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The Human Side of Project Management

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Or How To Make Sure Your Project Is A Success

Typically there are three variables for projects that determine whether the work is successful or not.  These variables are cost, quality and time.  Experienced project managers will often say that it is possible to get two out of three for most projects, but rarely all three. 

However, there is another valid variable, which, if ignored, will leave people talking about your project as though it has failed.  I call this fourth variable the “meets expectations” variable because it is completely focused on whether people’s expectations have been met by the outcomes of your project.

The bad news is that as measures go the “meets expectations” variable is completely subjective.  The good news is that you can get a successful outcome nearly every time if you pay attention and put a plan in place from the very beginnings of the project.  It’s all about keeping people happy.  Let me explain.

Projects, by definition, bring about change.  Most people find change threatening, particularly if they didn’t have any say in the change or how the change is brought about.  By focusing on key groups of people and using some very specific change management tools you can help people get through the scary aspects of change and build buy in.

PEOPLE YOU NEED TO KEEP HAPPY

There are several groups of people you need to keep in mind all the way through from start to finish.  In project parlance they are called stakeholders (Project Management Institute.  A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge(PMBOK© Guide), 5th Edition, but I have broken them down into groups, because the way you work with each group can be very different.  Here they are.

Requestor 
Project Requestor

The person who is asking for the project to be done is usually the sponsor, but isn't always.  The requestor should have a definite outcome in mind.  If they don't have a definite outcome or can't clearly explain what that outcome looks like, a wise project manager will work with them to clarify exactly what outcome is expected.  This is vital!  Too many projects have failed the "meets expectations" test because not enough effort was put into getting crystal clarity about success would look like…to the person asking for the work to be done.  

KEY POINT:  Get the person asking for the work to be done to explain to you what a successful outcome looks like to them.

Purse String Holder 
Purse String Holder

Determining who the purse string holder is can sometimes be tricky.  According to PMI (Project Management Institute) the sponsor should be the person who ultimately determines the budget.  They say that a sponsor is “A person or group who provides resources and support for the project, program, or portfolio and is accountable for enabling success”[1].  However, it isn't always that easy.  Other people who have an interest in and/or have control over the project's finances include the Chief Financial Officer and the program office manager if a program office exists.  I have worked in organisations where up to 3 different people have a grip on the purse strings.  Each of these people have to have their expectations managed or they can really make things difficult for you as project manager.

KEY POINT:  Make sure you find out who controls the dollars, then find out what a financially well managed project looks like to them.  Make sure you follow whatever processes you need to follow so that project budgets are well managed and reports are timely and accurate.

End User 
End User

The end user is the person who has to use the product or functionality that has been developed or who is impacted by the outcomes from the project. Failing to talk with them and take their needs into account can result in very unhappy customers, low take up rates or worse, an outright refusal to use the product, tool or service. 

Access to social media gives unhappy end users quite a wide audience to which they can rapidly and loudly announce their dissatisfaction with project outcomes.  There are quite a few horror stories where unhappy end users have been so vocal that project managers, their sponsors and even further up the chain have lost their jobs.  Don’t let that happen to you! 

KEY POINT:  Engage early.  Engage often.  Communicate, communicate and then communicate some more.  Be clear what end users are getting, but even more importantly be clear about what they aren’t getting.  Be honest.  Be upfront.  If they aren’t happy with what they are getting get them to help you take their message back to the project requestor or sponsor.  It is then up to the project sponsor to determine whether a change to the scope of the project is warranted, based on that feedback.

Technical Support 
Tech Support 2

One group of people you absolutely cannot afford to ignore are the people who will have to provide ongoing support after the work is finished.  This can often be the IT team, but can also include customer service or other non-IT related teams.

One organisation where I worked ran a project to let customers pay for services online (instead of having to come in and pay over the counter).  Technically, the project was a success...the work was finished on time and under budget.  However, the team seriously underestimated the amount of ongoing support required and the amount of effort required to respond to customer feedback. 

The CEO was happy with the outcome.  The CFO was happy with the outcome.  The Sponsor was very happy...but the manager of the area looking after the online systems wasn't, because his team was expected to deal with the extra work, with no extra people!  To put it mildly, the support team was not amused and their unhappiness percolated through to the CEO and the Sponsor, taking the shine off a bit.

Grumpy Man

Ways To Keep Stakeholders Happy 

Here are some tips that will help keep all the groups that care about your project outcomes happy.  Or, if not happy, at least clear about what they can expect.

  1. Develop a plan that lays out exactly who the various groups are, what their interest in the project is, what they need to know, when you will let them know it and how they will receive the information from you.  This plan is typically called a stakeholder management plan and the communication plan forms an important part of it.
  2. Keep the people in those groups in the loop from the very beginning.
  3. Involve them in planning, particularly any part of the organization that might have to provide ongoing support once the project is complete.
  4. Follow through with your plan, particularly around the communications.  You can never, ever, communicate enough!

You can use the following diagram to help you decide what kind of relationship you need to have with each group.

Graphic for The Human Side of Project Management

Summary

Projects are never done in isolation.  The various people who are involved or who are impacted by projects will ultimately determine whether your work is successful.  At the start of every project you need to identify who those people are.  Then you should create a carefully thought out plan for how you will work with them, manage their expectations and keep them in the loop.  Do that and you greatly increase the chances that your project will succeed.  The human side of project management definitely matters!

Help For People Doing Projects

Project Management Lite: Just Enough to Get the Job Done...Nothing More
Amazon Price: $14.95 $11.13 Buy Now
(price as of Jan 2, 2015)
This book is a good resource for people who are managing a project, but aren't necessarily professional project managers.
A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge: PMBOK(R) Guide
Amazon Price: $65.95 $28.00 Buy Now
(price as of Jan 2, 2015)
This is the official Project Management Institute's guide to project management. All PMI certified project managers are familiar with it.
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Bibliography

  1. Project Management Institute A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge(PMBOKĀ© Guide), 5th Edition. Newtown Square: Project Management Institute, Inc., 2013.

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