Wednesday, 05 June 2013 07:42

Project Team Management - How Much is Too Much?

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I was talking the other day to one of my favorite project managers who told me his project team was complaining that he takes too much of their time every week. While this seems to be a common complaint in the Information Technology (IT) industry, I wondered if it is also common in other industries. Does a plumber or electrician on a construction project continually feel the project manager is taking too much time from them each week? Do team members in manufacturing feel the project manager is taking all their time? Do project managers in different industries need the same amount of time from a project team member that an IT project manager does?

Because this is common for IT project managers, they must be cognizant of balancing their need to gather information with the independence of their team members, which can be a difficult balance. Let’s think about some common questions that project managers face with this issue:

  • Why is it so hard for project team members to understand that project managers need time?
  • Why do IT project managers have to have this battle with their team members?
  • Do the team members have the right to question how much time they should be providing to their project manager?
  • How does a project manager with direct authority (hire and fire) over team members deal with this issue? Is it even an issue in this case? Does having this decision-making ability factor into whether team members will complain about an increased time commitment?
  • How does the risk tolerance of a project manager play into the time they need from their team members? Does a risk taking project manager need little time and a more cautious manager take more time?

These are all great questions and something that project managers should consider when they are facing and dealing with this issue. Even reviewing these questions gives project managers a starting point to think about how they can address this issue.

Let’s look at some of the various reasons project managers call their team members together:

  1. Project Planning
  2. Project Status Team Meetings
  3. Project Risk Meetings
  4. Project Customer Meetings
  5. Project Group Deliverable Development

If you consider these meetings being an hour at minimum, this means that roughly five hours per week when the project team member is not working on project tasks. The project manager considers these five hours as project administration and the team members is thinking “the project manager has pulled me away from doing my real work!”

Now, in a typical 40-hour workweek, five hours out of 40 hours is relatively small. The 5 hours broken down across an 18-month project, is only 360 hours (factoring in 20 hours per month). In actuality, this is pretty minimal when you consider the importance of having the team member in the room, providing status information, and communicating his or her area of the project. Imagine what a project manager would face if they received little time from their team members each week to learn a project’s status?

Now, this is all pretty easy to understand if we assume that a team member is only working on a single project. Unfortunately, in today’s world that is rather unrealistic, and many team members are working on multiple projects. As such, project managers should be aware of the commitments their team members have to other projects, as well. 

While there is no single correct answer, here are a few recommendations and best practices for project managers to consider when asking time of their team members:

  1. Consider the time you are going to ask from each team member and set expectations from the project’s launch so team members are informed from the beginning.
  2. Project team members must consider project administration time into their time efforts on their projects – if they know and understand this time commitment at the beginning of the project, then they will factor this in and won’t feel like the project manager is pulling them away from their real work.
  3. Project managers must consider that project team members in most cases are working on many projects at once. When you double and triple the administrative time that you are asking from your project team members, it could leave them with limited time available to perform the work of their projects.

I think it is important for project managers to do a good job in administrating and driving their projects when it comes time management of their team members. Project managers must consider their project team members and the time commitments they have when assigning individual project tasks. I also believe strongly that it is important for project team members to understand the importance of providing project information to their project managers. If managers are asking for information, they’re probably doing it for a reason. If both parties work together on this and are considerate of each other’s needs, project teams will likely be far more cohesive and successful.

What do you think?

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Bill Dow, PMP

Bill Dow has been in IT for the last 23 years with 21 of those years focusing on Project Management. He has built 2 Project Management Offices from the ground up using the best practices and core principals of PMI and lead countless projects. He has worked both in Canada and the US and has worked in a variety of industries.

Bill is the co-author of the "Project Management Communication Bible", an
801 page reference manual, published in 2008 for Wiley publishing. This book has been listed in the Top 100 for Project Management books.

His second book, "The Tactical Guide for Building a PMO", takes his personal experience in building and implementing PMO's over a 10 year period and puts it into a format that is easy to read and use for any PMO Manager. 

Bill currently works for Microsoft IT as the Project Management Discipline Owner as well an Adjunct Professor at Bellevue College, Bellevue WA, USA.

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