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Virtual and Project Management Expert: Writer, Speaker, Educator. Author of Managing Without Walls and Fundamentals of Technology Management. President of Garton Consulting Group.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

It's The People, Stupid

The life of a project manager can be hectic and stressful. When the pressure is on, the project schedule can be the driving force behind everything you do.  Making sure that team members complete tasks on schedule can become the sole focus of your day. At specific times in the project lifecycle, this task-oriented approach to project management is necessary. For example, a couple of weeks before the end of the project when there are still a few bugs to work out and you are concerned about the team’s ability to get everything completed on time, it is good to be in task-oriented mode for a couple of weeks. At other times during the project lifecycle, you should be focused on the people first. Remember, it is the people that are working on the tasks. The tasks cannot complete themselves. If you take care of the people, they will take care of the tasks. They will complete the tasks in much more innovative, creative and productive way when the focus is on them. A happy team is a productive team.

Many project managers focus way too much on task management. This task-oriented approach is not surprising to me but its cause might be surprising to you. 

In the last 10 years or so, project management has come a long way.  It is no longer just a job, it is a profession. Project management certifications, such as PMI’s, Project Management Professional (PMP)®, and Office of Government Commerce (OGC) Prince2®, bring consistency, structure and standard terminology to project management.  These certifications are based on process frameworks described in PMI’s PMBOK®, and OGC’s PRINCE2® publications. Universities and colleges offer courses, qualifications and degrees in project management.  This focus on education, structure and discipline in project management has transformed it into a desirable and respectable profession. This is fantastic – especially for the project managers who started their careers pre-PM certifications. The introduction of certifications validated project management as a true profession. It meant that many seasoned project managers had to study for those certifications despite their years of experience but it was a fairly small price to pay for what it did for the profession.

So I have established that certifications and qualifications are good.  So where is the problem? The problem is that the certifications are based on processes and best practices. It puts structure around the completion of tasks and improves task management processes. What it doesn’t include, is how to be a project manager. The management of a project team includes a lot of non-task related work. Managing a team day-to-day includes a lot of non-task-oriented activities. These include, problem solving, managing conflicts, minimizing politics, evaluating performance, getting to know team members, growth and development, career planning, and making work fun. Where the process frameworks provide a blank canvas on which to build your project, the art of project management is what creates a project masterpiece on that canvas. It gives your project value, color, interest, and excitement. Your masterpiece is a result of the combination of talents, skills, creativity, innovation, ambition and personalities on your team.  If, as a project manager, the only thing you know how to do is to create is a blank canvas, neither you, nor your team, will be performing anywhere near the level of your capabilities. All that potential is going to waste. Your team will be uninspired and not particularly motivated.

The art of project management goes beyond process frameworks, statistics, and calculations. Those provide the structure. The people provide everything else.

The people are the most important asset you have for completing your project successfully. The people will do the work, solve the problems, and have great ideas. Their actions and contributions, more than anything else, will determine the success of the project. Your actions and contributions to your team members will determine the success of your team.

Managing people and helping them achieve their best, goes beyond knowing what each person is good at. You need to know what interests each of them. Just because someone is good at something, doesn’t mean they like doing it. I am quite good at doing housework but it is the least interesting thing I can imagine having to do. If I have to do it, I do it, and I do it well. I don’t believe in doing a half-baked job. If I am going to spend time doing something, I want to do my best.  Some of your team members may feel the same way about the tasks they are assigned. They may do a great job but if they are doing the same thing over and over again, they will be bored and uninterested. They may have incredible talent and motivation that you are not tapping because you have never bothered to find out what interests them. You should know what each person on your team aspires to being good at.  You should be aware of what each person would like to be doing now, and what ambitions they have for the future. If you don’t know what they aspire to doing in the future, how can you help them get there? It is manager’s responsibility to create an environment where the company is getting what it needs from the people, and the people are getting what they need from the company. You should know and care about who your team members are, not just what they can do.

How do you find out what your team members want? Ask them! Sit down with each person individually and create a career plan. Talk about what they are good at, what they wish they were good at, what types of tasks they enjoy working on, what their plans are for the future, what rewards are most motivating, and what you can do to help them be successful.

When you focus on the tasks first, you are manager pushing your team in the direction you want them go. When you focus on the people first, you are a leader guiding your team and enabling each person to find their own path to success. You are helping them to reach their full potential to make each individual, the team, the manager and the project the most successful it can be!


You can listen to me talking about ways to empower your team members on the October 17th, Talkingwork Podcast Episode 22: Stretching Team Members

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