Team Debt and Team Value

When an agency is selling or promoting their work, an often undervalued factor is the value of their teams. We put a lot of effort into refining pricing, crafting an impressive pitch and touting individual credentials, but I would argue that a client also gains tremendous value in a well-run project team.

How Is A Project Team Selected?

At an agency, several factors usually determine how a project team is formed:

  • Skill: The most basic criteria – which people have the skills needed for this project?
  • Availability: This is extremely common – who has billable gaps to fill?
  • Crucial Skills: If a project is important and a certain strong skillset is needed, team members can be shuffled to better staff an important project. This can cause upheaval in other projects, but sometimes the benefit outweighs the cost.
  • Fit & Experience: People with certain work styles or specific experience may be a natural fit for a project.
  • Growth: If time allows, projects can be a good opportunity to grow skills (such as learning a new framework) which serve as a valuable investment for the agency.

Teams Affect Project Cost & Output

In my experience, a highly functioning team delivers added value to a client. People that have experience working together know each other’s strengths and can start running almost immediately when given a new project. The project manager can rely on past experience and known individual working styles to best structure and schedule the project. Most importantly, both the client and end product benefit from this trust and efficiency.

New Teams

When a team is new, time is required to learn how to work best together and establish an effective cadence. These learning curves can add pressure in situations with tights budgets or schedules. Team members must learn how to work best together while simultaneously solving project challenges, thus having to rely on hindsight as a teacher. I often talk with fellow project managers that lament project decisions made in these situations as they didn’t have the valuable team member history needed during the early stages of a project.

Invest In Retention

Having a single, established group working on every project is probably not realistic in an agency setting, and I am certainly not aiming for only this structure. Mixing up staffing and skills is important and gives the broader agency the ability to quickly form effective teams.

However, it is important to realize that if an agency has high turnover or regularly shuffles project staffing, both a client and the project may never realize this added value. Onboarding new staff can cause team debt and decrease both efficiency and progress. Projects already have inherent uncertainty and risks, and an unfamiliar team increases uncertainty just a little bit more. Investing in retention will increase the chances of an agency’s ability to quickly and dynamically form project teams that don’t feel like starting from scratch with each new project.

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