Team members who understand the project are more committed to making the project successful. To understand is to make sense of what is required of you and how what you do fits into the whole. Understanding involves taking in of information and knowledge so that it becomes your own.

When people on a team understand the project—why it's being done, what they are supposed to do, how what they do affects others and fits into the whole picture—they are more effective as individuals and more effective as a team. They are also more motivated, because through understanding they engage not only the mind but the heart as well.

Conversely, if an individual only understands his or her own piece of the project, that individual does what is best for him or her, and not necessarily what is best for the project as a whole. This can create inadvertent problems for other team members. For example, let's say you're a part of a project to celebrate the launch of a highly successful new product for your company. You're in charge of food and you decide that it would be easiest to bring in prepackaged meals. However, the clean up subproject is not aware that prepackaged foods would be provided instead of a buffet. As a result, they don't have enough garbage cans to handle the litter. Not a pretty sight.

When everyone understands the whole project, misunderstandings among team members are minimized. Understanding can best be achieved through team participation in the project management process, which creates ownership, understanding, and helps to build the team. Team participation is not the same as team building. Team building is an activity (or activities) that is directed at getting people to better understand and trust each other. It typically has very little to do with understanding the work that must be accomplished. As a result, when people return to doing the work after the team building is over, the same work conflicts erupt again. Don't make the mistake of opting for team building instead of participation. If you exclude the team from the project management activities in the project, you won't be able to develop an effective team, and team-member understanding and ownership will be greatly diminished. What really counts is not artificial team building, but involving the team in the real decision making for the project.

If team participation is so effective, why don't more people do it? First, they claim that they don't have the time for participation. They claim it's faster and easier if the project manager just decides what needs to be done and then delegates tasks to the people on the team. Participation does require more time during the planning phase, but planning is neither the longest phase nor the phase that consumes the most resources. That phase is execution, and lack of team participation during planning adds even more time to the execution phase.

The other objection to team participation is that the project leader will lose control of the project. The leader fears that the team will make bad decisions and he or she will be held accountable for the results. It's true that the leader will be held accountable for the results; however, the path to achieving the best results is through team participation. It has been demonstrated time and time again that groups of people will make better overall decisions than a single decision maker. Most projects are too complex for the project leader to understand everything that goes on in every technical area involved in the project. Also, it's a waste of time and resources for the leader to try to understand everything when he or she has people with the expertise on the team. Why not use them by allowing them to participate?

Project leaders fear losing control, but control merely shifts from the content to the process. The project leader controls the project management process that the team will follow. He or she provides the team with the tools and techniques to help them make good decisions. In this way, the project leader ensures that good outcomes are achieved. The illusion that you have control when you do something yourself is very strong, but being the sole decision maker or planner for the project doesn't usually produce the best results for the project. It is faster and more accurate to engage the team members in helping to create the project plan than trying to do it yourself and sell your plan to team members when you're done. Inevitably, a plan created in a vacuum, by the project leader, is flawed. You're better off relinquishing control of the planning and monitoring decisions and, instead, make sure you have a good process for people to follow so they'll make the right decisions. You can always reserve some decisions for yourself. It's your prerogative as the project leader. Just consider doing it when it will be most effective for the project and for the team.

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Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

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.

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