As a project manager, there were times when I sincerely wondered if I would not be more successful if I just did not have to deal with people. People — my team, senior management, support staff and clients — can turn a simple task into a complex one or a straightforward decision into a need for lengthy, detailed analysis, when one least expects it.
Project management is a delicate task even if there are no unexpected people issues. However, when issues such as personality clashes, differing beliefs or downright miscreant behavior arise, it IS the project manager’s job to deal with it. Sometimes you can solve a personnel-related problem through leadership, mentoring and feedback. And, sometimes the best a project manager can do is minimize the impact that people issues have on the outcome of the project.
Perhaps the biggest internal personnel issue that can arise on a project is dishonesty from one or more project team members. While most people are not trying to be dishonest, a lack of full disclosure or omission of information in a status report harms a project in a direct way. Because a project manager must gather information from team members and consolidate that information with data from other tools to determine project status and risks, bad data means inaccurate reports, unidentified risks and potential project failure.
Another possible issue comes from experts assigned to the project who feel that they have the only right way to accomplish the project goals. Although expert input is undoubtedly beneficial, having a headstrong expert, either on the team or overseeing the project, can prove disastrous. This issue is exacerbated if the individual feels he is superior in either intellect or skill to the project manager, resulting in a situation where team members feel torn between following the instructions of the project manager or bending to the intellectual force of the expert. In my experience, the optimum tactic to deal with Mr. Right requires finding common ground, where the expert feels his input is appreciated, while the project leader maintains the ability to lead the team in the final decision.
Company executives can sabotage projects under their purview through the constant bombardment of the project manager for updates on the project. This can be a huge waste of time for the manager who has to take time from overseeing the team to prepare reports and engage in meetings. Of course, it is understandable that an executive wants updates on their project. Fortunately, this problem can be remedied easily if the project manager maintains a proactive approach to the executive and provides updates in a convenient and consistent way. In addition, by demonstrating a record of adherence to project deadlines, the project manager can build trust and hopefully alleviate the need of an executive to unnecessarily check status. Fortunately there are many new tools on the market which, when implemented correctly, can help the PM provide regular and better information to the executives and stakeholders.
Personnel issues that impact team productivity vary from the serious, such as harassment or discrimination, to the mundane. Toni Bowers lists some real-world examples in her post, “When does a personality quirk become a productivity issue?” such as, telling an employee that her personal hygiene is unacceptable, explaining to a staff member why he has to take down the decorative noose he has hanging in his office and telling an employee that his apparent infatuation with his own voice is driving your team to madness.
Edwin T. Cornelius III, Ph.D. writing for Collegiate Project Services offers advice on dealing with personnel issues in What to Do when People Problems Threaten Project Success – Part 2 suggesting:
- Providing coaching and mentoring
- Using a strong outside facilitator to mediate conflicts
- Conducting team-building events
- Training in problem solving techniques
- (as a last resort) Changing project personnel
I have suggested ways to implement many of these dealing-with-personnel techniques in previous posts.
I hope you will take a few minutes to share your project management experience with personnel issues or suggest techniques you have found successful in solving personnel problems.