People centric Project Management

What happens when your key resources are people?     How do you manage the project and people to deliver the results?       What if we are managing projects when we really have to manage people?. 

I can see some eyebrows already raised. But this is a common thing in Information technology industry, where your resources are people. Sometimes project managers are so involved in managing schedule, scope and cost that they leave the most critical piece, which is managing the people. There are many industries today where the success of the project depends on the project team members directly working on delivering the required scope. As the complexity increases the dependency on the people involved also increases.  For run of the mill projects you need not worry about attrition as much. However when you are delivering a fixed price project which is time-bound keeping your eyes off your project team is a sure shot way to cost and schedule overruns and even project failure. 

We try to make the schedule down to the last detail, put contingencies have backup plans. What if this level of micro management is actually not required? Once the schedule goes for the toss so does effort, cost and Quality.

Let’s look at specific type of projects and see if we can learn some lessons from that. For Eg: Let’s take the case of a large software development project (80 people or more working for 12+ months).  What are some of the common problems in such projects, as seen from eyes of Team member?

1.       Schedule is forced upon me and it’s not possible to deliver in this crunched timeline.

2.       Management is not good at managing the scope and we seem to be accepting lot more change requests

3.       Customer is acting crazy by raising every small defect and making a big issue out of it.

4.       Even if I deliver my part I am not sure if overall product will be of good quality.

5.       Will I get compensated for overworking and doing such complex work? Will I get good work in future?

From Managers perspective

1.       How can I deliver this project on time when things are already behind schedule?

2.       My operating margin is falling. How much more is it going to fall?

3.       I am not sure about the code quality; code review comments and number of unit testing defects are telling me that we have Quality issues.

4.       Change requests are flowing in and this can throw off my schedule and cost. How can I make the customer understand to contain the scope?

5.       I need some experts who can deliver this with high quality, where do I get them?

Most of the things mentioned above can be dealt with if you have a passionate team of people who are willing to go a little extra mile to deliver the project. Team also needs a good leader who can be the nucleus and around which the team would revolve. This leader is expected to know both the functional and technical aspects of the project.

Look at any troubled project in your company, how did you salvage the project? Didn’t you put your top guns on the project? Once they came onboard they dealt with scope, schedule, and quality issues which were much difficult to look at before. I am not saying the throwing people at problems is the answer. However as we know lack of skilled people and inability to attract and retain people will  certainly put your project at high risk and eventually into a situation which cannot be recovered.

Black Swans – High impact low probability events are almost certain in any large development project (spanning over 12 months or more) and one way to minimize the impact of such events is to empower team members so that we act as one in face of challenges. Once you have a passionate team you can manage high risk situations much comfortably.