Lining Up the Usual Suspects: Exercises in Project Staffing

Mark Mullaly is president of Interthink Consulting Incorporated, an organizational development and change firm specializing in the creation of effective organizational project management solutions. Since 1990, it has worked with companies throughout North America to develop, enhance and implement effective project management tools, processes, structures and capabilities. Mark was most recently co-lead investigator of the Value of Project Management research project sponsored by PMI. You can read more of his writing at markmullaly.com.

The concept of staffing a project should be an easy one. Look at the project, identify the structure and roles, determine the right skill levels and select people for the team that meet the specifications. The reality, however, is nowhere near that simple. All too often, in fact, project team members are selected based upon popularity, familiarity or who’s available at the time. Moreover, it’s not atypical to find the same people assigned to project after project, their attentions split across a number of obligations. Increasingly, project staffing is appearing to be an exercise in lining up the usual suspects.
 
How did we get this way? Why does it keep on happening? What can we begin to do about it to try to make the project staffing exercise a little more rational?
 
An organization I worked with a few years ago exemplified this issue. Interestingly, they knew it was a problem, yet did very little to consciously address it. An executive there captured the essence of it when he said, “When it comes to projects, we have the appetite of a tiger and the digestive tract of a hummingbird. As an executive team, we’ve never met a project we didn’t like.” Looking at the project plans for this organization, it was incredibly common to see the same names come up over and over again as project resources. It wasn’t unusual for a …

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