It’s easy to focus on the methodology of project management. From scrum to lean to critical path, each approach orchestrates a project team in a unique and fascinating way.
But focusing too heavily on the methodology for managing a team can lead to neglecting an equally important consideration: who should actually be on the project team?
Regardless of the intricate techniques managers use to tackle the complexity of projects, it’s the team who is ultimately responsible for the success or failure of the undertaking. Stocking your team with individuals who wield the right skillsets can be a challenge for both fledglings and experienced project leads.
Here are the 5 people nearly every project will require to be successful.
The Project Manager
Equal parts planner, politician, and communicator, the project manager is the nexus through which the entire operation flows. In many cases, they are the difference between failure and success.
Good project managers exhibit the technical prowess to understand and judge the needs and performance of subject matter experts while also displaying soft skills to diffuse any tension that arises internally within the team or externally with other stakeholders. They also bear the majority of the organizational responsibility, which is why they often require project management software to create wikis for documentation, manage tasks, and engender collaboration.
Technical skills may be the main requirements sought by executive leadership or hiring managers, but it’s actually the people skills that differentiate good project managers from excellent project leads.
For example, if two members of the team have a disagreement about creative direction or technical execution, the PM must play the role of arbiter and smooth out the situation in a manner that appears objective. This way both parties leave the discussion with the sense that their opinion was acknowledged and valued, regardless of the final decision.
Factor in the need to be able to catch and fix small hiccups, anticipate major bottlenecks, and create and manage documentation, it’s no great mystery why PMs are vital to the success of any project.
The Executive Sponsor
Every major initiative needs buy-in from the leadership team. Without the backing of the leaders of the company, the project will be underappreciated, understaffed, and underfunded. It’s the executive sponsor’s job to make sure the rest of the higher-ups appreciate the importance of the project, and that they allocate the necessary resources, including the right financial solutions, to make it successful.
The specifics of this role can vary depending on the size of the company. The project manager may themselves be on the leadership team, and therefore may play the role of the executive sponsor. If they requested and championed the project from the beginning, then the executive sponsor may be the driving force behind the project. Or they may need to be recruited by the project manager to help push the idea through the barrier of executive scrutiny.
Either way, the political clout that the executive sponsor wields is vital to the livelihood of major projects. Any manager working without an executive ally will find change in requirements or schedule much harder to justify.
The Subject Matter Expert
Subject matter experts (SME) are the writers, developers, designers, and anyone else who performs the functional aspects of researching and building the different aspects of the project. They likely have greater knowledge of specific parts of the project than the PM or executive sponsor, which helps flesh out the smaller details that aren’t discussed in the leadership meetings.
Deciding which blend of SMEs to recruit for your team will depend on the unique requirements of each project — one writer may be sufficient for your upcoming eBook or you may need to pull in another contributor to double check the facts on that massive benchmarks report you publish every year.
The project lead will likely lean heavily on the expertise of the subject matter experts for input on the minutia that form the core components of a quality project, e.g., small details on creative direction, or realistic feedback on functional capabilities for a web app or other product.
Keeping the subject matter experts happy, productive, and focused is one of the main responsibilities of the project manager. Without these members of the team, the project simply won’t get done.
The Business Analyst
There can be some confusion about the role of the business analyst when compared with the role of the project manager. Both are concerned with project requirements, ROI, and resource allocation, but the business analyst works a bit more closely with the subject matter experts to gather data and distill that information into reports for the project manager and other internal stakeholders.
In essence, a business analysis is the numbers person, and they play an important role in examining the project from an objective, factual standpoint.
Even if your organization practices a flat form of project management, each project team will still need to feature the skills listed above — although the actual titles of the individuals may be different. With the appropriate mix of technical skill, political clout, and team communication, these four roles help create a well-rounded project team.
Zach Watson is marketing operations analyst at TechnologyAdvice. He covers marketing automation, project management, healthcare IT, HR, and other emerging technology. Connect with him on LinkedIn.