Why and how to structure best-fit project teams

Having worked as a risk and compliance consultant for 19+ years in a wide gamut of companies from large financial services corporations to non-profits, I am sharing my insights on the people aspect of successful projects. First, let’s start with the importance of structuring best-fit teams.

Why is it important to structure a best-fit team?

At the most basic level, the problem with an ill-fit team is that it yields bad results. Projects go over budget and get behind schedule. With everyone getting frustrated and stressed, the team becomes increasingly counterproductive. This leads to poor or patchy results: slow or no deliverables, missed deadlines, unhappy clients, or even worse – dropping the ball on legal or regulatory deadlines.

In many situations there are unrealistic expectations and huge internal and external pressures from regulators and stakeholders. Very often there is a time-critical problem that needs to be solved without much time flexibility. To avoid missteps, it is imperative to select the right team with the requisite knowledge and experience. This flattens the learning curve and ramp-up time, allowing the team to produce results more quickly and effectively from the outset.

When the right team is in place, we minimize the number of changes we need to make – which saves time and money! Now I’m going to focus on the process for creating best-fit teams.

Step 1 – Understand the Project Scope

The first aspect we like to consider is Scope. How big or complex is the problem? Sometimes the issue is we do not know or understand how big the problem is yet. It is important to talk with the client up-front to get a clear understanding of what is the problem that needs to be solved (i.e., is it a regulatory mandate or an internal requirement), why does it need to be solved, and when. So, it helps to discuss with the client/sponsor exactly what we are trying to achieve and to review our approach on delivering the desired results.  It’s important to note that there may be several conversations as often there are multiple stakeholders involved.

Step 2 – Agree on Sequential Milestones and High-Level Timelines

The second thing to do is look at milestones and activities. Consider the agreed-on sequential milestones and high-level timelines and deadlines that are needed to accomplish the project. Make sure they’re sensible and achievable. This will ensure we are on the same page with both the client/sponsor and the team. But more importantly, it will enable us to know what resources we will need and when we’ll need to put them in, allowing us to plan the resources accordingly without any costly surprises.

Step 3 – Develop the Resource Mix

Now we are ready to develop the resources mix which will also enable us to create a top-down budget. Once we have the approach, timing and milestones set, we can outline the structure of the team needed to fit the required activities, for example – the correct number of SMEs in different areas, analysts, paralegals. At this point, we should also find out if the client has any internal resources to leverage. After determining the structure of the team, we put together job specs based on the outlined activities and requisite skills and experience to perform them. This will help us to home in on the right resources quickly. Look for diversity and a blend of personalities to avoid group think. Ultimately the right combination will make the team happier, yielding higher retention rates, which will allow our project to run smoothly and meet our deliverables in a timely manner. Securing best-fit teams from the outset ensures project success!

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