What if we looked at Project Management differently?

How much could it cost to our ego at times to step down a bit and let the silence of common sense help people finding a solution to a given challenge?

So many horror stories could have been avoided, so many work-friendships saved, human to human still talking to each other.

I bring this after noting on various discussion threads how the non-verbal can trigger negative reactions, eventually engage people into the vicious circle of opened conflicts.

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Image courtesy: Ready To Manage (Blog)

During the last 5 years, I worked as Project Manager for various mandates related to education and business training. Every project was supported by a multidisciplinary team from graphic artists, to instructional designers, process engineering experts, and many more, the team had also the client representatives on board, when needed.

A common pattern I observed on every project, was the human behaviour, every member of the team depending his or her domain, the way each acted, reacted and expressed feelings or not. I could write a book I would dedicate to the actual and future PM’s…

People who had past experiences in project management will think they could have been the best PM for the mandate, those who had a really vague idea would take it really as a cool experiment, the visual people would care less for timelines and budgets as opposed to the practical minded people who would peel-off every possible way to save hours and budget … Our own human representation is fascinating, really fascinating. Who could ever imagine on my tour in a mid-size project there was an expert in training analysis definition who used the spreadsheet application as a report and text editor, so a few days before remitting the TNA report to the client, he came and said figures were not balancing!!!

As you may notice, projects often gather people from various fields but not necessarily having the same perception of a methodology, processes and the reality of deliveries. The role of each is in itself an entire reality that landed for a given time to the need of putting all the pieces together and deliver something a client’s only concern is to like what he sees and above all that it fits in the budget and the timeline he expects the final product to be completed.

I do not intend to speak about what is the ideal way to handle a project’s delivery, there are professional who are ways more qualified that I do who could handle the given job. However I think that not all projects can be managed the same way (Sorry to disappoint you spreadsheet and MS-Project fans!), likewise in education, there’s no “one size fits all”. I have been on several educational and pedagogical project deliveries and I can assure you I failed as a PM as long as I was applying the golden rules of Project Management. We deal with people, people who aren’t necessarily aware of how a timeline works, how a budget balances and how the estimations in time and date are calculated. People need to feel and comprehend to understand, so regardless of how efficient a PM can be, he or she will become “Enemy #1” if he or she applies the rules by the book adopting a tone that leaves no room for discussion and tails on a daily or semi-daily basis “his resources” (Yes I had a PM who never called people by their names, just resources)…

I know on some projects people felt I was not the right person to manage the project simply because I never used the industry jargon, I never salivated in front of a chart or stats or budget balancing, my concern was more focused on the team spirit, how motivated they were about delivering the best of their skills, we were dealing knowledge transfer, education, people’s need to better know about their jobs. Of course keeping budgets, timeline and reporting were very important tasks but the team did not need to endorse this stressful reality on top of what they had to deliver.

I think after such journeys that taught me a lot about ourselves as people, as much as education is in need to adapt to people, managing project need to consider people as such and not differently. We do create our own demons and fall into the trap of giving priority to written rules, processes and procedures where people are not considered as first for the success of a given project.

Project teams need to feel as one, getting to know each other, their skills their tools and constrains, a better comprehension of the causes of time consuming would make a PM more aware to prepare a realistic timeline and due date calendar, where a graphic artist or an integrator will know exactly who are the user and what is their working context in order to avoid delivering something that will not be adapted to their needs even if it is one of most fancy product!

I could have used my prerogatives as a PM and got away with all delays and busted budget, putting the blame on “resources”, it was easy to find justifications and causes to problems, but I wanted solutions beforehand. Besides trying to put in on others would have been a betrayal of my own beliefs as an educator and as a believer that people come always first no matter what other priorities can be!

Michel – December 1st, 2014

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