However, as one of the project managers noted “project assembly is rarely done in one shot”.

Good project managers continuously monitor and ensure that their teams’ composition matches the needs of the project. And they track changes in team requirements over the course of the project. As the project progresses or requirements change switching out or adding new team members might be necessary. In the most challenging cases, project managers assemble their teams on the go.

Three steps to assemble teams

When in control of team assembly, project managers highlight three major steps:

  1. Defining which skills are needed;
  2. Checking if the needed skills are available and accessible;
  3. Ensuring that the needed skills are onboard.

Defining which skills are needed is a routine task for almost every project manager. It requires task and resource analysis and allocation. One survey respondent framed this as “skills – utilization – time.”

The second step is even more complex, because at this stage project managers increasingly rely on the others (HRs, other departments and managers). They also depend on companies’ internal policies and rules, which determine whether internal only or both internal and external candidates can be considered. This, often profound, dependency on the larger organizational structure increases uncertainty for project managers. Therefore, the project manager’s own awareness and knowledge about availability and accessibility of the skills required are absolutely critical to optimum team composition.

The importance of having the right skills available is why project managers follow up on the skills onboarding process (step three) and intervene when possible. The interventions identify skills gaps. Sometimes combining the skills of two different people or finding an innovative solution that leverages the skills available and not some ideal skill profile can bridge these gaps.

Creating a project memory  

Almost all project managers keep records of their projects, and in various admirable self-organized ways. Some use their resumes and portfolio updates, others store all project records online (Dropbox), or use project management software like Asana as a record store. In one case, a project manager completes every project by preparing a closeout document that contains details of major events of the project. There are two major reasons the project managers take an extra effort to keep their project records up to date:

  1. In preparation for their professional certifications and
  2. To constantly monitor their own progress.

When it comes to keeping records of skills that their teams used and might need again, project managers most often rely heavily on their own memories. Some general project-related documentation can be a source of information too. Then, to a limited extent and if a project manager decides to add some of the contacts post-project, LinkedIn can become instrumental. If tasks were assigned through Asana, one can sometimes infer some skills by working backward from tasks. This information can be hard to leverage though, as access is controlled by the organization that owns the project and even when the information exists it can be impossible to access.

Burning issues

Obtaining results, increasing productivity and overall team satisfaction are most critical issues for project managers. And this will always be the case. To attain these, a project manager must be good at allocating tasks that are challenging, but not overwhelming. Project managers can get frustrated if their team members are not digitally self-organized, and do not use basic software (like digital calendars etc.) to maximize productivity on high-priority tasks. Some digital project managers, wanting to perform above the curve, struggle to help their clients/stakeholders adopt Agile approaches, as Waterfall continues to prevail at many organizations.

A leap higher

To summarise, in most instances, project managers do coordinate skills and talent in their organizations and have some influence over team hiring, although this varies greatly.

But project managers are not well-equipped to manage the skills onboarding process.

There must be a more efficient, straightforward and reliable way to staff project teams with skills and attitudes that match the requirements and that will gel into a team. Project managers are among the most resourceful professionals and are critical to solving this challenge.

To solve this challenge project managers need to have a complete and meaningful skill record for each team member and potential team member at their finger tips.

And this is what we are building for them at TeamFit!