How to structure and manage a first-rate project team

Learn about different roles and responsibilities in project teams and how to keep team members engaged.

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Managing a project team can be a complex and challenging task. It requires assembling the right mix of people, establishing clear communication, and implementing effective processes to ensure success. The key is structuring and managing your team to maximize their potential and enable them to work collaboratively towards a common goal.

We'll guide you through organizing and overseeing a successful project team, providing practical tips and strategies for identifying the best personnel for each role, fostering an environment that promotes productivity, and streamlining processes to ensure the efficient completion of the project.

What are the different roles in project teams?

Project teams are often composed of individuals who have different roles and responsibilities that they take on to achieve a successful outcome. While the precise composition of these teams may differ based on the project's scope and purpose, a few typical roles appear in most project teams:

🙋Project sponsor

The role of a project sponsor is essential to project success. A project sponsor is the primary point of contact between the project manager and the group requesting the project.

Often, the project sponsor is a senior executive in the organization or an individual specified by a client. As the requestor of the project, the project sponsor should be involved in all major decisions related to the project and may serve as a sounding board for the project manager or delivery team leads as they seek to identify the best solution to meet the project requirements.

Their responsibilities include:  

1. Defining the project scope:

  • Work with the project manager and stakeholders to create a project scope document that outlines the project's objectives, deliverables, timelines, and budget.
  • Ensure the project scope is clear, realistic, achievable, and aligned with the organization's strategic goals.
  • Communicate the project scope to all stakeholders, including the project management team, to ensure that everyone understands the project's goals and objectives.

2. Approving project plans:

  • Review and approve the project plans the project manager developed, including the project schedule, budget, and resource requirements.
  • Ensure that the project plans are feasible and realistic and align with the project scope and the organization's goals.
  • Collaborate with the project manager to make necessary adjustments to the project plans.

3. Providing resources:

  • Identify the resources the project will need to succeed, including financial, human, and other resources.
  • Provide the resources to the project manager to ensure the project can be executed successfully.
  • Work with the project manager to manage any resource constraints, such as budget limitations or personnel shortages, that could impact the project's success.

4. Removing blockers:

  • Review project status reports and milestones to ensure that the project is progressing as planned and that project goals are being met.
  • Identify any risks or issues impacting the project, and work with the project manager to address them.
  • Make any necessary adjustments to the project plan to ensure the project stays on track.

5. Supporting change management:

  • Work with the project manager and stakeholders to identify any changes that may be necessary during the project.
  • Review change requests to ensure they are feasible and will not negatively impact the project.
  • Collaborate with the project manager to implement changes in a controlled and efficient manner and ensure that they do not jeopardize the project's success.

🧑‍💼Project manager

The project manager oversees all aspects of the project to ensure that goals are achieved, and deadlines are met. They need to have all the project management skills required to understand the specialized skills or tasks required for the project and direct every project team member accordingly.

An important responsibility of the project manager is to act as a stakeholder liaison, communicating progress updates and managing changes to the scope of work.

Their project management responsibilities include:  

1. Defining the project scope:

  • Work with the project sponsor and stakeholders to clearly define the project's scope, including its objectives, tasks, and deadlines.
  • Identify and manage potential risks and problems impacting the project and develop contingency plans to address them.

2. Creating a project plan:

  • Develop a detailed plan that outlines how the project will be completed, including a timeline for each task and who will be responsible for each task.
  • Create contingency plans to address any problems that may arise during the project.
  • Regularly review and update the project plan to remain current and relevant.

3. Managing resources:

  • Ensure all necessary resources are available to complete the project, including materials, personnel, and equipment.
  • Procure materials, hire contractors, and reserve equipment as needed.
  • Manage the project budget and expenses to ensure the project remains on track and within budget.

4. Monitoring progress and removing roadblocks:

  • Monitor progress throughout the project and ensure that tasks are completed on schedule.
  • Identify any roadblocks or problems preventing the project from progressing as planned, and work to remove them.
  • Regularly report progress to the project sponsor and stakeholders, and manage change requests as needed.

5. Completing the project:

  • Once all tasks associated with the project are finished, ensure that all final paperwork and reports are completed.
  • Conduct a post-mortem or retrospective analysis of the project to identify any lessons learned and make recommendations for future projects.
  • Document any best practices or successful strategies that could be used in future projects.

🧑‍💻Delivery team (developers, researchers, builders, etc.)

Delivery team members are responsible for specific project components like web development or market research. Each piece is led by a designated lead who guides each team member and ensures quality assurance.

For example, if you're managing a creative team, the lead web developer would be in charge of coding tasks and quality assurance, while the lead researcher would run market research or user experience studies and writesreports with findings and recommendations. The lead designer creates mockups, reviews designs with stakeholders, and maintains brand consistency.

In big projects, leads serve as the connective tissue between the project manager and the rest of the team. Not all teams have leads, but they're typically present in large projects.

Their responsibilities include:

1. Responding to the project's goals and objectives:

  • Review and determine the feasibility of the project sponsor's desired project scope and deliverables.
  • Working with the project sponsor and project manager to identify what the project is trying to achieve and what success looks like.
  • Helping create a project plan once goals and objectives have been defined.

2. Developing activity or task estimates:

  • Work with the project manager to create the project plan based on the team's estimates for completion timing.
  • Scope each task for effort and difficulty level to determine an estimated duration.
  • In predictive project management, estimates for task duration are used to build the project plan. In adaptive project management, estimates are refined iteratively throughout the project.

3. Identifying resources needed for the project:

  • Use the expertise of every team member to identify the resources and skill sets needed to complete the project.
  • Work with the project manager to get everything needed to execute the project, such as people, materials, equipment, and software.

4. Responding to changing requirements:

  • Be open to change and work with the project manager and sponsor to suggest, review, and respond to change requests.
  • Help re-estimate tasks, and adjust the project plan and scope of work as needed.
  • Adapt to changes in the project and the team's work, which may require re-doing previously done work or undoing finished work.

5. Executing, collaborating, and reporting:

  • Work with the project manager and other team members to execute essential project items, solve problems, and report on progress.
  • Collaborate with other project team members to solve problems as they arise.
  • Report on progress regularly to keep the project manager and sponsor informed, which helps them make informed decisions.

How to assemble a project team

Assembling a project team can be both an exciting and daunting task. Here are some essential steps to structure your project team:

Recruit for skills

The success of the project largely depends on the team's skill sets, so it's imperative to select committed and dedicated members.

When building a project team, choose people with different backgrounds and complementary skills so that all aspects of the project are appropriately addressed so innovation can foster.

Get the role composition right

The team should have representatives from all areas affected by or have input into the project. It's also important to factor in how well the team members work together, as they may need to collaborate and interact regularly while assembling, planning, and implementing tasks.

Ultimately, constructing a cohesive group with a common goal is essential for success in any endeavor.

Tailor your approach

Each project (or team composition) will differ, so it's always wise to tailor roles accordingly, depending on your circumstances. Some teams may also incorporate additional positions not mentioned here, like business analysts or quality assurance professionals. Also, leaders may hire contractors instead of full-time employees in some organizations to execute projects, depending on their budget constraints/timing needs.

Ultimately, it's up to each project leader to determine what mix works best for them. Nonetheless, it's worthwhile to consider some of these typical roles when building your structure in the future!



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Eight principles for building and managing happy project teams

  1. Clarify roles and responsibilities: Avoid confusion and conflict by making sure everyone knows their role and what's expected of them.
  2. Set realistic goals: Keep the team motivated by setting achievable goals rather than overwhelming them.
  3. Communicate openly and often: A happy and productive team requires open and frequent communication. Encourage everyone to share their ideas and concerns.
  4. Respect each other's time and schedules: Show that you value your team members by respecting their time and schedules. Only schedule meetings outside of regular working hours if it's essential.
  5. Offer flexible working arrangements: Happy teams have the flexibility to work when and where they are most productive. This could include working from home or flexible hours.
  6. Encourage work-life balance: Promote the well-being of your team members by not expecting them to work excessive hours or on weekends unless absolutely necessary.
  7. Provide adequate resources: Motivated teams have the necessary resources available to them, including a budget, staff, office space, and equipment.
  8. Allow for some fun: Keep the team engaged by including social events, team-building activities, or just taking a break to chat and relax with each other. Work hard, play hard!