WILY: Everyone in Their Right Place

In the first ten episodes, Colocation focused a lot on the elements of a project, such as the project charter, WBS, and schedule. We also examined themes related to the work of a Project Manager: how the best meetings are run, how to cause change in an organization, and even how to manage personality differences within project teams.

In this episode, we'll talk about the different roles on a project team, the ideal structure, and where many teams go wrong.

While the jobs that members can do on a project team are as numerous as team members, there are four major types of roles:

  1. Project Sponsor

  2. Project Manager

  3. Project Team Lead

  4. Project Team Member

The project sponsor has several essential responsibilities. Typically, the sponsor is a senior leader, either as a C-level executive or with direct access to the suite. This allows the sponsor to:

  1. Tie the project directly to strategic business objectives by providing vision and context beyond the PM and project team's vantage point.

  2. Champion the project by selling it within the organization and establishing it as a priority.

  3. Authorize the budget and clear roadblocks to obtaining the people, tools, and resources to complete the project.

  4. Provide project requirements and criteria for approval and completion.

  5. Finally, empower the project team to complete the work, identify and honor roles and structure within the project team, and serve as a counselor and escalation point for the PM. As we'll discuss later, empowering and respecting the roles within the team are crucial to project success.

The Project Manager will take direction from the Sponsor and:

  1. Identify the deliverables and activities needed to meet the project's objectives.

  2. Set milestones and deadlines

  3. Monitor and respond to project risks.

  4. Report progress and provide feedback to the sponsor and other stakeholders

  5. Engage in several activities common to a functional or any other manager:

  6. Determine and negotiate for the proper number of people and other resources, as well as tools

  7. Keep the team on track and focused on project objectives

  8. Particularly in a functional or matrixed organization, resolve conflicts of priority between business and project activities

  9. Resolve interpersonal conflicts within the team

I've worked on projects where there were Team Leaders within the project team and where the PM acted as team lead in a secondary role. Either way, the Team Lead is close to the project team and the work and is responsible for coaching the project team as well as executing project work. Think of the team lead on a project team as you would a team lead or front-line manger in most organizations or industries. They are the first line of communication back to upper-levels of management and the most accountable for task execution.

Project team members should be chosen for technical ability and soft skills. We've all probably seen what can happen to a project when the best subject matter expert is unable to get along or cooperate with anyone. In those cases, a less technical member with better people skills would be a more appropriate choice.

Leadership of projects is not really different than leadership in general. In the ideal structure, the sponsor is the senior manager who sets the vision then trusts and empowers the PM to execute it. The sponsor stays engaged enough to establish attention and priority throughout the organization, but does not micromanage or undermine the role of the PM and the rest of the team.

The PM takes direction from the Sponsor and turns it into discrete activities that will yield the required results. The PM then monitors the activities and controls the quality of the outputs. Ideally, the project team is self-managing in regards to its activities and is not reliant on the PM for command as well as control.

Where direction results in clearly communicated objectives to an empowered team, centralized command is not necessary. The team can set its own course by constantly keeping sight of whether a given activity fits the goals of the project and what needs done to meet deadlines. In fact, centralized command actually can become a bottleneck in a project, just like in a functional or operational environment. Imagine the assembly worker on the line waiting to be told to complete each activity.

Team members should all benefit from being on the project, whether through personal or professional growth, or by having their work lives improved by the project's outcome. They also should be recognized for their accomplishments and heard when things are not going well.

That's the perfect structure. But, we all know reality is not perfect. Trust and respect are the glue that holds this structure together, and where there is no glue, things will fall apart.

As mentioned earlier, the Sponsor must trust the PM and team, and respect the established roles and responsibilities. A sponsor who micromanages or communicates unevenly with members of the team will sow confusion and increase risk. Sponsors have to be extra-sensitive to this risk because they are normally senior managers. If they bypass normal channels and go straight to side conversations with team members, without ensuring that information is shared with the team, it's likely to take root and isolate other members of the team. A team member once granted direct access to senior leaders, is not likely to go back to sharing updates or problems with the team lead or PM.

Unbalanced communication will cause other roadblocks. Large projects are usually made up of teams from many different lines of business. Unbalanced communication, particularly where the sponsor uses it against the leaders of the other departments, will result in everyone hoarding information instead of sharing. The executives of other departments will instruct their team members to not share information with the team until they have had a chance to vet and often solve for it. Before long, there is no cross-functional communication and very little cooperation. The entire purpose of a project team has been defeated, and the project will be dependent on siloed work and information for its success.

Colocation is available wherever you get your podcasts as well as at https://www.davidhersher.com/colocation.