Factors You Should Be Aware of to Ensure Project Success
Blog Barista: Bob Marquis, CPA, PMP | Oct 16, 2019 | Project Management | Brew time: 5 min
Project managers tend to be structured, organized, and process oriented. This is a good thing. Unfortunately for project managers, not everyone on a project is this way. Usually, people aren’t as manageable as a well-documented project plan. The qualities that good project managers possess are exactly what help keep projects on track, within scope, and on budget. Yet, these traits can lead to frustration when dealing with people who are not organized, structured or process oriented.
This is often evident before a project even gets started. Some people are planners, some aren’t. Project managers (PMs) are generally wired toward a “plan then do” approach. (Yes, even for Agile projects.) Many business stakeholders on the other hand are oriented to a “just get it done” approach. These different mindsets, both valid, can generate frustration on both sides during the planning stage of a project. PMs get frustrated by the lack of priority and importance given to planning; nobody seems to have time for it. Business stakeholders get frustrated by how long it takes to get started; “What is taking so long?”
During project execution, however, it may be the other way around. For example, with a delicate client, the business stakeholders may want a slower, more nuanced, diplomatic approach. Yet the PM, wanting to keep the project on track, can’t understand why he’s not allowed to hold clients accountable to get their tasks done.
These are just a couple of obvious examples. There are many other people-factors that PMs need to keep in mind to successfully steer a project. First and foremost are personalities. There are several assessments that identify personality types. Two of the most well-known are the Keirsey Temperament Sorter and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. In Myers-Briggs for instance, people are categorized on a scale as being more Introverts or Extroverts, Thinkers or Feelers, those who process information by Sensing or Intuition, and those who apply Judgement or use Perception. Combined, there are 16 different personality types identified. While Myers-Briggs and other assessments differ in how they categorize various personalities, all of them indicate the wide variety of individual personalities that exist.
These different personality types are—by themselves—enough to affect people’s approaches to projects. But there are a number of other factors that bear on project teams.
Regardless of the personality types, different people are at various stages of their life and career. They see specific projects through the lens of their experience and personal objectives. For example, there are young but inexperienced climbers, there are mid-career family-focused team members, and there are late-career sages. There are those who have been with the same company for years and know that company, but only it, inside and out. There are those who bring broad experience from working at many other companies. Some people are happy with their current situation, their company, their manager, or their life in general. Some are not. Some team members may even be dealing with significant personal or family issues.
Likewise, people don’t work in a vacuum. An individual’s attitude and behavior on one project may be completely different than on another project just based on the other people involved or the type of project. Some people are strong headed (you know these people, frequently wrong but never unsure of themselves). Some people love meetings and socializing. Others not so much. Individuals are affected by which types of people are in positions of authority on a project. Some people just “click” with one project team, but just don’t on another.
On any given project, people have different roles, goals, and agendas. Again, regardless of personality, an individual may have high project status as a subject-matter-expert on one project but may only be a minor player on another. Similarly, an individual may enjoy the status of being the go-to expert on the current system but recognize that he will be eclipsed by someone else once the new system is in place. An individual’s position on the organization chart may or may not correspond well to their role on a project team. To make this more difficult, all of these factors are constantly in flux; things change as time goes forward.
Categorizing people on a project is nearly impossible. For example, even though the Myers-Briggs test examines four preferences and generates 16 different personality types, combining this with the multiple other factors affecting individuals on a project results in an almost incalculable number of “types.”
So, what is a project manager to do? First, a good PM needs to be aware of all of these factors and how they change over time. While most projects have a stakeholder analysis, this is usually not enough. Stakeholder analyses typically focus on who is supportive of the project, who will resist the changes, what are the various roles, etc. The analysis is documented on a nice template. All of this is important. Yet, a good PM needs to go beyond this.
It’s just as important to be aware of how people work, their personalities, their preferences, their perceptions, their organizational environment, their history with other team members, what motivates them, and their personal issues and agendas. This can’t easily be documented on a template. While there are any number of resources available to help a PM in these areas, ultimately the PM needs to have a true understanding of the people involved in the project and the environment in which the project is being conducted.
Finally, it’s important that the PM is not the only person who is aware of the factors affecting people on a project. Everyone on the project needs to be made aware that they are working with people who may view the world through a different lens than they do. Self-awareness and awareness of others (emotional intelligence) are important for everyone.
It is true that projects would be “easier” if people weren’t involved. That of course is not reality. There will always be people, and everything that goes along with them, involved in projects. As long as we recognize this and embrace it, we can be successful and appreciated in shepherding projects through the maze of individuals involved.
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