Chapter 6: How to build a stellar project team

In this chapter, you’ll learn about how effective collaboration leads to project success. We explain the common roles and responsibilities in a project team, how to balance competing interests, and how to implement strong collaboration norms.

Roles and responsibilities

While each project may require a unique set of skills, most project teams are made up of a similar set of roles. In this section, we’ll define the key roles and responsibilities of a project team.

What does a project manager do?

The project manager is responsible for every aspect of the project, from planning and execution to delivery and reporting. The project manager must have a thorough understanding of the goals, constraints, risks, and resourcing.

A project manager’s five main responsibilities include:

  1. Create the project plan: The project manager is responsible for breaking out the project into specific tasks, assigning tasks to relevant team members, and creating a reasonable timeline.
  2. Build a strong project team: The project manager considers the skill set necessary for each project, and then assembles a project team to best execute. Depending on the project, you may have to look cross-functionally to build the best team.
  3. Oversee the project through execution: This is where the “management” piece comes in. The project manager oversees project execution and monitors performance, adjusting the schedule or budget as necessary.
  4. Act as a liaison between the project team and the stakeholders: The project manager reports on progress to relevant stakeholders and manages expectations. Learn more about balancing the project team and key stakeholders below.
  5. Maintain project documentation: The project manager is responsible for documenting every phase of the project, including all relevant planning documents, accurate versions of each deliverable, all associated  communication, as well as lessons learned once the project is completed. This is important to stay organized during the current project, and it can also serve as historical data for future projects.

Typically, a strong project manager possesses the following five traits:

  1. A clear vision: All projects inevitably hit road bumps, so a project manager needs to have a clear understanding of project objectives to stay on course. Additionally, the project manager should understand how the project fits into larger organizational goals, so that they can prioritize tasks and resources accordingly. 
  2. Top-notch communication skills: A project manager must be a strong communicator in order to give clear directions and effectively relay information across teams, and with external stakeholders. 
  3. Collaborative-minded: Strong leaders know how to delegate. A project manager needs to trust team members, give them enough autonomy to execute, and effectively negotiate with others if competing interests arise.
  4. High degree of organization: At the minimum, project managers juggle people, schedules, and budgets. With so many moving pieces, it’s critical for a project manager to stay organized.
  5. Integrity: Perhaps above all, a project manager needs to inspire trust from all team members and stakeholders. To earn this trust, a project manager must remain transparent and reliable throughout the project lifecycle.

Having a reliable, organized project manager is vital to the success of your projects. To learn about how to become a project manager and relevant certifications available, read Chapter 8.

Project team members

The project team is the group of individuals who work together to execute the project and provide the right mix of skills for the task at hand.

A cross-functional team is a team made up of people from different departments within the company, possessing different functional knowledge. For example, a website launch project may require a cross-functional team that include members of the marketing, sales, design, and web development teams.

When assembling a project team, consider the project goals, the skills needed to satisfy those goals, resource capacity, timeline and budget constraints, and the work styles of each person.

RACI matrix

A RACI matrix (responsible, accountable, consulted, informed) is a tool used to assign roles within a project team. Use the matrix as a guide to identify who is responsible for tasks, who is accountable for task completion, who should be consulted, and who should remain informed of task status.

You can use a RACI matrix to plot the role of each team member for each task or the project as a whole. Visit our guide on the RACI model to learn more about using a RACI matrix template.

How to balance the project team and stakeholder influence

To effectively manage the competing interests of team members and stakeholders, work together to prioritize requirements based on resources and team bandwidth, and remain in close, transparent communication throughout the project.

Below, we provide some tips on team and stakeholder management as distinct disciplines.

Team and resource management

To best manage your team and resources, start by understanding the needs and capacity of your team members, and how those skills and resources will be best distributed to execute the project.

Here are some tips for effective team management:

  • Hire the right people: Getting the job done relies on having the right people in place. Consider not only the skills needed, but also the personalities, work styles, and reliability of your potential team members,  and choose accordingly.
  • Communicate: As mentioned, communication is a critical skill for a project manager. Your team will look to you for guidance, so be proactive and clear in providing people with up-to-date information.
  • Model and encourage collaboration: Silos kill productivity and creativity. Show your team the importance of collaboration and cross-functional work by modeling it yourself, and encourage people to work together to increase efficiency.
  • Learn how to delegate: Many novice project managers attempt to do everything themselves. A good leader trusts their teammates to get the job done, and provides motivation and support along the way.
  • Deliver meaningful feedback: One of the best ways to strengthen your team is to provide constructive feedback. Doing so will both help people grow individually, and also increase your chances of success in the future.

Stakeholder management

A stakeholder is a third party who has a vested interest in the project’s success. Stakeholders may be internal (like a member of the C-suite) or external (such as an investor or a client), and should be kept informed of project progress.

Managing stakeholders can be difficult, as they may have new or shifting demands with regards to timeline, cost, or deliverables. To set up all parties for success, follow these top tips:

  • Hold conversations early: Trust is the most essential quality in the stakeholder relationship. Start off on the right foot by involving stakeholders early, so all parties feel they’re being heard.
  • Develop a communication cadence: To maintain both stakeholder trust and project team independence, set a schedule for consistent communication to keep everyone informed and ensure projects keep moving.
  • Remain transparent throughout the project lifecycle: Keep stakeholders looped in to project progress, especially during unexpected events or changes to schedule, budget, or deliverables. Without this level of transparency, stakeholders may lose faith in your ability to succeed.
  • Remain flexible, but know your project constraints: Sometimes, stakeholders make additional asks after the project is underway. An effective project manager will be open to change, but will also set boundaries around what and how much can change. If nothing else, make it clear to stakeholders ahead of time that changes to scope will impact budget and timelines.
  • Prioritize facetime: In the modern work landscape, conversations with stakeholders often happen virtually. While written feedback and other documentation are helpful, aim to meet with stakeholders face to face on a regular basis, whether via video meetings or in person.

The importance of effective collaboration

In project management, collaboration is critical for two main reasons: It improves productivity and drives innovation. Teams who collaborate realize better, faster results, and develop more creative, cutting-edge products, solutions, and services.

As opposed to teamwork, collaboration involves people with differing skill sets pooling their knowledge to achieve a result. Collaboration is especially necessary in cross-functional teams, where people have different areas of expertise and therefore need to work together to execute a project.

However, collaboration is not only about combining different skills. It also helps to define streamlined processes, speed up delivery, and provide help on difficult or time-consuming tasks. When the project manager sets an “all hands on deck” expectation, teams that have been more collaborative will be motivated to jump in and help accomplish the goal. 

To learn more, read our in-depth guide to teamwork and collaboration.

The rise of remote collaboration

Remote collaboration refers to the processes, practices, and tools a team implements to work together while geographically separated. As many companies have shifted to a distributed workforce in recent years, strong remote collaboration has become integral to project success.

Read our article on how to build effective remote collaboration to learn more.

Best practices for remote collaboration

Effective remote collaboration means building processes and implementing tools that support distributed teams. Establish workflows for remote environments and define communication norms to ensure that everyone feels supported and in the loop.

Below are some best practices for remote collaboration:

  • Prioritize video over email: While nothing can replace in-person conversation, video calls are better for collaboration than email and other messaging apps. Aim for face-to-face brainstorms, check-ins, and reporting calls.
  • Balance working hours with meetings: While video meetings should replace a large percentage of email correspondence, be careful that you don’t bog down your team with too many meetings. Balance focused working hours with meeting time so people can still retain autonomy and get work done. 
  • Be proactive about meeting new people: Without a central office, it’s tough to meet and collaborate with new people. Set up video calls with other teams to stay connected and identify opportunities for cross-functional teamwork.
  • Establish working hours: You can limit feelings of isolation and burnout by setting “work hours” when everyone is online and available. This helps to maintain a sense of structure, stimulate inter-team communication, and mitigate the “always on” symptom of work from home.
  • Host virtual team-building events: Don’t underestimate the value of fun, non-work-related events, even for remote teams. Schedule virtual team lunches, happy hours, or other group activities via video call to boost morale and keep people feeling connected. 

You’ll find everything you need to know about managing a remote team in our comprehensive article. You can also read more about general project management tools and software in Chapter 9.

Collaboration tools

Today, there are hundreds of tools designed to help teams collaborate remotely. 

Collaboration tools range from video and messaging apps to productivity and editing platforms. For larger scale work, you may also consider project management software, scheduling apps, or visualization tools, among others. 

To find the right collaboration tool for you, consider the specific needs of your team or company, and identify the existing processes the tool should support.

Ask yourself the following questions when selecting collaboration tools for your team:

  • Intended function: What do you want this app to do?
  • Number of licenses: How many people need access to this tool, and what level of permissions do they need? 
  • Budget: How much is your company willing to spend on a tool?
  • Existing tools: How should the new tool properly integrate with or support existing tools?
  • Security: What security measures does your company require for third-party tools?
  • Existing processes: What existing processes does this tool need to support? Alternatively, assess how this tool might replace or alter existing processes.

For more tips and a complete comparison of remote collaboration tools, read our guide.

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