Project Team Structure

Depending on the organizational structure and project specifics, the project team structure can have different formats. Although there are a variety of tools available for the delivery of information relevant to the project team, the actual transfer of knowledge is a deliberate act of communication. How to become successful as a project team and stay successful in a constantly changing business environment is directly related to capable employees, and more specifically, how these individuals function as a team. Newly-formed project teams often consist of a group of individuals organized in a novel way with a specific project goal.

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When the Project Manager (PM) is assigned, the first action he or she must perform is to create the best possible Project Management Team for the specific project. This must include roles such as Vendor PM (if required) and Business Analyst. The next action is to create the Core Project Team structure which must include roles such as Executive Sponsor, Business and Technical Owners, Business, Technical, and Testing Leaders, and Vendor Lead if required. When the Core Team structure is completed, the rest of the project team roles must be created, which should include all the relevant Business, Technical, and Testing Subject Matter Experts. The relevant Project Stakeholders must then be identified which should lead to the creation of the Project Steering committee. This team should include all relevant decision makers for the project and chaired by the Business Owner.

These individuals typically represent different organizational departments such as Information Technology or any of the business functionalities. As individuals, they come to the project team with unique skills, values, characteristics and individual personality differences. Research has shown that projects fail largely not due to a lack of professional skills, but due to a lack of social intelligence – that is, the ability to effectively function in intricate social relationships and environments. The complexity of the project, organizational structures, technology, or the required skills and experience may, however, require teams to be geographically or functionally dispersed. In these situations the project team may become partly virtual, or even fully virtual, creating another layer of potential challenges.

Being in the same physical location with most of the other team members has been indicated as a contributing factor to project success: it facilitates communication that is necessary for project execution, increases opportunities to apply motivational strategies, creates a sense of camaraderie, improves communication and allows for personal interaction. Even though the advantages of virtual teams seem to be obvious (such as a large knowledge pool and lower project costs), there are risks associated with this team structure. Results from a study by Andres and Shipps (2009) show virtual teams have difficulty with social context: members were unaware of colleagues’ professional needs such as clarification, recognition, and feedback. This might adversely impact knowledge transfer and the productivity of virtual team members. Whether team members are virtual or non-virtual, the composition of these teams is crucial to the success of projects. As such, the characteristics and factors that impact project teams must be acknowledged and managed if a project is to be successful.

Dawie Steenkamp, PhD, PMP.

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