Are You Managing a Project Or Herding Cats?

catinbagWhat a challenge managing a project! Not only do the technical details have to be managed, but so does the human side of the project. It doesn’t take much experience to realize that managing the technical side of a project is much easier than managing the human side.  The expression that frequently comes to mind is ‘Herding Cats’. Today’s projects, even the small ones, involve many people and disciplines, and consist of multiple, integrated components and systems. Without skills training on the human side, a lot of time is wasted – trying to figure out what to do, chasing people down, settling disputes and arguments, and re-working what was done the week before as new lessons are learned. With some basic skills, project managers can accelerate their learning curve and eliminate much of the re-work – delivering successful projects on a faster pace.

Regardless of the size of the project, the technical basics must be done well. Lester R. Bittel said, “Good plans shape good decisions.” The plan is the road-map for the project – a set of activities that are sequenced, with connections to the rest of the work, intended to meet a specific business objective when completed by a project team. The plan’s main purpose is not only to provide the road-map for specific project activities. It is also a collaboration, alignment, and communication tool. It details which activities are happening, at what time, who is involved, and what is happening next. Lastly, it is an acknowledgement tool – recognizing when the project team has achieved milestones, and is on track to delivering the overall project objectives. Tools can make it easier and faster to execute project tasks, provide a standard methodology for activities, enhance communication, and minimize confusion.  These tools enable the project manager to document the decisions and the status of project activities during the implementation.  When these tools are kept in a central, accessible location, they provide the project team, project customers, and stakeholders a single source of information – saving time and money.

But the secret to really successful project implementation are the human skills. They are what enable the project manager to avoid having to ‘herd cats’. These human skills include attracting and retaining a talented project team, gaining commitment to the project, and resolving conflict.  The project team is the human representation of the project and the right composition of the team is critical.  A good project team can develop trust and gain alignment from its customers, users, stakeholders, and operational colleagues. In recruiting, each individual’s qualifications, skills, attitude, and commitment should all be considered.

When recruiting team members, consider carefully a person who has great technical skills, but has poor communication and collaboration skills. How much time is the project manager willing to spend listening to complaints and refereeing between team members or with project customers?  Projects always mean change – and change always causes conflict.  Team members should be recruited who have, or can develop, excellent communication, collaboration, and conflict resolution skills. Unresolved conflicts tie up personnel and their productivity, slowing down both the quality and the completion of the project resulting in higher costs.  The solution? Develop the project team’s capability and skills to handle the people challenges as competently as the technical challenges.  If a team is recruited that is willing and capable to learn these skills – get them trained as early in the project timeline as possible.

Today’s project manager must have a solid plan and tools to manage the project. But, having the skills necessary to successfully manage the human beings – are even more important. A project manager with human skills is able to effectively handle both the technical and people issues – saving time and money.  They can get out of the ‘herding cats’ business and deliver the project – big or small – on time, on budget, and with excellence.

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