Finding the Best Staff – Tips for Project Managers

I know that project managers working for large companies with human resource departments and Project Management Offices, usually get the staff needed for their project without the need to recruit or hire from outside. However, in small companies, the project manager may be tasked with finding new employees or outside consultants to work on his or her project from outside the organization.

I sympathize with PMs who must add the “find-hire-acquire-staff” to their to-do list. It is not easy to find the right people and the negative consequences of failure can be long-term. Therefore, I have given some thought to effective staffing/recruiting strategies—along with borrowing insight from others.

Obvious Ways to Recruit New Employees
Of course, you can place an ad in local newspapers and check out popular generalist and industry specific websites that post jobs for those seeking them. Popular sites for job seekers include, and Professionals seeking jobs in the technology sector also register with Dice and techiegold. (Joel on Software offers insight and disheartening numbers on using these sites for recruiting developers in his post, “Finding Great Developers”)

Ask your current work contacts for suggestions or referrals or represent your company at local job fairs talking with perspective employees and collecting resumes. Some companies use staffing firms to get resumes and outside contractors – but be warned that this industry has become over taxed with too many players and too few good resumes.  Use social networking sites that focus on work related information sharing such as LinkedIn or Plaxo. Also, another warning, “Posting on these social sites may yield varying results”.

In the past, some organizations dismissed searching though active job seekers for their employees preferring instead to use recruiters to tickle the fancy of people already employed and not actively looking—this becomes very expensive very quickly. In today’s economy, many talented, hardworking developers and project staff are unemployed or under-employed and looking.  

Any or all of these activities bring resumes of viable candidates for your consideration –frequently buried with hundreds of others that are not viable. Be prepared to sort through a lot of chaff to get to the wheat.

Before you make any decision about recruiting versus staff augmentation, you also need to look hard at your real needs and constraints for a project:

  • Do you need a junior or senior person?
  • How long will you need the skill set?
  • How long do you have to get the person on-board and trained?
  • If you need multiple people, how many do you hire versus bring in as consultants?

Recruiting Outside the Box
The first question I would ask you to consider, “Is there someone in your organization who– with training–could do the job you are trying to fill?” The advantage of hiring from within is that the individual already has a stake in the company and a record of accomplishment you can check. Of course, some training takes more time than you have available, but at least think about the possibility of offering training in exchange for the opportunity to work on your project.

Check through filed resumes and applicants from past employee searches. Someone that almost made the cut for a previous position may still be interested in your opportunity and a potential candidate for you.

Attend trade shows, professional conferences or training events with the purpose of scoping out talented individuals. When you find someone with potential, give them your card and let them know that your company is looking for people with their skills.

A Techrepublic article offers this out-of-the-box recruiting strategy—host a training event or game night. Depending on the type of developer you seek, you may find that they share interests with others in your organization for advanced training workshops or video game competition. Check with your compadres to identify a topic or event that is relevant or fun and will attract the types of people you might want to hire.

IF your timeframe is long enough, think about hiring an intern. Of course, their skills are nascent, but some future superstars are in the ranks of graduate students who would appreciate a chance at real world experience. And, who knows they may remain after their stardom is established.

Once you successfully get a group of potential candidate resumes (for either hiring or contracting), get ourself prepared to ask good questions and be a good interviewer.  If you decide to hire be sure you look for soft skills in addition to the hard technical skills.  I have developed a few  key competencies I look for in staff over the years – you may want to read my thoughts in, “Staffing Projects for Success: Back to The Basics” by Cognitive Technologies – (free registration required).

Please share your out-of-the-box and traditional staffing/recruiting techniques with fellow project managers.

Keep Users in Mind in Your Design

General Electric Company used to say in their advertising, “Progress is our most important product.” In terms of project management, satisfied users are often our most important product. Users may not be our direct clients, but they are the ones that eventually decide if our efforts to develop a software system helped or hindered getting their job done.

In previous posts — Business Analysts and Helping the Business Analyst Helps Your Project – I talked about the role of the Business Analyst in collecting user requirements and evaluating performance from a user’s perspective. Integral to our support of the user’s experience at Cognitive Technologies is Performance-Centered Design and Development addressed in detail in this white paper by Dr. Karen McGraw. In today’s post, I want to summarize the key points in Karen’s paper and tell you about an interesting site I found that adds another perspective to designing for users.

Performance-Centered Design
Cognitive Technologies works with users from the beginning of a project through final testing and support. We seek to capture and document work processes and information needs as well as user characteristics. We recommend rapid prototyping to develop a proof of concept or visual prototype to test early understandings and determine/refine requirements. Our user-centric activities include:

  • Identifying the information needs, including required input and output, sources and destinations for data, and information manipulation
  • Defining responsibilities or assignments, including understanding the job functions and goals, work processes, and critical success factors for the user community
  • Documenting standards and criteria for the user’s job performance that may be impacted by the new system
  • Capturing decision making factors and heuristics (i.e., rules of thumb) users apply in performing job functions affected by the system
  • Capturing problem solving patterns and preferences within the user community
  • Documenting difficulties and problem areas (in the way the job is performed today) that technology will or can improve

Design with Intent
Dan Lockton’s background in Industrial Design Engineering followed by a Master’s in Technology Policy from the University of Cambridge and his doctorate work at Brunel University in England focused on the impact of design on user behavior. Lockton and colleagues from Brunel developed a group of design concepts they call: Design with Intent, which are available for review and download.

Lockton uses the term Design with Intent to mean “design that’s intended to influence or result in certain user behaviour — it’s an attempt to describe lots of types of systems (products, services, interfaces, environments) that have been strategically designed with the intent to influence how people use them.” Although Lockton does not limit his thinking to software, many of his ideas are provocative in terms of their implications for software design. I picked 10 of over one hundred such suggestions to list here:

  1. Can you recognize the ‘desire paths’ of some of your users, and then codify them into your system, so others follow too?
  2. Can you edit the choices presented to users so only the ones you want them to have are available?
  3. Can you make the default setting the behavior you prefer users to perform?
  4. Can you detect and suggest a better option to users when it looks like they’re making an error (i.e. Google search correcting typo errors)?
  5. Can you let users know their progress towards achieving a goal or let users know how what they’re doing is affecting the system?
  6. Can you give users a preview or simulation of the results of different actions or choices?
  7. Could your system adapt what it offers to match individual users’ needs and abilities?
  8. Can you give people a ‘map’ of the routes or choices they can use to achieve different goals?
  9. Can you give users different choices or access to functions depending on the capabilities they can demonstrate?
  10. Can you make elements look similar so users perceive them to share characteristics, or that they should be used together?

What does this mean to project managers?
First, consider if the ideas about structuring user interaction suggested in Design with Intent make sense for your product and customer. If so, prepare a brown bag training topic about Design with Intent – or ask someone on your staff to do it. After your business analyst develops an overview of the users, their requirements and operating environment, brainstorm with the design team how some of the Design with Intent suggestions could be implemented. For those individual guidelines that you support, make sure that product testing includes an evaluation of those items.

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