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.


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.

Project Teams


The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individuals in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.” ~Babe Ruth

The biggest mistake any Project Manager can make (even if they are the most experienced and knowledgeable project manager AND they follow all the correct methodologies and procedures) is to believe that they can successfully implement a project alone. The first and most important step is to create the CORRECT project team structure and to get the correct people assigned to each role within that structure.


Recent research has shown, however, that IT professionals, including supervisors and managers, continue to place a far stronger focus on technical skills than interpersonal skills. Teams are comprised of individuals, each of them contributing in a unique way to the overall effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of the team. Therefore, it only seems logical to carefully consider the human aspect when building team structures and role assignments for project development. DeCarlo (2004) defines a project team as “a small number of people with complementary subject matter expertise who are committed to a common purpose, set of performance goals, and a common approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable”. Teams do not function in a bubble; the newly constructed project team in an organization reflects the complexity, diversity, challenges and interdependence of modern society. They come to the team as individuals, but they also come as representatives of a variety of functionalities in the organization – and often from outside the organization. As such, they typically do not have a history of working together. They have not had the time to identify or assess the social dimensions associated with successful interaction in a team environment before productivity demands must be met.

The mitigation of the challenges faced by newly-formed teams is crucial to ensure the success of the team. This has to be done not only through the various project management methods and tools, but also by ensuring that the appropriately skilled and experienced resources are assigned to the right project roles for the full time period required. Since each project can be defined as a unique process, the composition of the team for each should be carefully considered to ensure optimum project performance.

The next few articles will focus on team characteristics, diversity, and structures.

Dawie Steenkamp, PhD, PMP.

Project Implementation Within Organizations

Due to the high economic value of Information Technology (IT) and Information Systems (IS), organizations have an insatiable appetite for them. Despite the significant amounts companies invest in projects, the Standish Group (2013) published that only 39 percent of all projects in organizations succeed (delivered on time, on budget, with required features and functions).

A clear scope and charter, appropriate project resources, effective knowledge management, effective project communications and motivation, and skillful project management are all elements identified not only as best practices for project managers and Project Management Office (PMO) leaders, but also as crucial to project success. The reason why teams are successful or unsuccessful when participating in team activities has become a topic of significant interest in organizational settings. To plan, execute, and implement projects in a manner conducive to a successful outcome obviously requires substantial levels of knowledge. In recent years there has been an increasing awareness that the extent of expertise related to project success is not only limited to technical knowledge, but also requires knowledge about the human side of project management.


Failed projects are often the result of organizational and management issues, rather than the technology used. A majority (about 80 percent) of projects fail not because of a lack of technical knowledge, but because not enough emphasis was placed on the role of the “soft skills” in the project environment. Project managers are typically highly skilled in applying standardized project management frameworks, but they are not necessarily equipped to manage the subjective aspects of human interaction, which can adversely impact knowledge transfer and subsequently the project outcome. A PM certification tests the traditional process or methodology knowledge of the project manager but not really the soft skills of the person that is needed to manage the team to ensure a smooth project implementation. These soft skills and practical experience of the project manager must be used to ensure that the correct process for each specific project is followed. These processes are Project Management techniques, Team Composition and Structures, Effective Communication, Motivation within the team, Knowledge Management, Estimates and Budgeting, System Development Methodology, Risk Management, and Project Management Methodology. These topics will be discussed in more detail in future posts.

Dawie Steenkamp, PhD, PMP.

The Pragmatic PM(P) – Project “Defined”

Before I can start with any of our upcoming Project Management (PM) topics, I have to address the old “Us vs. Them” mentality within projects and PM.

The definitions of projects have changed over the years, and project teams and Project Managers must change accordingly. These changes have occurred in two ways:

The first view that changed is the general understanding of some that projects are executed primarily by Information Technology (IT). The reality is that projects are much more broad in nature and may or may not have a significant IT component. Regardless, each person brings unique skills and experiences to their role within the project. And, upon joining the team they must function as part of the whole with the same set of goals as the rest, no matter from which department they were assigned.

The second view that changed relates to the skills needed from each team member to be successful as an individual, as well as to enable the project team to succeed as a whole. In short, it is crucially important for team members (most importantly, the project manager) to exhibit highly effective soft / interpersonal management skills in addition to specific technical or business skills and knowledge.


In contrast to the earliest definitions of a project, which focused primarily on time, budget and scope (related to the more technical requirements), more recent definitions include references to the human component. Chapman and Ward (2003) define a project as “an endeavor in which human, material and financial resources are organized in a novel way, to undertake a unique scope of work of given specification, within constraints of cost and time, so as to achieve unitary, beneficial change, through the delivery of quantified and qualitative objectives” (p. 5). DeCarlo (2004) defines an extreme project as “a complex, high-speed, self-correcting venture during which people interact in search of a desirable result under conditions of high uncertainty, high change, and high stress” (p. 7).

Both of these definitions differ from most others, insofar as they emphasize human interactions. For example, Wysocki and McGary (2003) define a project as “a sequence of unique, complex, and connected activities having one goal or purpose and that must be completed by a specific time, within budget, and according to specification”. The latter definition shows similarities to the often-used definition found in the PMI Guide (2008, p.442): “A temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result”.

In summary, the pragmatic project manager epitomizes highly effective interpersonal management skills. This can be observed by the ease and finesse by which they interact with and engage the team during all phases of a project.

By addressing the human factor, the PM ensures the team becomes unified, with no divisions between members, and the entire team works together from the start to achieve project objectives.

The remaining topics in this series will cover all parts of the PM picture which are necessary to enable team members to work productively as one, towards a successful outcome, all under the leadership of The Pragmatic PM(P).

Dawie Steenkamp, PhD, PMP

The Pragmatic PM(P)

Building on our last post “On Considering PMP Certified Project Managers” we thought it would be appropriate to share some depth and breadth around what it means to be a pragmatic project manager (PMP certified, or otherwise). This, in support of your efforts to engage highly effective Project Management resources on a contract/consulting or full-time basis, as well as ensuring overall success of your project teams.


To support the above, I’d like to introduce our guest writer (Dawie Steenkamp, PhD, PMP) who has to be the most seasoned PM I’ve become acquainted with, other than when looking in the mirror…

Dawie comes to us with SIGNIFICANT academic training and real-world PM experience.

Over 35 years ago Dawie changed the direction of his career from Mechanical Engineering to IT, spending roughly 15 years performing various IT development and management roles before focusing on Project Management. During that time he completed a degree in computer science. Prior to his move to Project Management, he received the ‘Consultant of the year’ award for his outstanding performance as a senior technical consultant. During his third year performing as Project Manager, he again received the ‘Consultant of the year’ award, acknowledging his PM proficiency. At that stage he began a Project Management training program to add academic knowledge to the practical experience gained through his IT career. Over the next thirteen years he completed the following degrees:

  • Associate Degree – Web Project Management – (GPA = 4.0)
  • Bachelor Degree – IT Project management – Summa Cum Laude (GPA = 4.0)
  • Master Degree – IT Project Management and Leadership – (GPA = 4.0)
  • PhD – Project Management – with Distinction

During his PhD program he received the Dr. Harold Kerzner Grant, from the Project Management Institute (PMI) for his coursework to apply towards his Dissertation research. When completing his PhD degree, he became a Scholar Practitioner and continued his Project Management career.

In summary, Dawie has quite literally knocked it clean out of the park at each juncture! And, I’m pleased to introduce this caliber of person who has authored the series on The Pragmatic PM(P). In this series we will cover the following Project Management topics, emphasizing how each is approached and/or considered by the Pragmatic PM(P).

  1. Project Definitions
  2. Project Implementation within Organizations
  3. Project Teams
  4. Project Communications
  5. Project Motivation
  6. Relationships between Communication and Motivation
  7. Different Perceptions
  8. Knowledge Management
  9. Project Estimation and Budgeting
  10. System Development within Organizations
  11. Project Risk Management
  12. Methodologies
  13. Project Plan Summary

In closing, you’ll note that we have a lot to cover. Our goal is to present each topic in bite-sized form that can be easily digested while remaining incredibly useful.

All the best!

Craig Bailey

On Considering PMP Certified Project Managers

As you might imagine, we’ve screened dozens upon dozens of Project Management (PM) candidates to augment our team. Fortunately, our vetting process has resulted in identifying a number of highly qualified resources who are available to engage with our clients.

When sourcing PM’s there are many factors we are looking for in a candidate’s profile, including, but not limited to:

  • Ability to work well with and through other people
  • More than a decade of PM experience. PMP certification “can” be a plus (more on that shortly).
  • Excellent communication skills (written and oral)
  • Self-starter who is highly organized, efficient and has complete mastery of the common tools
  • As applicable, specific domain experience (e.g., medical device manufacturing, a specific software application, post acquisition whole-company integration, international, etc.)
  • Etc., etc.

As alluded to above, PMP Certification “can” carry some weight. However, I’ve learned to proceed with caution here…Why do I say this?

Well, quite simply, it is important to explore how the candidate leverages the PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge). That is, do they merely have the head knowledge or do they actually have the scars of PM experience?

In addition, it is important to confirm that they do NOT levy the weight of the entire PMBOK on every single project, regardless of scope, cost, complexity, risk and duration? I’ve observed too many who do. And, that is entirely inappropriate!

For example, leveraging the entire PMBOK on some projects would be like using a pile driver to push a tack into a cork board. While the pile driver would be complete overkill in this scenario, a lesser application of similar principles would work just fine.

We look to confirm that the candidate has mastery of PM principles and tools (PMBOK or otherwise) and judiciously leverages the appropriate components, as necessary, to fit the unique profile of each project.

To be clear, if we had 2 candidates side-by-side, with all things being equal, and one is PMP certified, we’d go with the PMP certified candidate. However, we would NOT do this without first fully exploring their practical application of PM principles and tools to ensure prudent use of each. And, more importantly, to confirm that they have the deep scars of experience to prove it!

In closing, we have a number of PM candidates, some of whom are PMP certified, others who are not. Regardless, these folks can be parachuted into pretty much ANY business project situation and bring the team safely home / across the finish line!

Just ask our clients…

On Hiring & Listening To One’s Gut

Let’s face it. If we want a high performing team we must strive to hire the best possible people.

But, how does one do that?

While I’d never advertise myself as the ultimate expert on the subject, I have hired dozens upon dozens of people in my career. And, after doing so I can honestly say I’ve only made a couple of bad hiring decisions.

We all know the “scientific” steps:

  • Prepare a solid job description outlining the role and requirements (skills, education, experience, etc.)
  • Market the position (I often use LinkedIn with great success)
  • Identify a number of key people in the organization to interview candidates. These should be individuals with a vested interest in the new-hire’s success.
  • Screen and interview candidates based on the job description while considering the “fit” of each within the organization
  • Obtain and discuss feedback from the interviewers and ask for their vote (thumbs up, questions/concerns, thumbs down)
  • Check references on the finalist(s)
  • Perform a background check (if applicable)

Taking the above at the surface level might seem like a pretty reasonable approach to sourcing new members of a team. And, we all pretty much follow that script. So far so good…

Here is where I’ve gone wrong. And, upon sharing my experience with a few others they’ve acknowledged making the same unfortunate mistake.

It goes something like this…

After interviewing a candidate against the job description I was able to successfully “check-off” all the boxes (the requirements). However, my gut was telling me otherwise (i.e., something was wrong but I just couldn’t put my finger on it).

Upon discussing feedback from the team who interviewed the candidate the overwhelming vote was “thumbs up”, except for my one vote of dissent. Being a diplomatic manager, I shared my thoughts and ultimately agreed to go along with their consensus to add this person to our team.

Before a month had gone by it was crystal clear (to all involved) why my gut was against making the hire…

Fortunately, this scenario has ONLY happened a couple of times, many, many years ago.

Lesson learned…

Bottom-line: Listen to your gut.

You want your logical impression of the candidate to be in alignment with your gut feel.

If your gut is telling you something is off you are encouraged to fully vet that to your satisfaction or pass on the candidate. Not doing so will cost you precious time and money.

Take it from the scars of experience…

The good news is that after solidly learning that lesson (many years ago) we’ve built a high performing team of consultants at Customer Centricity. A team of people who never cease to amaze me in how well and consistently they serve our clients.

All the best!