Its all about the people!

I’m not sure what inspired to me to write this post. It may have been seeing yet another advertisement pop-up for a project management tool guaranteed to deliver successful projects. It may have been a project manager telling me that their latest process was so good it practically guaranteed project success. It might even have been the CEO of a company telling me that they were sure that as soon as everyone got a certification that all their project worries would be solved. It may even have been some flashbacks from my own early days as a project manager over 20 years ago.

Too many organizations still think that the solution to their performance issues involves setting up a new group, implementing a new process, purchasing a new piece of software or putting in place more (or different) systems. They do this and get a slight increase in productivity and think all is good. Then inevitably it all goes back to where it was. Why? Because they overlooked the most important part of lasting change – the people!

The point I’m trying to make is that among all the constant noise about processes, tools, templates, certifications and standards in the profession of project management we seem to overlook, or simply forget, the incredibly obvious fact that people deliver projects for other people.


People like you and me.

Individuals who get together to make up a team.

Customers who accept the deliverable are people too.

Stakeholders who can affect or be affected by the project are people as well.

Are you beginning to see my point yet? It seems as soon as we call some endeavour a project we label it as some kind of mechanistic process that doesn’t need human interaction to succeed. Sometimes it seems that too many project managers absolve themselves of the need to have the ability to interact with people because they can rely on a spreadsheet, or report, or template, or piece of software that will somehow ‘manage’ the project.

It seems that we lose sight of the essential foundational concepts of management. Management (and leadership) is about a person, or a group of people, managing or leading another person, or group of people. In order for this to be successful relationships must be formed. Successful relationships require open communication, trust and mutual understanding.

I’m not saying that processes, tools, templates, certification and standards aren’t important. They are. They are what people use to help and focus their efforts in building relationships. In fact, every tool, technique, process, certification or standard you are considering using should only be used if it helps nurture and sustain real relationships with people. That was always the original intent. But, sometimes it seems that we have given too much importance to these things and lost sight of what really matters.

So, the next time you are considering any sort of process, tool or technique, ask yourself this question – how does this help me build relationships with my project team, customer or stakeholders? If you can’t answer that then you probably shouldn’t be using it.

The most successful project managers I have ever had the opportunity to work with are those with the greatest people skills. The funny thing is that this doesn’t just apply to project managers. Substitute project manager for politician, CEO, community leader or family member and the result is the same.

If you manage people who manager projects then always start with investing in these people. Develop them with experience, coaching, mentoring and training. Define expected competencies and provide support for their development.

Don’t lose sight of the fact that projects need people, affect people and change people. Use the tools, techniques, processes, templates, certifications and standards to help you do this and I am pretty sure you will be a more successful project manager. In fact, for the past few years, whenever a project manager asks me what they should do to be better at their job I simply say “Work on your people skills”.

As always, I welcome your comments.