How can you deliver a successful project with a team you didn’t plan for?

by Edward Witchey

With traditional project management, the focus is on the plan and the work that needs to get done. There is some comfort in managing a plan. It is definable, real, and comes with a fixed timeframe. To get the work done, a team must be built. A human resources management plan is put together, a communication plan, and you start to form a team based on a set of criteria from the tasks that need to be accomplished. Conversely, with agile project management, the focus is on the team and not the work. The teams are self-organizing, and the role of the agile project manager is more servant leadership than anything else. So, how can you deliver a successful project with a team you didn’t plan for?  

A dedicated emphasis on the environment seems to be the theme for agile theorists as they strive for collaboration in an agile team. There are many aspects to the environment, such as focusing on the team. According to Highsmith, “Good project and iteration leaders remind the team about the goals from time to time by revisiting the key constraints and by reinvigorating the group with the ultimate vision and objectives of the project” (Highsmith, 2010, p.227). The concept of shared vision may be the most important characteristic of the environment Highsmith details. When the team comes together, and there is a clear vision and shared goals, there will be high performance. It is a fundamental notion of how teams work. It is also a great way to manage against project change which, can add complexity and stress to any project. When the vision and goals are shared and continuously communicated, any change to the current iteration of work can be analyzed to see how they fit into the larger vision. It helps the team to stay unified and produce tangible results, which can be a motivator. This is also referred to as goal-setting theory and has been refined by Edwin Locke and Gary Latham. It explains “what causes some people to perform better on work-related tasks than others” (Locke & Latham, 2103, p.3). 

Communication is paramount in agile. Getting people together and interacting provides organic collaboration. It also helps to motivate and ties directly back to the idea of vision and goals. I know that my teammate shares the same vision and goals because we spoke about it face-to-face. Training or expanding on a person’s skill set is also a motivator and is often seen as an unmet need by the team member. Elizabeth Fisher explains this when she writes, “Managers must understand that employees will be motivated by unmet needs and that once a need is satisfied, it is no longer a motivator” (Fischer 2009). The environment is always changing, which means the needs of the team are also changing. However, with good communication and a dedicated focus on the vision and goals of the project, most any change can be met with effective leadership. Once a person has a sense of worth in the team, they are more willing to contribute in a collaborative method. Of course, the impediments to these techniques are personalities. There are team members who never ‘buy-in’ to the vision, they only see their job as a means to an end, or they simply do not care. Often, these team members are not easily removed. 

In many organizations, these methods work well because agile teams are kept small. Communication is short, precise, and positive. When someone lacks resources, they are provided with what they need immediately. Regular town hall-style meetings where everyone has a voice, and everyone knows the goals for the month are an ideal setting for collaboration and idea generation. Be nice, ask questions, get to know your employees. Find out their likes and dislikes and learn about who they are so you can respond to both their strengths and weaknesses. Be human. Don’t be arrogant, don’t lead by authority, and don’t act like you know everything. It is a strong foundation for being successful with a team you didn’t plan for. 



Fischer, Elizabeth A. Motivation and Leadership in Social Work Management: A Review of Theories and Related Studies. Administration in Social Work Vol. 33, Iss. 4, 2009. Retrieved from:

Highsmith, J. (2010). Agile project management: creating innovative products. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Addison-Wesley.

Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (Eds.). (2013). New Developments in Goal Setting and Task Performance. London, GB: Routledge. Retrieved from


Similar Content:

You may also like