It's the people, stupid

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It’s The People, Stupid

Adrian Wible New York, New York, USA

Never lose site of the fact that the members of your project team are human beings, with aspirations, strengths, constraints, and weaknesses. Your project’s success hinges more on team members’ attitudes and aptitudes than it does on your Gantt chart wizardry and project tracking prowess. Feel free to manage the project, but don’t forget to lead the team.

Many of us manage projects in a matrix environment with team members reporting both to us and to a department manager. We do not have human resources (HR) hiring/firing/evaluation responsibility for them. However, don’t abdicate responsibility for the care and feeding of the people on the team to managers in the HR or functional hierarchy.

Many of those managers get promoted based on technical knowledge of human resources or their departments, not on their ability to inspire people. Your project’s success depends on your ability to lead. There are many books available on leadership. Read voraciously.

Everyone on your team wants to contribute, learn, and achieve. It may be challenging at times to dig deeply enough to find this desire in some team members, but it’s what makes software project management challenging and fun.

Hold one-on-one conversations with your team members regularly. Determine what their issues are, ask them for ideas, and give them a voice in the project. Take their input seriously and act on it.

Ask your team members what they want to be when they grow up. Seriously. We all have career aspirations. Be the one mentor who cares about their careers. You’ll be amazed at how powerful this can be.

Be open, honest, and direct with team members. Provide feedback on a regular basis, not just at review time. Focus your feedback on the behavior, not the person. Again, management literature abounds. Study.

When you have a performance issue with a team member, apply the CRAM model: Constraints, Resources, Aptitude, and Motivation. Project managers frequently diagnose poor performance as a motivation problem. The CRAM model suggests that motivation is the last issue to consider. A team member may be experiencing constraints in his life that limit his effectiveness. Examples: getting divorced, married, having kids, addiction issues, etc.

Team members may not have the resources necessary to contribute at their highest level. Examples: no Quality Assurance (QA) test environment, or ancient hardware. Perhaps budget constraints limit the ability to establish testing environments or buy licenses for necessary software. Perhaps the domain expertise (business analyst, customer, end-user) is not accessible.

Your team member may not be cut out for the role he/she fills. He may not have the programming aptitude necessary for this project. If so, find another project role, if possible. Alternatively, find another team where he can leverage his strengths.

Motivation is the last lever to jiggle when a team member has performance issues. It should only be considered once the constraints, resources, and aptitude problems have been addressed.

Be a leader and connect with the individuals human beings who comprise your team. The results may surprise you.

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