The Importance of the People in Projects

Pure project management is about planning, communicating, monitoring, controlling, reporting etc etc but it is also about risk management and change management because few, if any, projects are without risks and change. But it can sometimes seem that change management, in particular, is an afterthought or only concerned with changes to the project plan, business requirements or objectives. Too often there is not enough emphasis on the broader changes that affect real people in projects as a consequence of major project implementations.

 

This is particularly true if you use a formal PM methodology such as PRINCE2 or PMI, which are very effective for the planning, controlling and so on but less effective when it comes to how a project manager deals with, say, resistance to change from people affected by the project.

 

Humans are often resistant to change if it involves changing their behaviour or patterns of work and few embrace change. Managing change such as this may not initially seem to be a project manager’s responsibility but, like so many other things on projects, it affects the success of the project so a PM should be involved and influential in this area too.

 

A project led by a competent project manager using a tried and trusted methodology can still fail if the people in projects, those affected by the project, are not committed to its success.

 

But, practically speaking, how can you change the behaviours of a group of people, overcome their resistance to change and use the minority who might embrace the change as ambassadors for the new project?

 

First, you need to demonstrate why the change is required and what the benefits are at a personal level; this could be very different to the business benefits and the personal benefits may be different for different groups of people. With everything else a project manager has to contend with motivating those not directly involved with the project may come a long way down your list of priorities but it is essential to encourage people to embrace the new project. This is where you could employ ambassadors from amongst the rank and file to spread the good news.

 

 

The ambassadors could be senior executives but if they have not fully communicated the project vision to employees it may be more successful to use an employee.

 

If no employees seem committed to the success of the project then carefully select someone who has the trust of the rest and work with them to get them involved at a deeper level.

 

They can then help with motivating and involving others. It is often when change is imposed on people with little or no consultation that there is resistance so get people involved – it may be too late to change the project plans but it is never too late to ask people’s opinions and try to implement suggestions. The people working at the coal face can often give practical tips that could improve the final outcome of the project and by involving them more closely, listening to their concerns and suggestions you will be starting to break down the barriers to change.

 

Be aware that reluctance to change is closely associated with anxieties about losing their job or not being able to cope with a different role or responsibilities so make sure the project plan includes appropriate training sessions for all employees. The training sessions are also a good place to promote the personal benefits of the changes being implemented.

 

As a project manager you may feel you yourself lack the skills necessary to motivate and build commitment in others so don’t neglect training or professional development for yourself and for the project team. Training part way through a project can reinvigorate yourself and the team and help see a way forward in a complex, lengthy project. It can also help you to communicate the project vision and get people to buy into it – again maybe not in your job description but it is definitely a contributor to project success if you can help people to understand where you are heading with the project and what the future holds for them personally.

 

You may not have to do all these things yourself but you can facilitate them and encourage business ambassadors or people from the project team to take certain responsibilities.

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