Team Formation in Large Matrix Projects
By Owen Head
What differentiates large project PM’s from those who manage small to medium projects? It depends, of course, on how you define large project, so let’s define it simply as a cross functional project with an extended team of at least 100 and a project team made up of at least 10 first and second level managers (or project managers).
Basic leadership skills
Using this definition, the effective use of delegation and the ability to achieve project objectives through other managers, become mission critical skills for the lead PM. Most large projects will either under-perform or fail under the leadership of a PM who hasn’t mastered these skills in practice. Of course, the comprehensive list of required skills is a bit longer, but we’ll focus on these in specific, to enable a useful discussion surrounding team formation and work delegation.
Forming the large project team
So what constitutes effective delegation for a large project and how is it achieved? Specifically, it involves WBS development, project organization (or OBS development), and the definition, review, and approval of team member roles and responsibilities. In essence, effective delegation produces an internal agreement much like a formal SOW/consulting agreement, surrounding team wide and team member roles and responsibilities, as well as those of their direct managers.
The PM must first be able to recognize when multiple levels of management are required. He/she must be able to establish a work/organization breakdown structure (WBS/OBS) that will optimize available skills and maintain an achievable and balanced work load for each component team. Once the organization is established, qualified project team members can be selected to fill each required role. Team members must be given clearly defined and achievable goals and objectives, and the responsibility, authority, resources, and time required to achieve them. Fail to provide the tools that a delegate needs to act independently and they will fail to perform. Now that the team and assignments are in place, the next step is to document per role requirements.
Documenting the SOW
Even if the team members are internal employees, it’s time to practice some basic “contract law”. Documentation is a PM’s best friend when formalizing roles and responsibilities so a comprehensive written agreement is in order . This document has a lot riding on it. Like any contract, it needs to make a strong impression on all parties regarding exactly what is expected of them in terms of specific duties, performance, and outcomes. It should specify the impacts to them and to the project if they fail to deliver, and establish clear escalation paths to accountable leaders. The agreement needs to cover all WBS components fully and the language needs to be clear and specific enough to make it enforceable. Finally, the agreement should be approved (i.e. signed), like any contract, by the direct manager of each team member.
Each delegate and his/her direct manager must understand their responsibilities, validate their ability to meet all of their commitments, and accept ownership for associated outcomes. Most of all, the PM needs to know right up front, if there are any serious obstacles to any delegates ability to fulfill their assigned role. It’s up to the PM to ensure each delegate feels comfortable in raising an obstacle, since hiding this information during planning will only hurt the project during execution.
It’s a good idea for the PM to provide major participants and decision makers with background on 1) how he/she intends to manage the team, 2) specific team member qualifications, and 3) related roles and responsibilities. In matrix situations, where resources will come from various functional teams, it’s important to clarify how project responsibilities will be prioritized against ongoing functional efforts. Matrix managers should also be made to understand that project outcomes will only be as good as the resources assigned, the priority given their project work, and the performance of those resources. In essence these managers are accountable for the team members they provide to the project.
Agreement specifics should be vetted with affected project team members during document development to avoid disconnects. These team members should be urged to share agreement contents with their managers during this period as well. Once a draft version is produced, the PM should meet with each approver to share document contents and purpose, as well as any key requirements specific to the approver’s team. This will ensure that the agreement contains no unwanted surprises that might threaten buy in/support or cause unnecessary upset.
Agreement development is hard work, but the payback can’t be overstated. The development process roots out misaligned assumptions and disagreements regarding who is responsible for what, so they can be resolved during planning, avoiding negative impacts during project execution.
Making upfront work assignments and agreement visible
It’s best that the approval process be visible to all team members, stakeholders, and executives, so that all parties can see how project roles are defined and to whom each is assigned. This will ensure that everyone on the team understands role boundaries and knows who to go to for what.
Team formation complete!
Now the team has been formed, all delegations are complete, and a well crafted agreement has been signed sealed and delivered. With all the support structures in place and everyone on the same page, team formation is complete and team planning and execution activities can begin.
Following up: Work through delegates to reinforce their roles
One final note as the team goes to work: The PM should build on the great work done in team formation by ensuring that all matters related to a delegate’s assignments are worked directly through that delegate. This will reinforce their ownership with all team members and stakeholders and stregthen project organization. Finally, the PM can establish and agree on regular reporting requirements with each delegate to ensure he/she is providing competent oversight and staying on top of their progress as the project moves forward.
Owen Head has over nineteen years of technical Program and Project Management experience in ISO/TL 9000 compliant organizations. He has built a number of PM Office practices from ground up, and managed more than 70 technical, business process, and change management programs and projects, in all areas of IT and Telecom development and support. He holds a B.Sc. in Computer Science Engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington and has been certified as a Project Management Professional (PMP) by the Project Management Institute (PMI).
Owen is the Managing Director of PMOSoft, LLC, a company dedicated to PM Office performance maturity, through fast and affordable maturity management system (MMS) solutions. For more information, please visit http://www.pmosoft.com or our blog http://pmosoft.wordpress.com.
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