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While there are many ways to achieve project success, there is a unifying factor that all successful projects share regardless of whether their mission is to develop new software, construct a skyscraper, launch a comprehensive marketing campaign, or do anything else important and worthwhile: they make team project management a top priority.

Indeed, in this sense succeeding on the project management landscape is similar to that in the world of sports. Yes, there are elite stars who make great things happen. But ultimately, it is the ability and performance of the team as-a-whole that determines whether the effort is a collective triumph – or tragedy.

Team Project Management

Below, we highlight three “DO’s” that drive team project management success, and three “DON’Ts” that can quickly turn even relatively simple and straightforward projects into costly, enduring disasters.

Team Project Management DO’s

1. DO Involve the Project Management Team in the Planning Phase

On most projects, the people who are best equipped to provide accurate input on aspects like duration, effort, and risks are those who are going to be tasked with carrying them out. During the planning phase, project managers who neglect to tap into this readily-available pool of knowledge often struggle with budget overruns, missed deadlines, and unhappy – if not in some cases irate – customers and other stakeholders.

With this in mind, however, various team members and stakeholders have different communication styles – and project managers must adjust (within reason) to each individuals’ preferences. As advised by the Project Management Institute in its Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide – Sixth Edition [2017]):

A large part of the project manager’s role involves dealing with people. The project manager should study people’s behaviors and motivations. The project manager should strive to be a good leader, because leadership is crucial to the success of projects in organizations. A project manager applies leadership skills and qualities when working with all project stakeholders, including the project team, the steering team, and project sponsors.

2. DO Clarify and Confirm Expectations

Projects are typically fast-paced episodes of “controlled chaos” – especially those that use Agile methodology, which are characterized by targeted, high-velocity sprints and ongoing change. To achieve team project management success – and in the process, avoid widespread and frequent confusion and conflict – it is vital to ensure that everyone clearly understands their role, and what is expected of them. And “everyone” in this sense does not just mean individuals who are formally attached to the project. It also means individuals working in other teams and departments, as well as external stakeholders such as customers. Some tips to effectively manage expectations include:

  • Confirm everything
  • Communicate in context
  • Limit the number of status meetings (and then limit them some more)
  • Use team project management tools to make communication easy and efficient (more on this in the next DO).

3. DO Use the Right Team Project Management Software

The right team project management software is one that maximizes productivity, increases visibility, and drives adaptability.

Key team project management software features that maximize productivity include

  • Collaboration tools that extend across multiple systems (e.g. email) to reach users even when they’re not logged into the system, while still retaining the context of each discussion associated with the project.
  • Configurable workflows, approval processes, customizable rules and fields, dynamic templates, and automatic notifications via email. ·
  • Centralized file management that creates a system of record for all related project information (files, videos, discussions, meeting minutes, notifications, etc.).
  • A mobile team project management app that is functional and feature-rich, as well as intuitive and easy to use.

Key team project management software features that increase visibility include

  • Customizable reporting and dashboards, along with shareable links and automatically scheduled status report generation, that provide insights about work progress, potential risks, expected results and goals.
  • A suite of planning tools such as portfolio roadmaps, capacity planning, program and project views.
  • Portfolio planning and optimization to ensure all top priority projects are being supported and understanding the impact when priorities shift.
  • The option to add custom fields to capture critical data across all projects consistently and make better, faster decisions.

Key team project management software features that drive adaptability include

  • A workflow engine that provides the control needed to configure (and reconfigure when needed) unique processes for diverse teams, all in the same system.
  • Highly configurable user interfaces at every level, which increases engagement and enables transparency throughout the enterprise.
  • Seamless and secure integration with other task management systems in the environment, which ensures alignment and that the right work is being done.
  • Integrations that can connect to any source or destination system using APIs or pre-built connections.

Team Project Management DON’Ts

1. DON’T Try and Control Everything and Everyone

Forbes senior contributor Dana Brownlee warns project managers – especially newer ones who have not yet learned some painful lessons – that there is a big difference between a strong project management style, and a stifling one.

The former is rooted in effective leadership, planning and coordination through communications, and grasps that the project manager is not expected to handle everything and everyone. The latter is characterized by a micro-managing and dictatorial approach that is not just exhaustive, but it is counter-productive. Advises Brownlee:

Typically, the beginning of the project offers a unique opportunity to break the ice and begin to form critical bonds that will prove invaluable later in the project, so don’t make the mistake of focusing on task to the exclusion of relationships – you just may pay the price down the road.

2. DON’T Ignore Under-Achievers

Few threats can destabilize, derail, or just plain destroy team project management more than under-achievers – a.k.a. slackers. Sometimes these folks stay hidden in the background. At other times, they jump into the spotlight. Regardless of the situation, the goal is the same: do as little as possible (and then do even less than that).

Dealing with under-achievers on a project is usually difficult, but always necessary – because if left unchecked, they can foster a culture of anti-accountability. They can also compel high-performers to leave the team, or possibly the organization. Harvard Business Review contributor Carolyn O’Hara shares these tips:

  • Keep an open mind and be willing to believe that the under-achiever in question may have legitimate reasons for their under-performance (e.g. problems in their personal life, health concerns, difficulties with colleagues, etc.).
  • Address the issue one-on-one and in a confidential manner.
  • Use specific examples to communicate how the negative behavior is harming the whole team.
  • Don’t use an accusatory or hostile tone. Approach the conversation with empathy and authenticity.

Ideally, the above will help eliminate – or at least, significantly mitigate – the negative behavior. If not, then it may be necessary to remove the individual from the team before they inflict even more damage. If so, make sure that any such action is done in accordance with all prevailing human resource policies and labor regulations, and that everything is properly documented.

3. DON’T Overlook Small Wins

Researchers Teresa M. Amabile and Steven J. Kramer highlighted a truth that children intrinsically understand, but most adults completely forget: celebrating small wins through gestures as simple (and free!) as praise can have a tremendously positive impact on mood, motivation and mindset. Project managers are wise to remain aware of this principle; possibly by putting a sticky note on their monitor, or adding some text to the background/homescreen of their devices. Advises Amabile and Kramer: “By supporting progress in meaningful work [which is facilitated by celebrating small wins], managers improve employees’ inner work lives and the organization’s performance.”

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The Final Word

Effective project team management is both an art (because one gets better at it through experience and experimentation) and a science (because it is rooted in core principles and standards). Applying the above-described DO’s and avoiding the DON’Ts will help project managers – new and seasoned alike – cultivate and elevate teams that achieve uncommon, enviable levels of success!


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