Like many other project managers, and other professionals alike, I enjoy reading about project management. One recurring topic is that of “Project Teams.” Each of us comes with our own unique experiences and work in our own unique environments. Even with that being the case, there is a level of commonality with what we do and how we do it. I’m sure you would agree that it doesn’t mean 100% commonality. It can mean familiarity or, at a minimum, acknowledgement – as in “Yeah, I can see how that could work somewhere else, but not here.”

That was my response when I recently read an article on by Kent McDonald titled “Picking the Right Project Team”. Kent visited a very familiar topic in the realm of project management prose. I read the article, nodding my head in agreement, and at the end thought to myself, “makes sense, but who has that much choice when it comes to project teams?”

As both a consultant and now in a corporate IT position, I have had relatively slim pickings when it comes to resourcing the projects assigned to me. This is not to imply anything as to the quality of the resources available for my project teams, just the quantity. When reading an article such as Mr. McDonald’s, I form a picture in my head of standing in front of the cereal shelves at the local grocery store. There in front of me is an abundance of selections with a variety of characteristics. I can pick one of each category type (healthy, sugary, hot, cold, etc.) – the specialist approach. Or I can pick a more well rounded selection that provides a bit of each (multi-grain with a sugar coating able to be served hot or cold) – the generalist approach. If I want to crash my breakfast, I can pick a couple boxes of the same type to apply to a particular dining experience to get the job done a bit faster.

In reality, I’m faced more with the bread and milk aisles just before a blizzard. Add to that, in a weak matrix I don’t even have the authority to pick my own bread and milk. The store manager comes along and picks that out for me and wishes me a good afternoon 🙂

The question arises, in what environments are other project managers working in which they have this level of selection when staffing their project teams? I know when I was consulting, I had maybe two selections (on a good day) for filling a project team role. Otherwise, I was limited to the person with the most appropriate skillset who was available. Are our “team selection” authors working in large corporations that have not yet “right-sized” their staff? Also, my resource constraints at my current role reach out into multiple projects. When working with core infrastructure services (i.e. directory services, specialized apps) we are single threaded when it comes to key technology roles. Meaning, when I engage a specialist on one project, that specialist is unavailable on another project which requires that skillset.

What have your experiences been when building your project teams?