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What you need to know about project teams

Last updated

18 April 2024

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Mary Mikhail

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Unorganized teams naturally veer toward chaos. Without the right structure, objectives, or participants, you can find yourself with very little work done at the end of a session. That’s why planning out your company’s projects and project teams is one of the best ways to achieve your goals.

This “metawork” sets the stage for clear, purpose-driven productivity. However, when you’re suddenly faced with putting a project team together or inheriting a project team, it’s not always clear where you should start.

Whether you’re a project manager or a team manager, you’ll need to understand the basic framework of project teams, roles and structures, and the beginning steps to forming a team. This guide can serve as a foundation of knowledge.

What is a project team?

A project team is a group of people who come together to achieve a specific objective.

Each of those three components—the group, the coming together, and the objective—matter. As a project organizer, you should outline all three elements in detail to set up the project for success.

  • The group: your project may require a cross-departmental team with stakeholders from different areas of the organization, or it could be completely internal. Team members should have different roles, such as project manager, analyst, or subject matter expert.

  • The work style: setting a schedule, timeline, and deadlines will help the team stay on course. You can also establish how often the team meets, what meetings look like, and how members collaborate across the entire project.

  • The objective: think about what you need a team project for. Set clear objectives, milestones, and expectations for the final output.

Project teams can be incredibly varied, so it’s important to decide many of the details as early in the process as possible.

What are the benefits of project teams?

Setting up a cohesive, highly productive project team is a lot of work. However, creating teams to achieve different objectives can help your organization radically improve processes, make more robust decisions, and ensure your workplace is more engaging. This is especially helpful for cross-departmental projects with teams that don’t always work together in a day-to-day context.

Consider these benefits of using project teams instead of simply holding meetings or assigning work from the top down:

Accountability

Well-structured teams promote accountability. Everyone has a clear role. There’s plenty of team-tracking software that can help everyone understand their tasks, the overall balance of work across the team, and who has ownership of different obligations.

Managers can also use this data during performance reviews or when considering future assignments.

Career development

Few corporate employees want to hold a stagnant position for decades. Instead, they want to develop their career by learning new skills, taking on new responsibilities, and getting promoted to new positions.

Projects facilitate this progression. They help employees network within the organization and develop a wide variety of hard and soft skills. While the primary goal is production or improving processes, having team projects shows investment (and trust) in your employees.

Increased communication and engagement

Silos can develop between different departments despite an organization’s best efforts. This results in information being locked away and conflicting objectives arising, leading to tension.

Companies can start chipping away at these barriers by regularly creating cross-departmental project teams. This helps employees form better relationships with other people in the company who they wouldn’t usually interact with. Shared objectives make it easier to align work efforts.

Informed decision-making

The entire organization benefits when silos disappear. Companies can listen to and understand the perspectives of employees from different departments on wide-reaching initiatives and company changes.

For example, imagine your project team is determining how to establish workflows within a new customer relationship management (CRM) or project management tool. Having insights from each part of the revenue cycle instead of just one department would be much more helpful. It’s also better than relying on second-hand observations exclusively from RevOps.

Innovation

Listening to the perspectives of people in different positions leads to more innovation. Projects can be about products, pricing, and customer service, but they can also be internal initiatives, such as diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) goals, sustainability efforts, remote work frameworks, and how to bolster company culture.

When you work as a team, you’ll create unique ideas and products that you wouldn’t have otherwise.

Your organization may get additional benefits and advantages depending on the types of projects you create and the goals outlined in your business strategy.

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7 common project team roles

Your project team’s success will hinge on each team member’s performance. You can stratify the different roles even further for bigger projects.

Establish roles for each employee involved to make their performance more predictable. These roles set expectations for the work they do, how they interact with other team members, and how they keep the momentum going all the way to the finish line.

Below, you’ll find the seven most common roles and learn where they fit in your project plans. Most projects can be successful with just the first three, which are the most essential roles. However, the other optional and more strictly defined roles may be useful for larger projects.

1. Project manager

Project managers, or team leaders, have an oversight and organizational role throughout project planning and implementation. Rather than working on the project’s focus, such as new app development or cleaning up customer records, a project manager focuses exclusively on ensuring the project runs smoothly.

Key tasks and responsibilities for project managers include the following:

  • Running the kick-off meeting

  • Assigning tasks that align with the project objectives

  • Coordinating between team members

  • Ensuring milestones and deadlines are met to keep the project on schedule

  • Creating and implementing resource management plans

  • Tracking KPIs and monitoring overall project health

  • Keeping the team aligned with the project vision

  • Communicating progress to business leaders and other stakeholders about the project outcomes

Essentially, a project manager keeps the engine running and makes sure the project doesn’t fall off track.

2. Project sponsor

While the project manager leads the project’s internal workings, the project sponsor is the executive or high-level leader who champions the project. They are effectively the project owner.

For example, a senior contract analyst may manage a contract repository’s cleanup project, but the internal legal counselor or legal vice president (VP) might be the sponsor who pushed for the project.

Similarly, a new sales training framework project sponsored by the VP of sales may be headed by a member of the learning and development (L&D) department.

Project sponsors play a key role throughout the project, but a good portion of their work happens before the project starts. They establish the need for the project in the first place, outline the project plan, establish project resources, and ensure there’s sufficient buy-in to power it.

During the project itself, the sponsor receives updates from the project leader, communicates with senior leadership about the project’s progress and impact, approves decisions, and helps the completed project transition to the next step of implementation.

3. Project team members

The third essential role in an effective project team is a general project team member. This is a bit of a catch-all category. It includes the people executing work to achieve the common goal.

For example, some team members may provide information and insight while others produce the project deliverables. All team members are responsible for achieving their individual project tasks, collaborating with each other, and keeping the project manager informed about progress and hurdles.

Depending on the project’s scale and complexity, team members should include professionals from different departments and knowledge areas. This ensures that the project aligns with different departments’ needs and doesn’t leave out key organizational perspectives.

4. Business analyst

Efficiency is the goal of many projects, even if it’s split into different objectives.

Business analysts are the team members who primarily focus on organizational efficiency. They ensure new initiatives don’t jeopardize efficiency, measure current operational efficiency, and look for opportunities throughout the project to improve operations.

Think of a business analyst as a team member who looks at the project and work completed in terms of return on investment (ROI).

5. Steering committee

Company executives will typically form a steering committee for very large or impactful projects with a long timeline.

This group stays available to provide guidance, check in to make sure the project’s process fits the business’s evolving strategy, and ensure company-wide buy-in doesn’t lag or disappear.

6. Change control board

A change control board (CCB) is a group of stakeholders who govern prospective changes to a project over time.

Every project will see some changes, from scope increases to a change in resource requirements or the addition of a new goal. CCBs make sure any changes still align with the project’s overall objective. They can also help a long-term project change course to meet the company’s needs if there’s a massive organizational shift.

7. Project stakeholders

Finally, project stakeholders are people who care about the project but aren’t on the team; for example, employees from departments that the project will impact, C-suite executives who want to receive updates, and investors who want to see a measurable impact from the project.

While they don’t have tasks or direct weigh-in on the project, stakeholders might provide insights or request changes.

3 different types of project teams

A team’s overall structure can differ depending on the project’s unique needs.

Three of the most common types of project teams are:

1. Functional project teams

Functional teams are the most common type of structure. Think of departments such as RevOps, IT, and compliance as functional project teams. These groups are oriented toward achieving large goals, such as sales quotas. They have a well-defined structure in which everyone has a specific role.

These project teams tend to be permanent and ongoing.

2. Project-based teams

Most people think of project-based teams when they consider work projects. They are constructed for projects with a definite end date and can be cross-departmental or only involve specific members of a functional team.

3. Matrix-based project teams

Matrix-based organizational styles overlay functional and project-based team styles. There may be more people in manager roles as a result, and team members may find themselves on multiple different projects at once.

This type of project team is typical in many organizations. For example, you yourself might have a departmental role and a role on a special project team.

How to assemble a project team at your workplace

Assembling a project team can feel overwhelming, especially if your organization doesn’t have a set process for initiating projects. However, once you’ve gone through the process a couple of times, it becomes easier to start organizing and assembling your teams.

Always start with these three steps:

Determine the project and objective

You need to know the project’s core objective before you can crystallize its exact goals. This is a single sentence or overall focus that helps you determine what you need to begin the project and which employees will offer the most value.

For example, if you’re redesigning a website, it makes sense to have marketing team members involved. If you’re reorganizing the technical QA process for production, marketing wouldn’t need to be involved.

Choose the right intra- or interdepartmental team members

Once you have a general idea of what you expect the project to achieve, start selecting different employees and deciding what roles they will have.

This part of the process will always be a bit murky. Your first choice for a given role may be too busy, in which case, you’ll need to either delay other projects or find a new team member.

Also, as you zero in on the project’s exact objectives and tasks, you might need to rearrange roles and participants a bit before locking down the structure.

Set the project particulars: timeline, scope, budget, and roles

Now that you have a rough outline of the project team—both the goals and the participants—it’s time to start nailing down the specifics. Lay out the resources, project scope, and timeline in more detail.

You may find yourself bouncing back and forth between steps two and three during the final stages before beginning the actual project. That’s okay. Think of it as a cyclical process rather than a linear one.

Final thoughts

Well-organized and well-managed project teams can accomplish more innovative work than individuals. Understanding project teams, how they work, and how to build your own makes it much easier to start the process for your organization’s next big initiatives.

Now that you know more about project teams, you can dive into the details of project management.

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