People Issues in Project Management

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Project managers are often assigned as proposal managers and asked to plan and put an estimate to arrive at an acceptable proposal during the project proposal stage; and upon winning the project to manage the projects with little or no authority, dictated time frames and deliverables, and essentially told to just get the project done! The reality to remember is that project executions rarely fail due to technical problems but rather because of people problems.

Conflicting priorities, unclear expectations and roles, poor leadership, conflicts of interests, poor teamwork or lack of it, and little and no motivation all lead to project failure. Addressing the people management problems we all face as project managers and the best way to do it will require us to at least understand the many types of people we potentially meet and engage in project execution in the work place.

More and more focus is made to understand human work behavior and human personality these days simply because individual character types may be complementary but potentially conflicting to one another too. Most teams must work together to a lesser or greater extent collaboratively in any project execution, organizations, and in work place. If the team organization and operating practices can be constructed taking into consideration each individual’s strengths and weaknesses, this will have a positive influence on the project team with good chances for success.

Also interesting to note here is the result of a research I read which indicates that an ‘Apollo Team’ defined as the best and most talented people, when assembled in a project execution team will not be the best team you can expect in a project team simply because of the strong ego each team member tends to have and the strong likelihood that such team may compete rather than collaborate and support each other.

In my view, we will never have a perfect project team nor should we dream of one, and in fact in most organizations that I have worked with and the many projects I have had privilege to handle, the project teams have almost always been assembled and planned during project proposal preparation stage. Though I may have some say for replacement to those who are no longer available for the project, I still think my only chance to influence the project team is to build one, and together with the team, find a common identity sooner rather than later so I can cultivate the team work culture for all to collaborate to the same and aligned project objectives.

What I also managed to find out and observed in many instances is that nothing causes more friction between project management and line management than poor forward forecasting of the project resource needs. Starting resource requirement has the benefit of time to prepare ahead during and after the proposal prior to start of project execution. But the many turns of events during project execution and the changes in project scope can be an unexpected surprise to meet projects resource requirements.

In order to avoid unnecessary conflict, the project manager and his team must clearly specify their particular resource requirements to the line management at the outset, and keep functional management abreast of changes as they occur. In order to do this, they must develop a manpower loading chart and resource mobilization plan in some detail at the beginning of the project and the follow on updates during project execution, and must clearly spell out any other resources that they will potentially need along the way to project completion.

Even with those efforts there is always a conflict of interest especially when the company is executing multiple projects and when new proposals preparation needs pop up out of blue, now and then along project execution, and or simultaneously. Particularly at the end of a project, it is essential that the project manager clearly defines well in advance when the team members are likely to be released and the functional management is equally informed. It is never acceptable for the project manager to retain his team on a week-by-week basis or in ‘Just in Case’ mode.

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