This expands upon points made in a post June 26, 2010 at JimMillikenProject.blogspot.com
There is a blind spot in our way of doing business, especially in group activities of the workplace. And it is especially true and especially damaging in the management of projects.
It is our collective refusal to face the realities of human nature. We obsess about the details of the work, the formulations of the tasks. We believe we shouldn't have to think about or talk about the functions of human personality.
In a weird sort of secular morality, we place a high expectation of reliability upon people, despite abundant evidence that such an expectation is thoroughly unwarranted. We expect teams to operate collaboratively, without the collaboration having been planned, organized, taught and enforced. Or, we expect teams NOT to operate collaboratively, so we resort to punishment or despair.
The last thing we are likely to face and engage is the primal need to clearly and explicitly establish the expectations and metrics of human performance without which none of the defined tasks will be properly carried out.
People are the catalyst. Without proper functioning of the human resource, none of the investments of cash and materiel, none of the plans and predictions, will accomplish anything. This is especially vital in projects, because the uncertainty, risk, unfamiliarity and unaccustomed nature of the project situation naturally trigger caution, reluctance and self-protective instincts in the normal healthy human being.
So what do you do?
So what does this say to the project manager who truly intends to conduct a successful project?
Success is defined here as completing a complex, risky innovation through the work of a temporarily-assembled team, meeting predetermined standards of cost, schedule and characteristics of the deliverables. A corollary requirement is that the team members' lives and other responsibilities have not suffered, and in fact the skills and morale of the team members have markedly benefited from their participation.
That's project success. How do you do it?
For starters, you accomplish it because you set out to do so. Your actions follow from your thoughts. If you go into a project thinking of the problems, the shortfalls in support and investment, the lagging of motivation, the painful history of previous efforts then those thoughts will define your personal process. You'll be wrestling with problems, not planning for possibilities.
The most important commitment the project manager must make is a determination to devote proper attention to the human foundation of the project. All kinds of problems and variances can be managed by a group of committed people who are constructively engaged in assuring success.
First on the to-do list is information. What exactly is this project about? Why is it being mounted? Who directed that it be launched, and what are that person's expectations? What evidence is there that the resource-controlling authorities of the organization are bought in?
Second is establishing solid understandings and agreements among the key stakeholders. The decision-makers high in the organization are included here. So are decision-makers among the end users of the project's work, and among the resource providers at the middle-management level who must support the project.
Hold off on task definition
This thorough attention to the foundation of the project has nothing to do in any substantive way with the work of the project. This preliminary is essential in avoiding the typical rush to get to work, a costly strategic error that leaves huge potholes in the road ahead.
The project manager makes sure that he/she completely understands the basic drivers of the project and the major characteristics of everyone's expectations. And that the very same understandings and expectations are fully shared from the beginning by all the key stakeholders.
This vital step is skipped or botched often, and that's why projects fail.
The same care is invested in bringing project team members into the project, and establishing the norms of team and individual performance. The project manager personally vets and informs members of the leadership team, and ensures that they are doing the same down the line with project team participants. It is ingrained in the project team culture.
The project manager's challenge from the start is to make sure every participant has full information about the importance of the project, how it will contribute to the strategic advance of the organization, how participants will earn the admiration of their superiors and co-workers. The project manager's organizational skills and discipline must be matched by optimism and high expectations, plus the salesmanship to infuse the entire process with enthusiasm.
The project manager insists, respectfully, upon spoken and demonstrated buy-in from each individual connected to the project. Hearing yourself articulate commitment is a powerful motivator. So is the knowledge that everybody else is doing the same thing.
In the unfortunate (and frequent) case that the project team members are assigned without the project manager's having a say in their selection, the project manager still has to conduct the same process and it's harder. Bypassing it is not an option.
Why they should
What all this demands, of course, is a high level of skill in communication and persuasion on the part of the project manager. If you first make it easy and attractive for people to work on your project, they'll have their own answers to the question: Why should I?