Resolved: It’s better to grow a project team rather than look for star employees to put on your team

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This topic contains 8 replies, has 4 voices, and was last updated by  Josh Nankivel 6 years, 10 months ago.

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  • #150935

    Bill Brantley

    At a seminar back in 2004, Dr. Harold Kerzner argued that a project manager is better off taking a team of average performers and developing them into superstars rather than try to fight other project managers for superstars to staff a project team. Do you agree or disagree?

    If you agree, how does a project manager take the time to develop superstars while delivering the project on time, within budget, and on scope?

  • #150951

    Josh Nankivel

    It’s not about developing superstars, at least not directly. It’s about developing a superstar team, which doesn’t have to consist of all superstars.

    Think about sports teams and the draft. It’s not at all clear that a single or even a couple superstars is going to make for a winning team. Many superstars end up going nowhere with their teams because they are less of a team member and more of a showboat.

    And I think that’s the heart of it; fostering a team environment where people are empowered and work well together is more important than having individual superstars on your team.

  • #150949

    Travis K. Anderson

    Growing a project team depends on the contextual elements of the project. Is the project an aberrantly risky and highly visible project that if unsuccessful affects the safety of others or the organization as a whole? Then it is best to recruit a superstar team as a way to mitigate the risks of failure.

    The prior situation is not a common situation. So given a typical government project environment as another situational type, I would agree that growing a team is the more optimal option. In today’s business environment, PMs inherit teams and have limited resources (direct and indirect dollars) to develop the team into superstars. Given the highly competitive nature of the government contracting industry, organizations have little choice other than to control indirect spending in order to remain competitive and protect shareholder value. So that means PMs need to be creative in how they obtain the means to develop staff A) as highly viable individuals; B) as optimally functional teams.

    One way is to institute frequent half hour brown bags during lunch that touch on topics that will expand the individual(s) skills or the team as a whole. For virtual team members, provide a WebEx. Another option is to pick a key performer and personally invest time in the development of that individual. Then ask him/her to pay it forward. If your budget allows for tuition reimbursement, then invite team members to take advantage of that benefit.


  • #150947

    Bill Brantley

    @Josh – Agree completely with building a superstar team instead of just a superstar. Harvard Business Review had a great article on that a few years back.

  • #150945

    Bill Brantley

    @Travis – Exactly! Your comments captured perfectly the dilemma of a project manager pressed for time and resources who just can’t spend the time developing team members. I like your solutions but what would you suggest the organization do as way of developing good project team members?

  • #150943

    Josh Nankivel

    Good points Travis!

  • #150941

    Josh Nankivel

    I have some ideas based on my experience of what has worked for me and my teams. I’ll write a blog post in the coming week to expand on this topic, it’s a good one. Here’s a first shot at codifying what I try to do with my teams (things I’m not perfect at and should be doing more! 😉

    • immediate feedback model (80-90% will be positive – ask, state observation, state impact)
    • every activity tied to purpose – customer value (coding to specs is boring; why are we doing this?)
    • empower self-organizing teams (visualize work and let team members coordinate)
    • give sincere props to the team and individuals internally and externally whenever possible (not yourself)
    • encourage learning whenever possible for skills individuals want to learn/improve (self-organizing teams can pick new challenges instead of the same-old)
  • #150939

    Recruit talent first. If you hire an 8, you’ve got your baseline.

    If you start with a 4-5, it’s a lot of hard work, time and money to get them to 7-8.

    With the pace and protracted timelines of projectized operations, you don’t have the luxury of waiting for people to get “there.”

    One additional note: this means hiring a team of 8s…not just getting one superstar. Everyone on the team should be of high caliber. Mold ’em together.

  • #150937

    Just in case you want to make everyone a star – from Forbes…

    “How to Find the Star Performer in Every Employee”

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