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Task Forces In Project Management
By John Reynolds

A complete, all-embracing, self-contained project team can be impracticable to organize in a manufacturing company owing to the nature of the facilities and machinery required. Many of those facilities represent considerable capital investment and, together with their human operators, cannot be allocated full-time to a single project, no matter how urgent the demands of that project might be. the facilities must be shared among all the projects and other work being undertaken by the company. Project managers cannot therefore be given direct line authority over any of those shared manufacturing functions, and a matrix organization of some sort might be indicated rather than a pure team.

There are occasions, however, when the strong project focus and fast internal communications of a team are preferable to a matrix. To take just one case, suppose that an important project is running extremely late and is in dire need of a rescue operation: in other words, there is an existing or impending crisis. In those circumstances, the company’s management would be well advised to consider setting up a task force to finish the remainder of the project in the shortest possible time. But the problem remains of how to deal with common manufacturing facilities that must continue to carry out other work.

A task force solution is possible. It depends on seconding managers (or their senior deputies) from all the relevant departments to form a task force dedicated to executing the project. A leader for this task force must be found, preferably from within the company. This person must possess determination and a positive outlook. He or she should also be experienced in the project management arts: if not, it might be prudent to engage an external consultant to provide urgent on-the-job training and guidance.

The task force members will communicate more effectively and make better and faster decisions if they can be located together, away from their usual offices or workplaces. Better still, they should be provided with a dedicated office that can be used as their project “war room.” The result should be a powerful and effective management team with the expertise and authority needed to give the project the best chance of success.

Although the project might still depend on the use of resources and facilities shared with other work, the seniority of the task force members should ensure that all critical project asks get top priority. Suppose, for instance, that a machine shop is represented on the task force by its manager or a deputy. Then, when a critical project task requires the use of the machine that is used heavily for other work, the project task force leader is provided with a direct line of authority over the use of that machine through the senior machine shop delegate who is serving on the task force.

An example of a management project where a task force approach can be beneficial is a company relocation project. Consider, for instance, an insurance company that wishes to relocate its central city offices to a provincial town. Apart from the obvious questions of where or whether to relocate, there will be all kinds of problems to solve, such as predicting how many staff will decide to move and how to support them, how to compensate staff who decide not to remain in employment, ensuring continuity of service to clients, and so on. A task force that includes managers or senior delegates from the human resources, information systems, claims, sales, and other company departments should be able to work collectively and privately to arrive at a project solution, arrange for communication of the intentions to staff, and then implement the project.

John Reynolds has been a practicing project manager for nearly 20 years and is the editor of an informational website rating project management software products. For more information on project management and project management software, visit Project Management Software Web.

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