I have been in the ERP space for just about 16 years now or since early 2014 and it has taken me to many projects with many different project managers and management styles. I have used all kinds of tools and at one point the biggest trend was to merge Microsoft Project into Dynamics Ax 2012. Some project managers have only been able to use Excel and constantly send an updated file via email. Some project managers like to keep online (internal off course) TODO lists, some want to use One Note, some SharePoint, Some Jira, some DevOps, some all of this and even some that don‘t believe in any of those tools.
But there is one aspect that I have seen in all projects in the last 16 years and that is the ability for managers to work with other professionals and manage people. In every project there comes a time of stress where all the project members are on edge constantly talking about how little time we have, there is so much to do. The projects I have seen success under this immense pressure are projects where the project manager and the directors are real people persons, they handle the people management with par excellence. They are tapped into the project team and can read the atmosphere in a heartbeat and importantly can smother small issues before they spin out of control and start to poison the team. I know this is a strong language but trust me this is what happens if the people management is left to a chance and the mindset is “Let’s hope they can work together and deliver”.
We are all humans
All the tools mentioned above have pros and cons and it depends on who you ask which one is the best and the right one for the job. But they all will fall short if the actual people management in a project is poor and the only thing managers and directors can think about is budget and time i.e. how much more time will it take to deliver this project VS time left to finish the project. We are all humans with feelings and emotions, we have ambitions, a vision where we want to be in 5 years etc. We also have our problems the things from the daily life that we need to address and work with. Many of us have families, some have young kids, some have older kids, some have no kids, we have parents, siblings, grandparents plus all the diversities the modern society has in the 21st century.It is not up to the managers and directors to manage each and every employee’s personal life but understanding that it is a human showing up for work and not a robot is very important.
This is one of the reasons why I always route for social interaction for people working together on a project. Typically, you have employees of a software or IT company delivering a solution to a client. The project team is built up of employees, managers, directors and so on from both the companies and they need to deliver by working TOGETHER. Building up good relations from the start inside the project team and also to the wider project governance team will help down the line, I know that, I have seen that.
What can be done to build up good moral?
This is no rocket science, it just takes a little bit of thinking and making the people management part of the project management work. So what can project managers do, do they know have to plan movie and theater trips on top all the other planning and management? The answer is no, at least if they don’t want to do it as well. In every project/company there are people how like to bring other people together and I am one of those peoples. I really like to meet other people and get to know others and know their story. Managers need to find these employees and put their powers to good use by having them either totally own the social factor of the project or work with them and share the workload. It is important to give employees a clear information about the boundaries and budget they need to operate within.
To me one very important part of the people management is to take the project team out of the office and do something else than the daily grind day in day out, like go out for an ice-cream (my favourite). Here lies the magic, there is no need to run some big events every month that will cost a lot of money. Use things like the lunch break or coffee break to take people out of the office for 30 to 60 minutes and simply mingle over a burger/salat or coffee/tea etc. Then two or three times a year do something bigger with the whole team and take a whole afternoon with the team and do yoga, meditation, paintball, go to LEGO land, spa treatment or what ever works for your team.
Why is this important?
Like I mentioned in the beginning each project will have its phase of stress where the work to be done just seems impossible to achieve. Having a good moral and spirit within the team will be the key to get everyone through this period and it is easier for managers and directors to ask the people to go the extra mile to meet the deadlines. The team knows by doing so they will get some sort of a reward in the form of a social event.
This is also very important to either eliminate bad behavior in the office, to understand why your top performer of last month suddenly stops to perform and the real reason is to find in her/his personal life. This is very important if at some point a friction between the solution provider and the client emerges or if two or more team members have some issues and so on and so on.
To me this kind of a people management and treating all the team members as humans and not some robots that have no feelings is the platform to execute a successful project from. In the worst case scenario and everything goes south in the end, well you at least had some fun while doing it and you would be willing to try the same thing again.