Core team members are with the project from cradle to grave. They typically have a major role to play in the project and bring a skill set that has broad applicability across the range of work undertaken in the project. They might also have responsibility for key activities or sets of activities in the project.
Similar to the project manager's assignment, this assignment is usually not full-time. In matrix organizations, professional staff can be assigned to more than one project at a time. This case is especially true when a staff member possesses a skill not commonly found in the staff. A core team member will have some percentage of his or her time allocated to the project—say, a 0.25 full-time equivalent person.
Because the core team will be needed for the JPP session, its members should be identified as early as possible. The core team is usually identified at the beginning of the scoping phase. This means that the members can participate in the early definition and planning of the project.
Because of the downsizing, rightsizing, and capsizing going on in corporate America, much of the responsibility for choosing core team members has been designated to the project manager. While the situation differs from organization to organization, the project manager may have little or no latitude in picking core team members, even though he or she may have been given that responsibility. The problem stems from several causes:
■■ Most organizations have a very aggressive portfolio of projects with constantly changing priorities and requirements.
■■ The workload on the individual is so large that the thought of joining another team is not in his or her mind.
■■ Staff turnover, especially among highly technical and scarce professionals, is out of control in many organizations.
All of these situations make it difficult for the project manager to select the core dream team. For example, suppose a project manager has a choice between the A Team and the B Team. The A Team is the most skilled in a particular technology. Its members are the company's experts. The B Team, on the other hand, is made up of those individuals who would like to be on the A Team but just don't have the experience and skills to justify A Team membership. The project manager would like to have all A Team members on the core team but realizes that this is just not going to happen. Even suggesting such a core team would be rejected out of hand by the managers of such highly skilled professionals. The politically savvy project manager would determine the project work that must have an A Team member and the project work that could get done with a B Team member and negotiate accordingly with the managers of these potential team members.
The project manager will have to pick his or her battles carefully, because he or she may want to consider the A Team for critical path activities, high-risk activities, and high-business-value projects and accept the B Team for activities and projects of lesser criticality. Be ready to horse-trade between projects, too. Give the resource managers an opportunity to use noncritical path activities as on-the-job training for their staff. Remember that they have as many staff development and deployment problems as you have project planning and scheduling problems. Trading a favor of staff development for an A Team member may be a good strategy.
In our project management consulting work, we identified a list of characteristics that many project managers have offered as successful characteristics in their core teams. For the most part, these characteristics are observed in individuals based on their experiences and the testimony of those who have worked with them. Typically, these are not characteristics whose presence or absence in an individual are determined through interviews.
In many cases, the project manager will just have to take a calculated risk that the team member possesses these characteristics even though the individual has not previously demonstrated that he or she has them. It will become obvious very quickly whether or not the individual possesses these characteristics. If not, and if those characteristics are critical to the team member's role in the project, the project manager or the team member's line manager will have to correct the team member's behavior.
The characteristics that we consider important for the core team members are as follows:
Commitment. Commitment to the project by the core team is critical to the success of the project. The project manager must know that each core team member places a high priority on fulfilling his or her roles and responsibilities in the project. The core team must be proactive in fulfilling those responsibilities and not need the constant reminders of schedule and deliverables from the project manager.
Shared responsibility. Shared responsibility means that success and failure are equally the reward and blame of each team member. Having shared responsibility means that you will never hear one team member taking individual credit for a success on the project nor blaming another team member for a failure on the project. All share equally in success and failure. Furthermore, when a problem situation arises, all will pitch in to help in any way. If one team member is having a problem, another will voluntarily be there to help.
Flexibility. Team members must be willing to adapt to the situation. "That is not my responsibility" doesn't go very far in project work. Schedules may have to change at the last minute to accommodate an unexpected situation. It is the success of the project that has priority, not the schedule of any one individual on the project team.
Task-orientedness. In the final analysis it is the team members' ability to get their assigned work done according to the project plan that counts. In other words, they must be results-oriented.
Ability to work within schedule and constraints. Part of being results-oriented means being able to complete assignments within the timeframe planned instead of offering excuses for not doing so. It is easy to blame your delay on the delay of others—that is the easy way out. The team member will encounter a number of obstacles, such as delays caused by others, but he or she will have to find a way around those obstacles. The team depends on its members to complete their work according to plan.
Willingness to give trust and mutual support. Trust and mutual support are the hallmarks of an effective team. That means that every member must convey these qualities. Team members must be trusting and trustworthy. Are they empathetic and do they readily offer help when it is clear that help is needed? Their interaction with other team members will clearly indicate whether they possess these characteristics. Individuals that do not will have a difficult time working effectively on a project team.
Team-orientedness. To be team-oriented means to put the welfare of the team ahead of your own. Behaviors as simple as the individual's frequency of use of "I" versus "we" in team meetings and conversations with other team members are strong indicators of team orientation.
Open-mindedness. The open-minded team member will welcome and encourage other points of view and other solutions to problem situations. His or her objective is clearly to do what is best for the team and not look for individual kudos.
Ability to work across structure and authorities. In the contemporary organization, projects tend to cross organizational lines. Cross-departmental teams are common. Projects such as these require the team member to work with people from a variety of business disciplines. Many of these people will have a different value system and a different approach than the team member might be used to working with. Their adaptability, flexibility, and openness will be good assets.
Ability to use project management tools. The team member must be able to leverage technology in carrying out his or her project responsibilities. Projects are planned using a variety of software tools, and the team member must have some familiarity with these tools. Many project managers will require the team member to input activity status and other project progress data directly into the project management software tool.
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What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.