Psyche of a Corporate Project

I have been involved in many projects for many different topics. I have worked on everything from global new product development to ERP or PLM implementations to detailed global change process implementations.

There is a lot to the makeup of a successful project. However, for this blog, I am going to focus on the personality of the overall project team members.

What I have found interesting is that I can pretty much tell how well the project will go within the first 30 minutes of the first meeting. It has nothing to do with the abilities of the group, but more about the psychological makeup of the project team.

Many times the team is forced together from a corporate directive. Maybe one or two people are truly behind the project, but the rest are there because they have to be. The team selection is not thought out. The people selected are the ones with spare time or more commonly are the expert of the area being affected. When this happens I can almost guarantee the project will take longer than planned and be difficult to execute.

Here are the typical people I see in almost every project:

Old school is better: These are people who feel that there is no need for change. The way they do it now is fine and, in fact, better than the new way. The main reason these people are usually on a project team is because they tend to know the most about the current way things are done. They have detailed knowledge of the old process so management tends to feel they must be involved in the new project. I question that decision. You don’t always need the resident expert directly involved in a project. In fact often they are too close to the current process to see past it. Even if their attitude is good, the “expert” is not always best to have on the project team. They should be a key resource, but not necessarily on the core project team.

The know it all: This person can also bring a project down fast. They tend to dismiss or belittle other team member’s opinions. They will often quickly cause team friction. Once your team stops being understanding and open to one another’s opinions, you might as well scrap the project. Having team members that are willing to consider everyone’s comments is a good trait to have on a project team.

Leader: This is not always, and does not have to be, a manager. Many times it’s not even the project manager, but it is ideal when it is. This person drives the project. They take control and in some cases push the project along when it starts to stall from team inactiveness. They tend to be very hands on. This person is great to have on the team and helps to have a successful project.

True team player: They just get it. These are the people I love to see on the team. They truly understand what is trying to be accomplished in the project. They are forward thinking and understand that the reality of any new project is never cut and dry. These people can come from any discipline, but their good attitude and willingness to work through issues help to make the project successful.

There are other roles I see, but the above are the most common. Plus, I did not want to make this blog so long no one reads it.

Many times in smaller companies you don’t have a choice of who is on a project team. There are limited resources to pull from. You have to use who you have. However, no matter the size of the company, I would highly recommend considering the personality of each of your team members prior to establishing your project team. The people on a project team do not always need to be the expert of each department affected. They do need to have good knowledge of their department, but not necessarily be the expert. They will need access to the local expert, but a good understanding of how a successful project functions is more important than topic expertise in many cases.

Once you have a good project team established, a good realistic scope and milestones of the project needs to be defined. Too many times I see a scope of a project being set that is too aggressive and unrealistic. This is all relative of course, but keeping the project scope and milestones achievable is important. You can’t expect a complete 360 of an existing complex process in 30 days. Realistic (yet aggressive) achievable goals will help keep the project team optimistic, upbeat and energized to follow through with the entire project.

I don’t claim to know what makes up the perfect project team. You will always have some element of each role personality on a team. As long as they are not too extreme it can still be a manageable team and a successful project. I should know…I have had many successful projects with a team I had no say in selecting. The projects still succeed; but it can be a much more difficult than necessary with the wrong team psyche.

What personalities have you seen hurt or help a project? I would love to see some good stories on overall project team personalities posted here (no names please).