Managing Project Team Tools & techniques

May 30, 2010

Besides the conflict resolution discussed elsewhere, there are several other tools and techniques a savvy project manager can use in managing the project team. Though conflict resolution is possible the most important tool a project manager can have in his arsenal, these other tools a re also quite important. These include Observation & conversation, project performance appraisals, issue log, interpersonal skills and effective decision making.
Tools and What They Do
Observation and conversations are tools that let you get a good feel of what is happening. Since actions speak louder that what a person says, observing what is happening will give you better clue as to what is going on. Similarly, since you cannot see into the heads of people and make out what their thoughts are, conversation is a good tool to bring out the thoughts in someones head and understand where this person is coming from.
Conducting periodic performance appraisals is another tool that can be used effectively. This substitutes the hard measurements one takes in case of other processes. During the lifetime of a project, project appraisals may include clarifications of the roles & responsibilities. Providing constructive criticisms as to the performance of a team member provides those opportunities of reinforcing the positives and corrective actions on the part of the member of any shortcomings pointed out. Depending on how the project may have progressed up to that point, specific goals or modifications of already defined goals can be carried out. Training needs can get defined if these needs are deduced from any skill shortcoming being evident from the appraisal. It is also possible that undiscovered or unresolved issues are discovered during the process.
How often the appraisals are carried out would be directly proportional to the length of the project execution; complexity of the project, already existing policies etc. Labor contract requirements and need for quality communication can also dictate the periodicity of the exercise.
There are a wide range of interpersonal skills project managers are required to be trained on and they need to be adept at using these skills. These skills are a mix of technical, human and conceptual skills. These help a project manager get a feel of what the situation is within the team and what may need to be done to improve performance, resolve conflicts, and motivate members and so on.
While these skills cover a whole array of things there are specific traits that are very relevant to managing the project team. These include leadership and influencing skills that are very important.
Leadership needs to be earned, which means that the team members have to be able to repose the faith in you. You need to be able, in turn, to inspire the team and be able to communicate the vision very clearly. Influencing is a major skill the project manager needs to be able to use every day. Besides being able to influence team members they will be required to influence stakeholder to make it easy for the team members to carry out their work and reach the project goals. Key influencing skills include strong ability to be persuasive and be very articulate. This gives the managers ability to state positions very clearly and persuade other to subscribe to them. The ability to articulate points and positions helps resolve conflicts easily. The ability to listen probably should be the top skill a manager must have. This ability lets you understand the issues easily. An objective bent of mind that lets the project manager understand differing points of views easily. Managers who can gather important data about issues and reach agreement can develop mutual trust within a team.
It is said that managers that are able to make 85% of the decisions correctly are very effective ones. Effective decision making is thus a very important skill that is necessary in a project setting. These decision often are taken in the absence of complete background data. The ability to take decisions based on incomplete data is as asset for the project manager. The ability to negotiate and influence the project team and the organization is useful to the manager. For taking effective decisions one could follow some guidelines. These include focusing on the goals, following a process in the decision making, help team members develop personal qualities, challenge and stimulate team members to be creative and innovative and manage opportunities and risks equally well.
Focusing on the goals is like cutting out some noise from the data that you need to consider for effective decision making. It is easy to judge the pros and cons prior to decision making as you are aware what is relevant as far as your goals are concerned. Following a process has well known advantages. The most important one being that if the process is good the decisions made through that system are bound to be good. Developing personal skills makes the team members a well rounded personality that is useful in having rational people populate your project. Creativity too needs stimulation and thus it is a mangers job to do that and keeping an eye over possible opportunity and risks are necessary to watch the health of the project.

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