Thinking Teams


Advances in Project Management

Thinking Teams, performing teams and sustaining teams: Beginning the dialogue around working together

By Prof Darren Dalcher

Director, National Centre for Project Management
University of Hertfordshire

United Kingdom

When can we talk about teams?

Given that teams are central to effective project management, and indeed, to project work, do we spend enough time considering the role and impacts of teams? Do we take them for granted, or do they really offer us the best way of organising for project delivery?

It is about thirty years since the publication of Peopleware—Productive Projects and Teams by Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister. The book has had a profound influence on the management of software projects, as the neologism, the newly coined term, peopleware (also employed by Peter Neumann), gradually gained acceptance as the third core aspect of computer technology, alongside, the better established and more recognised aspects of hardware and software.

Peopleware has been utilised as a label referring to the role of people in development IT systems and grown to encompass teamwork, group dynamics, project management, organisational factors, the psychology of programming and the interface with people and users. The importance of the book was in drawing attention to the significance of managing project teams; reminding readers that the major problems encountered in projects were not technical, but sociological or political issues that needed to be considered, understood, practiced and taught within the canon of software development.

DeMarco and Lister assert that software managers are prone to a tendency to manage people as if they were components. It may not be surprising as technicians and developers who are used to organising resources into modular pieces, such as software routines or circuits, get promoted to managerial positions. The black-box approach that works for hardware and software systems, allowing developers to ignore internal idiosyncrasies, and the tendency to work with a standard interface, does not apply to teams of developers and project workers. Managers of software teams thus need to learn to overcome a new set of challenges related to the performance and characteristics of individual members and the wider project team.

Project teams

Given that projects, by the very nature, require the use of teams, one would expect to find a plethora of ideas and insights about organising teams within the standard literature.

Yet, at first glance through the tables of contents, the various bodies of knowledge do not address the team concept as a main area of interest. This is a little surprising, as it would seem to impact the operational side of project organization.

A more detailed search of the 5th edition of the PMI Guide to the Body of Knowledge (PMBoK) identifies teams within the Project Human Resource Management knowledge area. The chapter makes it abundantly clear that the project manager is responsible for the team. Subsequent guidance addresses the development of team competencies, facilitation of team interaction and the creation of a team environment that is likely to enhance project performance. Team formation is discussed under the standard steps of forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning, indicating that the responsibility for guiding the team lies with the project manager. In the earlier part of the Guide, under organisational influences, the project team is described as being made up of the project manager and other project workers.

The sixth edition of the APM Body of Knowledge (APM BOK) does a little better and covers teams under the interpersonal skill of ‘teamwork’, included in the people section (there are three sections overall focused on context, people and delivery). Teamwork is defined as “a group of people working in collaboration or by cooperation towards a common goal”.

The general guidance elaborates that teams consist of groups of people, committed to a common goal that no one individual can achieve alone. The resulting focus of teams and teamwork is on mutual accountability and performance.


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Editor’s note: The PMWJ Advances in Project Management series includes articles by authors of program and project management books previously published by Gower in the UK and now by Routledge. Each month an introduction to the current article is provided by series editor Prof Darren Dalcher, who is also the editor of the Gower/Routledge Advances in Project Management series of books on new and emerging concepts in PM. To learn more about the book series, go to https://www.routledge.com/Advances-in-Project-Management/book-series/APM. Prof Dalcher’s article is an introduction to the invited paper this month in the PMWJ.


About the Author

Darren Dalcher, PhD

Series Editor
Director, National Centre for Project Management
University of Hertfordshire, UK

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Darren Dalcher
, Ph.D. HonFAPM, FRSA, FBCS, CITP, FCMI is Professor of Project Management at the University of Hertfordshire, and founder and Director of the National Centre for Project Management (NCPM) in the UK. He has been named by the Association for Project Management (APM) as one of the top 10 “movers and shapers” in project management in 2008 and was voted Project Magazine’s “Academic of the Year” for his contribution in “integrating and weaving academic work with practice”. Following industrial and consultancy experience in managing IT projects, Professor Dalcher gained his PhD in Software Engineering from King’s College, University of London. Professor Dalcher has written over 150 papers and book chapters on project management and software engineering. He is Editor-in-Chief of Software Process Improvement and Practice, an international journal focusing on capability, maturity, growth and improvement. He is the editor of the book series, Advances in Project Management, published by Gower Publishing of a new companion series Fundamentals of Project Management. Heavily involved in a variety of research projects and subjects, Professor Dalcher has built a reputation as leader and innovator in the areas of practice-based education and reflection in project management. He works with many major industrial and commercial organisations and government bodies in the UK and beyond. He is an Honorary Fellow of the APM, a Chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society, a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute, and the Royal Society of Arts, and a Member of the Project Management Institute (PMI), the Academy of Management, the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and the Association for Computing Machinery. He is a Chartered IT Practitioner. He is a Member of the PMI Advisory Board responsible for the prestigious David I. Cleland project management award and of the APM Professional Development Board. Prof Dalcher is an academic editorial advisor for the PM World Journal. He can be contacted at [email protected].

To see other works by Prof Darren Dalcher, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/darren-dalcher/.