Project Management is Actually About People

This post is sponsored by ProSymmetry and is a guest contribution by Greg Bailey, Vice President World Wide Sales at ProSymmetry.

As project managers, we’ve all been there. Dragging slide bars across the screen, adding new tasks, planning out the most precise project timetable. Everything will be on schedule, everything fits perfectly in place and then…the real world happens.

Delays, logistical nightmares, breakdowns in communication, departmental politics and problems finding the resources to get the project done make a mockery of your perfectly designed plan.

There’s a growing recognition that the way we plan our projects is failing. While by no means the single cause of failure, our dependence on structured PPM software often takes our actual planning away from the thing that’s at the center of every project: the people who turn those plans into action.

In the vast majority of PPM tools, the focus is on tasks and deadlines, and this fails to take into account the real world behavior and needs of the individuals who get the project done.

In my experience, project management is really all about these people. And if we’re to avoid project failure in future, we need to bring them back to the center of project and resource management.

A disconnect between tools and people

A 2014 survey by PWC – the global business consultants – asked over 3000 project professionals from 110 countries about why projects failed. The top three reasons cited were:

  • Insufficient resources
  • Changes in scope mid-project
  • Poor estimates in the planning phase.

The survey results highlight the fact that there’s a crucial disconnect between the way projects are planned and the real world behavior of resources. People get sick, other projects and their day jobs compete with the schedule, certain individuals underperform. The research indicates therefore that better resource management would be a positive step in increasing the rate of project success.

What’s the problem with traditional PPM tools?

PPM software, as I alluded to above, is incredibly abstract. Projects and tasks are broken down into small bars on a screen. This is so far away from the project ‘on the ground’ – whether that be five people designing a mobile app or ten thousand people building an Olympic stadium.

Read Next: Take a look at this selection of project management software tool reviews.

So why is this a problem for project leaders?

Picture Alice. She’s a project manager and works for a public sector organization. She’s running a public awareness campaign which involves distributing information around the country and will involve bringing in a media agency, hiring temps and contractors and coordinating across her own organization. Alice has efficiently planned out the stages of the campaign yet as things go forward she notices there’s a lot of lag and delays.

Why might this be? Let’s look at the other side of the fence.

Jai works for the same public sector organization as Alice. He has expertise and contacts in media distribution and has been called in to work on the project. Alice hands him a perfectly reasonable task list at weekly meetings. Jai even signs up to do these tasks, committing his time during the meeting.

But they’ve both forgotten another reality: Jai also has his own day job which includes many pressing tasks, and he’s currently also working on other projects.

No surprises therefore, that Jai’s contribution to the project isn’t as fast and timely as in Alice’s original plans. On an aggregate level, with temps, contractors and third party organizations, these resource issues mean that the project creeps over budget and beyond deadlines.

It’s by no means a total disaster. The work gets done and overall the project will be considered successful. But it looks bad for Alice and with public sector spending under scrutiny, it doesn’t look good for her organization either.

you deliver more successfully and consistently
Resource management dashboards can help you deliver more successfully and consistently

A resource-focused project would be more successful

As PWC’s survey pointed out, there’s a growing need for tools that allow project managers a far more granular view of how people are being managed and what they are working on.

Resource management tools like Tempus Resource fill the gap between PPM software and real life because traditional project management tools can’t give project managers the ability to view whole portfolios and explore just how over (or under-) used individual resources are.

As in the example above, no traditional PPM tool could have told Alice that Jai simply has too much on his plate. In the same way, it couldn’t have told her that half of her temps are currently doing very little (and they’re unlikely to come asking her for more tasks either).

There’s a simple explanation: these tools just don’t take into account the resources on which real world projects depend. Resource management helps you deliver projects more successfully – because project management is actually about people.

Find out more about Tempus Resource, from ProSymmetry.

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