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PMI Virtual Library 2009 Project Management Institute

Processes, People, and Project Management

By Chris Darrach, PMP

n todays diverse workforce, project managers often have the good fortune to wear many hats. Hopefully, if all goes well, one of those hats does not need to be a helmet. As a project manager, you may also have responsibility in sales, or perhaps you are even the functional expert in your given field. Perhaps in your capacity as project manager you find yourself responsible for resource management, as well. And, regardless of whether or not you are specifically a resource manager, there is no way to avoid the fact that you will need to manage and understand people throughout your career. For a project manager who has studied in his or her field, processes often come easy; rather, it is the people involved that make every project a unique challenge. Projects are Easy Projects are easy. Thats correctyou read it right: projects are easy. Without the added feature of involving people in the process, a project could be managed by any individual with some simple organizational skills. After all, as a project manager, you are fully aware of the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK) and the idea behind it: to be able to apply the same processes and procedures to all projects regardless of project location and complexity, and even regardless of the industry. What an amazing advantage we have as project managers is to be able to apply the same principles of project management across all fields! Although projects often take on a life of their own, the truth of the matter is, this life comes from the people involved, not from the project itself. Project Process Perfection Many project managers fully understand the processes that must be followed for each project they are assigned. These process-focused project managers have studied A Guide to

the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) (Project Management Institute, 2008), they have developed ideal templates to suit their specific field and company, and they have project libraries prepared and are ready to fit whatever project comes through For a project their door into that perfect mold. manager who has studied With a little more customization, in his or her field, process these same often come easy; rather, it is project managers could update the people involved that their carefully crafted templates make every project a and even be able unique challenge. to apply these processes in another company or another industry. With such process perfection, why do so many of their projects fail? Why are processfocused project managers so frustrated?

The Problem of People The problem that the process-focused project manager has, despite his or her best efforts in nailing down a repeatable process for all projects, is people. Process-focused project managers may attempt to fit the first person that knocks on their door into a mould, the same as they she would for any project that they is assigned. If the project manager is lucky, he or she may even get the mould right. Perhaps the first person involved in the project fits the profile they had in mind, and for a while, the project remains perfectly on course.

People, People, Everywhere Unfortunately, for the process-focused project manager, the relationship between projects and people is one-tomany. How much easier it would be if it was one-to-one relationship and the only person involved was the project manager himself or herself! After getting the mould right for the first person involved in the project, the project manager will be unpleasantly surprised to discover that the mould they had built for the first individual doesnt quite fit the next person who comes along or any other person after that. Because every person is unique, people do not easily fit into moulds. Not only do people have different skills, they have different emotions, desires, and needs, as well. Age, gender, geographic location, and culture may also account for individual differences. Different skills and different desires not only require different assignments but different styles of management, recognition, and correction. Clients are People,Too The problem of people doesnt end with your project team or company. Clients are people, too. Success in dealing with one client does not guarantee success with the next. All clients have different personalities and expectations. But the clients expectations are clearly outlined in the Project Scope Statement, arent they? Yes, the scope of the project is outlined, but each client has their own hidden expectations that may not be clear to the project manager from the beginning. Does the client want to get e-mails or phone calls? Again, shouldnt this be clear in the Communication Plan? What is written in the plan will certainly be acceptable, but will it ensure a happy customer? Perhaps the communication plan suggests a weekly status report via e-mail and biweekly status meetings but certain customers might appreciate a quick call outside the standard meeting time. The processfocused project manager will not move the customer from content to impressed, which may mean the difference between a mediocre reference and an excellent reference, and could also mean the difference between additional contracts from the same customer or others within their circle of influence. Same Person, Different Day Although a project manager may have crafted the perfect mould for an individual team member or client, there may come a day when even that same individual no longer fits into that mould. How frustrating this must be for the processfocused project manager! After all, one would think that certainly the same person should fit the approach that was

personalized for him or her. Unfortunately, this may not be the case. People are not like projects; not only is every person unique, every person is also complex. Circumstances change in a persons life and all of a sudden, an ideal employee today is no longer an ideal employee tomorrow. A happy customer today can be an unhappy customer tomorrow. How could this happen if the project manager hasnt changed how he or she interacts with the team member or customer? How can a project manager be prepared for these changes? The Relationship Solution How can a project manager equip himself or herself to be ready for the multitude of personalities they must face? Further complicating things, individuals may, as we have discussed, undergo personal change; how can the project manager be prepared for the evolution of an individual? Relationships are the only answer. A successful project manager must master the art of building and strengthening relationships. Building relationships with team members will help you understand their differences. You will learn more about each individual and begin to understand what motivates them. Do they thrive on attention and require a bit more micro-management? Do they enjoy public recognition? Do they prefer minimal management involvement and quiet, individual recognition? Dont be afraid to show an interest in their personal lives, because whether we like it or not, what happens at home effects how we perform at work and vice versa. The only way to understand individuals is by building relationships. Clients are the same as team members, but with an added twist. Team members may be utilized across projects so a relationship can be built over time. but you may not have the luxury of extended periods of time with a client. A relationship starts with trust. Its that simple. Begin by doing what you say you are going to do, and the relationship will have solid roots. Communication is critical. Keep the communication open and communicate the truth. Dont wait to deliver tough news in hopes that you can work your way out of it at the last minute. As surprising as it sounds, delivering difficult news in a timely manner can develop respect and trust. Find out what the customer really wants up front. Go beyond the scope statement and project plan to find out what the customer is actually looking for on an ongoing basis. Customer preferences are easy to find out when you are building relationships.

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Get to know your customers. You dont have to become their best friend, but there is nothing wrong with showing an interest in them beyond the local weather.

The project may have its ups and downs, but a strong relationship with a client can quickly turn into a strong reference for your company and your product. Relationships will be the difference maker. The Great Balancing Act Right about now, the process-focused project manager may be thinking that all of his or her hard work and study has gone to waste. This, however, is the farthest thing from the truth. Relationships alone will not guarantee a successful project. In fact, a project manager without the process and project management knowledge behind him or her will have a difficult time building a relationship with team members and the client. The foundation of a successful project must begin with solid project management processes and relationships with the people involved. Your project management skills will demonstrate credibility, and without that credibility a good relationship with the client will not be possible. Successful projects are built on strong relationships and solid processes. Successful projects are what a client requires, who will then in turn provide you with that excellent reference you need to continue to grow your business. Mastering the balance between processes and relationships will be a significant challenge, but once you have accomplished this, you will find that you will have that repeatable success you are looking for. The Challenge Some of you may be just starting out on the project management path; your challenge is to start on the right foot by finding the right balance between processes and people. If you newcomers can master the balancing act from the beginning, your careers are sure to be far more rewarding and successful than you could have imagined. Some of you may not be so new to project management, and you may have

spent your entire career focusing on and perfecting processesand doing so with a moderate level of success. You may even be a veteran in the field with hundreds of projects of Successful varying size and scopes under your belt, projects are built on without having once focused on building strong relationships and relationships with solid processes. project stakeholders. For you experienced process-focused project managers, your challenge is the same. Allow your relationships with the people you work with take your career to the next level. By improving your relationships you will improve your effectiveness in Project Management. Yes, adding multiple people and relationships into our nicely packaged project processes certainly throws a wrench into things, but if it were easy, would projects really require a project manager?

About the Author Chris Darrach, PMP, is a project manager and currently transitioning into the role of director of professional services at Cogsdale Corporation, a provider of service-oriented business solutions to local governments and utilities. Mr. Darrach has been a PMP credential holder since December of 2006 and has had several years of project and team management experience with large IT organizations. He has been involved in multiple CMM and CMMi certifications and realizes that project managers and organizations must find a healthy balance of process and people management in order to be successful in todays market place. Mr. Darrach can be reached via e-mail at

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