The watchword for a successful project is clarity. To set your team up for success, you have to be clear about your project’s objectives as well as each team member’s role and responsibilities. Before getting your project started, break down pre-project preparations into these five steps:
1. Start before your team does. The first order of business is to clarify project objectives—before sitting down with your team. This step, vital to successfully completing the project, is likely to be dictated by a customer or, for an internal initiative, by your company’s management. Next, create a resource plan that details budget, hours, and the number of people and required skills to tackle the work. The resource plan/budget may be broad at the beginning, and it will grow increasingly granular over time.
Many people on your team may work only part time for the project, stealing time away from their regular responsibilities. In that case, talk to their individual supervisors before the project begins to reach an understanding about the share of each team member’s time that the project needs. If possible, put your understanding in writing, if only in an email to the other manager after you meet. These understandings won’t eliminate conflicts between a team member’s day job and your project, but they can help resolve them more quickly.
2. Clarify roles and expectations. Before the team’s first meeting, reach out to begin a relationship with each individual team member. This gives you a jump on the team-building at the first meeting, and helps you assess talent and get to know your co-workers better if you don’t already. As project manager, your role is to make the lives of team members easier. While they are working on their individual tasks, clear obstacles from their path, fend off recalcitrant dissuasions, help them to meet deadlines, identify bottlenecks and advocate for more resources or time to get the job done.
For a project that involves both business people and IT (or other technical folks), make sure that both sides share the same goals. Too often different agendas from incompatible expectations impede project progress. If your project team is global, remember that different regions are not only in different time zones but have different cultures and ways of communicating. You probably can’t change anything, but at least you can understand the potential implications.
3. Set the right tone. As project manager, you play a huge part in defining the work tone of your team, especially at the beginning. Address your team in a way that makes a positive, team-building impact; negativity can poison a team’s mood and effectiveness. Instead, strive for an upbeat team spirit, and a “we deliver as one” team attitude.
And don’t forget to have a sense of humor—a fun, natural joking style (that’s appropriate) can diffuse a stressful situation and help get the most out of team members by relaxing them a bit. Set an example of focusing on solutions, not problems—it can go a long way in maintaining an optimistic and constructive atmosphere.
4. Model the right behaviors. Show your team how you expect them to work with your own good work habits. After all, actions speak louder than words. When obstacles arise, as they will, overcome them calmly and openly so others learn the right way to respond to difficulties. To maintain a sense of balance and calm, have a life outside work. There might be times when you have to work overtime, an occasional project push, or to support team members working to meet stressful deadlines. If your project uses online project management software, set an example by using it the way you want your team members to use it. This is the best way to establish a habit for your team.
5. Deal with individuals. Don’t manage with a one-size-fits-all approach. Some people need hand-holding, others hate it, and others like a combo. Some team members respond to a kick in the seat, others go into a mild depression. Model yourself on a high school basketball coach who boldly encourages some players to stretch themselves, takes an intellectual approach with cerebral athletes, and challenges others to the point of annoyance—and better efforts. A cookie-cutter approach to team management won’t work.
How about you—do you have tips and tricks that have worked for your team?