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Eight ways to tell if your project team is on the way up or on the way down June 21, 2009

Posted by HubTechInsider in Project Management, Uncategorized.
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In my professional roles leading software development teams, I have found that how Project Managers interact with their project team says not only alot about them as leaders, but also speaks volumes about the state of the organization itself. There is a dynamic lifeblood of personal relationships and interactions at the heart of a software development team that is an interesting take on leadership and team behavior. Your project team is either on the way up, or it is on the way down. In like fashion, your organization is either on the way up, or it is on the way down. Not every sign is easily recognizable at the time for what it really represents in terms of the direction your project team is heading.


A project team and an organization’s decline is like a disease: it is harder to detect but easier to cure in the early stages, and easier to detect but harder to cure in the later stages. Your project team and the encompassing organization may appear to be strong on the outside, but savvy insiders may be able to comprehend that your team is on the cusp of a dangerous and fatal fall off the cliff.


I have had the benefit (as I view it; Some would say curse) of having watched project teams in several different organizations and multiple industries. But it was easy to write about the below eight indicators because the signs tend to be the same regardless of the company and industry. In my role, you need to foster the good kind of environment where your project team can feel that the individuals are gelled into a cohesive unit that is winning. This feeling, rarely experienced, is like magic, and when a project team is hitting on all cylinders, each individual is capable of contributing their best to the endeavor at hand and feels like they are part of something special. Do your best as a Project Manager or team leader to foster this type of environment. Watch closely the eight key performance indicators I write about below and see how your current (or past) project teams have reflected which direction they are / were traveling in. You are either on the way up, or you are on the way down.


1. How is reality faced? – A team on the way down will shield the business owner or project sponsor from unpleasant facts – fearful and trepidacious, expecting criticism and penalties as a result of exposing rough realities. A team on the way up will constantly be exposing harsh realities: “Hey, man, look at this — this sucks hard…we got to fix this, and now”. Team members of a team on the way up will always bring forth these types of facts, as their project manager / team leader will never be critical of those who bring these ugly facts to life, feeling they need to be discussed and rectified.


2. How do project team members assert and support their opinions? – In a team on the way down, project team members will assert their opinions strongly, but will not provide data or evidence needed to form a strong and compelling argument. In a team on the way up, team members readily offer up solid data, evidence and bring logical argumentation skills to the discussion.


3. What style does the Project Manager use? – If the Project Manager or Project team leader uses a very low questions-to-statements ratio, and avoids critical input and allows sloppy reasoning and unsupported personal opinions to circulate in meetings, then your team is probably on the way down. However, if your PM or leader employs a Socratic style, using a high questions-to-statements ratio, challenges people and pushes for penetrating insights, then your team is probably on the way up.


4. How does the team coalesce behind decisions? – If team members grudgingly acquiesce to a decision but do not unify behind it or even work behind the scenes to undermine the decision ex post facto, then your team is on the way down. Teams on the way up will unify behind a decision once it is made, and work to make it successful, even if they did not initially agree with it.


5. How does the team give credit to each other? – Teams on the way down will seek as much credit for their own part of the job as possible for themselves, often not even noticing that this style seldom results in the confidence and admiration of their peers. In a team on the way up, project team members will credit others for success, and they find that this tendency will result in the admiration of and confidence from the other project team members.


6. Do team members need to look smart in front of each other? – In a team on the way up, project team members will argue to look smart or to further their own particular interests within the organization, but in a team on the way up, team members’ arguments and debates are all geared towards finding the very best answers to the problems and issues the project team is facing. Nobody worries about “Looking smart” in a team on the way up, because they have internalized that old saying: “Being smart’s alot like being ladylike: if you have to say you are, you probably aren’t”. Nobody in the team on the way up wants to look cool – they want to be cool.


7. Does the team conduct ‘post-mortems’, and how? – In a project team on the way down, culprits are sought for blame rather than in a team on the way up, where autoposies are conducted in order to mine wisdom and learning for the next time around or to make sure that the misstep results in a learning experience. Otherwise, a mistake is a mistake made twice. Project teams on the way up don’t have time to blame team members – they are too busy moving forward with the next items of business.


8. How about results? – Teams on the way down, unsurprisingly, often fail to deliver great or even good results. They spend alot of time blaming either individual team members or outside factors for setbacks and failures. A team on the way up, in contrast, is comprised of individual team members who are all delivering exceptional results, but in the case of mistakes, setbacks, and errors, each team member accepts full responsibility on their own and learns from the mistakes. The project team on the way up fosters this environment which enables each individual team member to feel comfortable doing so.

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About the author.

I’m Paul Seibert, Editor of Boston’s Hub Tech Insider, a Boston focused technology blog. You can connect with me on LinkedIn, follow me on Twitter, even friend me on Facebook if you’re cool. I have a background in entrepreneurship, ecommerce, telecommunications and software development, I’m the Senior Technical Project Manager at eSpendWise, I’m a serial entrepreneur and the co-founder of Tshirtnow.net.

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1. Bones - June 24, 2009

I thought this post was a great reflection on the fundamentals of working in a project team enviroment. Two points though…

1. Project managers should first ask themselves whether or not they are project “managers” or “leaders” as this will vary from company to company. In other words, don’t expect to move mountains in a culture where you are more of a timekeeper than a leader. Don’t get me wrong, lead where you can and where necessary but just be aware that the business sponsor might rather have you as a “partner” than an overzealous “leader”.

2. Opinions. As the old saying goes – these are like a-holes, everyone has one. And I couldn’t agree more on the fact that if you don’t have one supported with relevant info (notice I did not say fact because what is that really at this stage), you should keep quiet for the sake of meeting efficiency (god knows we need more of that more than ever).

3. Giving credit, post-mortems and results. I don’t want to burst any visions of leadership grandeur here but PMs need to adapt their role to the culture. While “team” and “leadership” are great things to step up and address when obviously absent, there is nothing more irritating ghan an overzealous PM. Be smart, and get your team to work together because it wants to and because of your natural relationships – not because you are are trying to be the “big leader” or because of something you read in a management book.

Be smart and relax. Successful teams are built around people who can get along and appreciate each other (professionally anyway) – not a-holes with unbridled ambition and an anal retentive personality (e.g. Engineering degree or chip on their shoulder with something to prove to mom and dad).

2. Xyek - December 25, 2009

Thank you I really liked it. Sure you check to see you again.

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