Toward Project Team Success: Communication is Key

Ever worked on a project team, and it didn’t go so smoothly?

In every project team, all employees are stakeholders.

about project teams

Creating a successful project team is more than just picking the right people. It’s also, if not more, about assembling the right group dynamic. Without that, communication breakdowns happen more often, trust becomes an issue, and your project could suffer.

Or fail.

Of course, the above things are only the tip of the iceberg. For example, skillset compatibility plays a role because you need to ensure everyone on the team has experience working with each other’s skillsets. Why? Because it helps to foster more comfortable and streamlined communication.

So, easy peasy, right?

It can be so frustrating when you’re part of a project team that’s just not clicking – when it feels like everyone is working against each other instead of together. You might ask yourself, “What’s going on here? Why do so many companies seemingly ‘miss the mark’ when putting project teams together?”

A few reasons this can happen: first, mismatched skillsets and personalities can lead to conflict and confusion. Second, if team members don’t trust or respect one another, it will be difficult to work collaboratively. Finally, if the team (and project) isn’t correctly aligned with the company’s goals, then the odds of succeeding plummet right from the start.

So what can you do to ensure your project team is firing on all cylinders?

This is the 4th post in a 7-part “AI Series!” What’s that, you may ask? I’m testing an AI tool to generate new ideas, combat writer’s block, find additional perspectives, etc. Spoiler: it still requires A LOT of editing. If interested, is who created the tool (YouWrite) and here are my thoughts on blogging with an AI tool. For more posts, visit my blog.

So many questions and even more options!

When participating in a company project, we as employees can choose from an ever-growing list of options and, in turn, make project success increasingly complicated. (The keyword here is “increasingly,” and not only is that an overgeneralization but a total understatement, at least from a BA and AI perspective!)

But why? WHY??!

Frustraaaaated Incorporrrrated ??

To keep from blabbering on about the obvious, let’s think about what happens when we get overloaded with information.

We get overloaded.

And then…

Queue: the project team communication breakdown!

Despite a project’s complexity, you need to foster clarification and open-communication from the start. If you don’t, then project teams and stakeholders get confused.

As a great business philosopher once said, “garbage in, garbage out.” (I’m paraphrasing)

So, all jokes aside, where do we go from here?

Well, this is what the AI suggested from all of the above:

“We need to take a step back, focus on the task at hand, and simplify things. And that’s what this is all about: breaking down the overwhelming project landscape into digestible chunks so that we can act accordingly and achieve success.”

So what’s the first digestible chunk?

As a Business Analyst (BA)/Project Manager, I follow a process before interviewing any stakeholders regarding “the next project step.” For example, suppose a company needed an action plan toward integrating 15 different versions of a company-wide dashboard into 5 or perhaps a single version for all employees. In that case, there are things a BA needs to figure out first.

Imagine this scenario

You’re a new consultant for a company and already assigned to a project. Imagine you also need to work with a Project Manager (PM) who’s also new to the company/team/project.

As a BA, you’d initially want to touch base with the PM and see if they have any information that would be helpful and vice versa. (Ahem, that initial meeting also helps to foster the “working in conjunction” component.)

It may also be a good ice breaker if you haven’t met.

[sound of record scratching]

Get intentional when it comes to clarity.

The “communication disconnect” happens when roles aren’t clear before a project begins. But, if decision-makers or the company at large have a blind spot in that arena (simultaneously), it’s a double whammy.

But, of course, it’s less likely to happen if the company is familiar with differing perspectives between, for example, BA and PM roles. More specifically, you need to understand how their duties overlap (which can change based on the project), the skillsets of each team member (not based on position title!), and past experience.

The second digestible chunk

successful project teams rejoice

When piecing together successful project teams, some companies excel, and others are… learning. However, as mentioned above, with all of the moving pieces and people involved, it seems pretty evident that it isn’t a single person’s fault. Moreover, it’s a sign of the times, and companies need to take note. The way project teams are formed, combined with a changing economy, the rise of remote work, a “short-staffed” workforce due to COVID-19, and changing definitions of business analysis vs. project management, a shift needs to happen when it comes to projects and managing them better.

So why does a shift need to happen? (I asked the AI tool to help summarize it, and it did!)

An AI Perspective on Project Team Success vs. Failure Rates

“There are many factors to form the team for a successful technical project. The Standish Group’s CHAOS report is one of the most well-known and respected assessments of success rates based on company size.

The main takeaway from the report is that, more often than not, despite a company’s size, project failure rates are usually higher than success rates. In other words, even if your business is large and you’re working on an important project, there’s still a good chance it will fail.

This isn’t to say that complex technical projects can’t be successful – they certainly can be – but there are many factors to make them succeed. And if you’re not careful, any number of things can lead to your project falling short of its goals.”

[I was surprised that the AI tool had pretty spot-on, albeit general, insight into the matter, so I asked:

What factors make forming a project team with business analysts and project managers more successful?]

Here is the result:

“Forming a project team with business analysts and project managers can be a successful way to get your project off the ground. By working together early on, you can develop a clear understanding of the goals and objectives of the project and how best to achieve them. Here are some factors to keep in mind when forming your team:

  1. Establish clear roles and responsibilities for each team member.
  2. Work together to create a comprehensive plan for the project. This will help ensure that everyone has a shared understanding of the goals, objectives, and overall strategy for achieving them.
  3. Communicate regularly and openly with one another. This will help keep everyone on track and aware of any potential issues or challenges that may arise during the course of a project.”

My take

The second point is that open communication in companies seems to be lacking vs. encouraged. And guess what? As a BA, that’s one of the areas I analyze before planning an approach!

Then, I asked:

So, clearly defining roles and open communication between management and employees (when forming project teams) seems lackluster vs. prioritized. As a result, confusion seems to grow and impact cohesiveness. Any advice?

Project Team Mishap (The AI’s reply):

Project teams are often created in a hurry. Moreover, skipping over researching how each team member can best contribute is the beginning of the end. This can lead to unnecessary confusion and a lack of motivation, conviction, and further conflict.

Some familiar sources of confusion (still the AI)

One common source of confusion is between business analysis and project management. Many people assume that these two roles are interchangeable, but they’re actually quite different. Business analysts focus on understanding the business problem and designing a solution. Project managers ensure that projects get completed on time and within budget. Everyone in a project team needs to understand these distinctions.

To help figure out the above scenario, this is one technique that I (the human) use:

  1. Pick two closely related college majors and jot them down.
  2. Draw two columns in a modeling tool or on a piece of paper
  3. Assign each major to its own column
  4. Under the first column, write 3 relevant roles that pertain to the major (none can be the same).
  5. Do the same under column 2
  6. Go back to column 1, compare all roles, and jot down the main similarity concerning overall job function.
  7. Do the same under column 2
  8. Take both similarities and create a comparison summary like the example below.

For example, when it comes to a bachelor’s in business management (BBM) vs. applied management (BSAM), the BBM focuses on managing current/existing operations. In contrast, the BSAM focuses on change management through analyzing (existing processes) for optimization opportunities and toward improved cost-efficiency (some also call this Digital Transformation).

Project Team Dynamic (my POV)

Another issue that causes problems within project teams is organizational silos caused by management.

When our opinions or inputs don’t matter, we disengage. Of course, this isn’t solely caused by “poor management” but a company’s culture. Think: skills and strengths vs. personality traits like being a “people-person” (extroverted) or “a good communicator” (assertive).

Again, the best way to avoid this situation is by establishing clear lines of communication and expectations and fostering collaboration in the planning phase.

CTRL+ALT+Delete Project Team Miscommunication

At this point, I started to notice a pattern with the AI tool’s replies. So I decided to switch it up and focus on where business analysts can help bridge the communication gap.

My final question(s) to the AI tool:

What are the suggested steps (for a BA) once they’ve been assigned to a new project? What about Project Managers?

The AI’s final answer:

Navigating the project team multiverse

“As a business analyst (BA) assigned to a new project team, you should first familiarize yourself with the project. This includes reading any documentation or requirements provided and talking to stakeholders as needed to better understand what the project is trying to achieve.

Once you understand the project, your next step is to create or update your BA plan. The document outlines how you plan to complete your analysis and what resources are needed. It’s important to keep your BA plan up-to-date as the project progresses so that everyone involved knows what’s going on and can make timely decisions.

Project Teams Need to Communicate Often

Finally, be sure to communicate with stakeholders regularly and effectively throughout the course of the project. Keep them informed of any findings, recommendations, or potential risks to decide how best to proceed.”

In Summary

You’ve probably noticed a common theme for building successful project teams! The main takeaway is understanding how the project aligns with a company’s overall objectives, planning and monitoring, and fostering collaboration and open communication.

So while it’s clear that different project team members have overlapping duties (think: PMs and BAs), their perspectives and project contributions are (and should be) different.

Ultimately, we need to work to better understand the intricacies between roles. Furthermore, understanding those grey areas can help us uncover skillset differences that we would have otherwise never known existed.

Overall, those “discoveries” can help us make better decisions during the initial planning phase and mitigate friction and communication barriers throughout the project. Who knows, maybe all of that could even help improve delivery times (looking at you-agile teams), more efficient prioritization, save money, and… more?

How do you help reduce project failure rates at your company? Comment below!

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