The (New) Hierarchy of Needs – Part IV

[This is part four of a series on project management that is based upon Abraham Maslow's "Hierarchy of Needs"]


The next level up moves beyond this “foundation” and starts to get into the tactical level – “who’s involved and who’s accountable?”  In this layer, we build an organizational chart that shows who is involved and where each resource “fits”.  Discussions around “workstreams” and communication pathways can be found here.

In order for a project to be successful, accountability needs to be defined and enforced at multiple levels – not just with the project performers.  All project participants – including stakeholders – have a specific role to play, and if they have a role to play that means that they are accountable for “something”.  Said in another way, if it’s difficult to define what that resource is accountable for, then they should not be part of the project.  It’s really that simple.

Creating a team organizational chart is the first step in this accountability definition.  The key is that there should be ONE and only ONE leader.  Ensuring that the leadership chain is clear and unambiguous in the visual is extremely important – if it’s not obvious who is running the project, then you have a problem.

Having a technical lead, for example, can be beneficial but only if the structure is defined such that the technical lead reports to the PM.  If the PM and technical lead both report to the sponsor or customer, then you have an accountability problem.  Similarly, if you have multiple customers, how does that working relationship look?

Again, if it’s not obvious in the visual, it’s not going to be obvious in practice.

Another tip is to keep the core team as small as possible.  Why?  Mainly because the more resources you have, the more communication paths you create.  Communication paths are critical to a successful project and need to be carefully managed.

For example, in a “loose” organizational structure, you are more likely to have communication “cross talk” and duplicative efforts which impede progress.  Maintain the team organization and manage communication pathways like a traffic cop – keep things organized and life will be easier.

What happens when your project scope requires a significant number of resources?  Your core team can and should remain small.  Just divide the organization into discrete areas of accountability.  Again, keep the core team small and hold people accountable.  Careful workstream definition is key here.

I’ve learned even when people are identified on an organizational chart, it doesn’t mean they “buy-in” to the structure you’ve created.  Unfortunately, the reality is that they are unlikely to challenge what you’ve “built” because doing so can put them in an awkward position and you’re likely to receive false acknowledgement.

The key is to ensure team participants are comfortable in the role that you’ve identified, and if they are identified as a workstream lead, doubly ensure they know what you are asking them to do.

If you have the luxury of leading a team where roles are undefined, it can be beneficial to utilize Strengths Finder to truly understand the strengths of each resource.  It’s easy to assume that each person has strengths that align with the task they have been assigned, but that can be misleading.

Get the most from your resources by understanding where they excel and how they wish to contribute.

Remember, your primary goal is to build a solid relationship with the team.  If you don’t have that, it’s going to be difficult to be successful in your role.  Your secondary goal is to delegate, assume positive intent, empower the team and let things sort themselves out – you are not there to micromanage.  If you are micromanaging, you either haven’t got the right framework in place or you have the wrong resource doing that particular task (or both).