Managing Human Factors In IT Project Management

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Managing Human Factors In IT Project Management

James Graham, PMP Ta’ l-Ibrag, Malta

As software project managers we obsess over the schedule details. We huddle with our teammates to try to anticipate risk factors that could derail our projects. We crunch numbers to see if we can squeeze the project deliverables out of the allocated budget. But we tend to overlook, or ignore, the most prevalent cause of project failure: the human factor.

From errors, to accidents, to out and out non-performance, human failure to perform can often be tied to our tendency to repeat our past behaviours. If it worked successfully for us last time, it should work again. There is a old saying, “For he who is a hammer, every problem is a nail”. Psychological research shows that people under the influence of stress may revert to the learning or experiences that are hammer-like, because they found success with them in the past. What is more stressful than undertaking a new software project?

Because the objective of most projects is to create a new product, service, or solution, agility and flexibility of mind and working style are major positive behaviours to encourage instead of repeating past actions. Following old processes may be counter-productive when faced with a new, different challenge.

Consider a business analyst who is highly experienced in one, formal software project management methodology. Intellectually, he may listen to his developers explain the logic of why more agility in the approach to software development is an impelling argument. But when faced with time pressures that appear to compromise the project, he may revert to using some favourite techniques that worked well in past, non-software related experiences.

Bank supervisors report that reversing numbers is a common error, especially when employee concentration is not 100% focused due to work related or personal stress. Knowing this human tendency, the wise project manager will carefully check estimates, budgets, and other documents for these types of careless, but human, errors.

What leads to stress on your project team? It could be personal, such as having an argument with a spouse before leaving for work, or financial pressures at home. Perhaps there are family worries about health, or children.

Work related encounters can also be stress producing. It could be something as minor as being late to a key stakeholder meeting and forgetting to bring an important document. Or, it could be concerns from job security to worries that the coding and testing for this project cannot be completed on target.

Stress leads to past behaviour, not active problem solving actions. As the software project manager, it is your job to be on the lookout for symptoms of stress that can lead your team members to regress to old behaviours. By active conversations with them and careful management of their work environment, you can prevent or help minimize the effects of stress.

People are human, so human emotions are natural in the workplace. But only people can develop software. So, nurture and manage your human capital as carefully as you monitor and protect your non-human resources.

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