Teams of Teams


The new organizational reality for

Program & Project Management



By David L. Pells

Addison, Texas, USA

It may be time for some organizations to rethink organizational concepts, relationships and structures for managing major programs and projects.  In recent weeks, I have become familiar with a global program involving teams of administrative, diplomatic, financial, legal, program, project and technical participants, for projects being planned and deployed on a global basis.  At the same time, I have studied some recent thinking in the US Department of Defense (DoD) related to “system-of-systems” and “Network-based” counter-terrorism approaches.  It has now occurred to me that these DoD concepts are applicable in the program and project management world.  Once again, the PM world can use some ideas originating among military thought leaders.

The Growing Importance of Networks – and Network Thinking

Most of us now have global networks of professional colleagues, co-workers and friends.  We belong to professional organizations, or sub-networks of those associations.  We network on the basis of personal or professional interests, technical matters or projects.  The scope, reach and importance of such networks have been growing significantly in recent years, based on the worldwide web and the globalization of economies and communications technologies.  Each person in any such network also belongs to other networks.  On a program or project, that might include another team working on a different activity, task, or sub-project.

Military thinkers now recognize that fighting networks of mobile terrorist cells with large traditional military units does not work; the obvious answer is to create a network-based counter-terrorism organizational capability to increase flexibility and responsiveness.  Such a change, however, requires changes in the supporting organizational processes and infrastructure.  For example, if a resource is needed immediately for a task, or in response to a new development, that resource should be available and accessible quickly.  New information gathered in one network, or team, may need to be shared immediately with other teams who can use the same information.  In addition, small projects (at the bottom of the WBS, for example) may each require a different mix of resources from different sources. Even for programs and projects that can be planned well in advance, more flexible organizational approaches or options may be needed.

If we now envision a project team or sub-project team (work group at any level of a project) as a network, we can now see that program and project teams are really networks of networks, teams of teams.  In many cases, this might take the classical “hierarchy of teams” form; in other cases, a flatter network of teams can be envisioned.  The networks can become complex and complicated quickly on large projects.  Such organizational thinking also begins to resemble the DoD’s system-of-systems concept in which systems are linked in order to share information, but remain independent in order to maximize flexibility, security and sustainability.

More Complex Project Teams

I believe that project teams are becoming both more complex and more necessary for a variety of reasons, including the following:

  • Rapidly changing technology – Sophisticated technology permeates organizations, programs and projects today more than ever before. In many cases, new and different resources are required, from new and different sources that are now more often global in nature.  In the semiconductor industry, the widely referenced “Moore’s Law” (attributed to the former CEO of Intel) has dictated that computing capacity doubles every 18 months, on average. Huawei, one of the largest and most successful technology companies in China today, is driving product life cycles down to six months.
  • Rapidly changing project environments – For global programs, both local and international economic and political environments can change rapidly. Organizational changes can also affect program and project activities, and especially project teams.  Downsizing leads to outsourcing; outsourcing leads to off-shoring; off-shoring leads to virtual teams with more complicated communications and networking requirements.  Such trends dramatically change the environment, condition & roles of program and project managers
  • Increasing numbers of organizations represented on project teams – Project teams can now include participants from dozens of organizations. Classic matrix management no longer applies when so many organizations are involved, each with chains of command, authority and responsibility relationships, and related organizational issues (compensation, promotion, vacations, benefits, career related issues, etc.)


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Editor’s note: Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English.  Original publication acknowledged; authors retain copyright.  This paper was originally published in the June 2007 edition of PM World Today. It is republished here with the author’s permission.

How to cite this paper: Pells, D. L. (2023, 2007). Teams of Teams: The new organizational reality for Program & Project Management; originally published in the June 2007 edition of PM World Today; republished in the PM World Journal, Vol. XII, Issue II, February. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/pmwj126-Feb2023-Pells-teams-of-teams-2nd-edition.pdf

About the Author

David L. Pells

Managing Editor, PMWJ
Managing Director, PMWL
Addison, Texas, USA


 David L. Pells, PMI Fellow, HonFAPM, ISIPM, PMA, is Managing Editor and publisher of the PM World Journal (www.pmworldjournal.com) and Managing Director of the PM World Library (www.pmworldlibrary.net). David is an internationally recognized leader in the field of professional project management with more than 40 years of experience on a variety of programs and projects, including engineering, construction, energy, defense, transit, technology and nuclear security, and project sizes ranging from thousands to billions of dollars. He occasionally acts as project management advisor for U.S. national laboratories and international programs, and currently serves as an independent advisor for a major U.S. national security program.

David Pells has been an active professional leader in the United States since the 1980s, as founder and president of several PMI chapters, founder of PMI’s first SIG (Project Earth), and member of the PMI board of directors twice.  He was founder and chair of the Global Project Management Forum (1995-2000), an annual meeting of leaders of PM associations from around the world. David was awarded PMI’s Person of the Year award in 1998 and Fellow Award, PMI’s highest honor, in 1999. He is also an Honorary Fellow of the Association for Project Management (APM) in the UK; the Instituto Italiano di Project Management (ISIMP) in Italy; and Project Management Associates (PMA) in India.

Former managing editor of PM World Today, he is the creator, editor and publisher of the PM World Journal (ISSN: 2330-4880).  David has a BA in Business Administration from the University of Washington and an MBA from Idaho State University in the USA.  He has published widely and spoken at conferences and events worldwide.  David lives near Dallas, Texas and can be contacted at editor@pmworldjournal.com.

To see other works by David Pells, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/david-l-pells/