Quick Notes

Things that came on the way

People Management for Project Success

Even though “it’s all about people” people management is one of the major areas over looked in a team resulting in project failures. The following are some of the people management aspects which every manager needs to practice for any undertaking to be successful

1) Identifying the right resource to join the team is a critical one and has multiple dimensions. The top three which I consider important are

  • Obviously, identifying a candidate having the right skills to perform the job
  • Cultural fitness and general outlook of the candidate. For e.g. a candidate who is an “A” in skills but not a team player may do more harm than good. Similarly in a knowledge based industry having a candidate who doesn’t have the aptitude towards keeping abreast of the changes in the area of choosing may not be the right one.
  • In the event of recruiting new candidate, making sure that the candidate has the potential to grow in the organization is important. Even though the candidate is being recruited for a project to fill the gaps, for the long term success of the candidate and the organization, making sure that the candidate has growth potential is a vital element a manager needs to make sure.

2) Define roles and responsibilities for everyone in the team as clearly as possible. Not defining the roles generates duplication, complacency, power struggle and all the ill effects which goes with it, resulting in huge amount of unproductiveness.

3) Tightly coupled with defining roles and responsibilities is setting expectations of what is expected from all the members in the team. It should cover not only the delivery aspects of the work to be done, but at the minimum the processes, team norms and also the benefits if the expectations are met. At no point and under any circumstances dilute the standards for a member or a group. Such dilution will make it difficult for members to believe in the standards and hold on to it. It will also encourage mediocrity.

4) Often members have defined roles and responsibilities but not the necessary authority and/or the tools to carry out the same. Responsibility without the necessary authority is farce and relieves the member from being accountable. Without being accountable, defining a members role, responsibilities and setting expectations becomes meaningless and there will be finger pointing for not making a delivery or a failure.

Similarly micro management relives members from taking complete responsibility and in turn being accountable. This is a common mistake I have seen in managers who have been in the field for long and moved to do management. Instead of guiding the team and leading, they tend to micro manage which sends the message that the manager doesn’t trust the team and prevents them from taking full responsibility.

Diagonally opposite to micro management style can be loosely termed as “hands free” has its consequences too. In this the manager assumes that the team members are very good independent performers under minimal or no supervision and so will be able to do the required follow-ups and deliver as planned. It is subconscious since most of the managers are independent and entrepreneurial and the normal human psychology is to assume others are the same as they are. But in reality it is not the case and managers need to do the active verification and provide guidance. Another group of managers who seem to practice “hands free” style of management are the ones who are not familiar with the field in which they are managers. The solution to this would be for the managers to make an effort to understand the field to do the proper verification so that they can be effective.

5) Provide and receive feedback at regular intervals and this should not be a yearly or half yearly ritual or a one way communication. This will make sure that there is good alignment on the expectations and also help the members perform well. Most of the time feedback is given at the end of the year or project resulting in surprises and low morale. Regular one on one communication with team members will also help with understanding any external factors e.g personal or organizational factors which is affecting the member performance and take possible steps to fix it early on.

6) Early in my career one advise I got from an experienced manager is to plan for team members winning a lottery and not showing up to work the next day. Even if it is not planned for all the members in the team, there are instances I have seen projects struggle and fail due to key members departing suddenly. Always plan for such a scenario by for e.g. having knowledge sharing weaved in the processes so that there is minimal impact to the team if a member leaves.

7) Last but not the least, watch out for silent leaders in the team who are very knowledgeable, talented, responsible and very focused on the work but not flamboyant about their work. Such people in the team can be easily identified by the observing to whom others in the team go to for guidance or by the nature of the work they deliver. Identifying and appreciating silent leaders has always been one of the key elements in my successful project deliveries.

At this time of greater mobility where gaining respect from peers trumps titles, persuasion trumps organizational hierarchy, effective people management is more important to the success of any project and the manager than anytime before.