Project Human Resource Management

28 March, 2016

The Project Manager role is often the first exposure a person has to leading a team. For technical people, who are used to working mainly on their own, this can be a daunting development. However, building an effective team around you is a core aspect of managing any project.

Just like everything else in project management, Project Human Resource Management begins with a plan. It is here that we identify the skill sets needed to get the work done. Interestingly, it is at this stage that the term Human Resources starts to make sense, because, at this point, you think of the people you need in the same way as you quantify material resources or specify equipment.

A lot of this work will have been done as part of Project Time Management. During the Estimate Activity Resources process, we identified the skills we will need for this project. More usefully, we should also have an idea of when we will need them from developing the schedule. From this information we can create what is called a Resource Histogram, showing the distribution of people during the project. For instance, if we were building a house, we would not need plasterers until the walls are built.

While identifying our staff requirements is important, the Human Resource Management Plan will also detail how we are going to find the people, how we will develop them into an effective team and how we will manage them on a day-to-day basis. Much of this might be covered by Standard Operating Procedures laid down across the organization, such as Health and Safety rules, break times, etc. Others may be prescribed by legislation, such as the Factories Act.

Once the plan is complete, we need to find the staff. Usually, this involves requesting internal personnel from functional managers. Having a clear idea of how long you need a person for will help your cause, as you are more likely to meet with success if you can show you only need the person for a relatively short duration.

It is possible that the skills are not available in-house, so you might have to hire in from outside. This might involve engaging a contracting agency or hiring people on a full-time basis. If it is in the organization’s interest to acquire these particular skills and they will be of use on future projects, then hiring is a good way to go.

Another situation that might arise is that the team could be distributed. This could be across different divisions of a trans-national corporation or between development staff at home and installation personnel at customer sites. The use of virtual teams makes team development and management difficult. Careful division of the work across the physical boundaries is essential. The less overlap between the different sites the better.

Having acquired the team, the next step is to get them to identify themselves as a team. Physical co-location is strongly recommended – especially by agile practitioners. However, while this is not an option with virtual teams, every effort should be made for the team to meet face-to-face at least once in advance of the project. This will make future communication much easier.

Another technique to establish team identity is team-building activities. The most effective of these is to get the group involved in the planning process. This gives everyone a sense of ownership and control over the work they will do. Similarly, a training course at the start of a project can help to bond the individuals.

Once the project is up and running, the Project Manager needs to be aware of tensions between the team members and any issues they might have. The Issue Log that is used to Manage Stakeholder Engagement is a useful tool to allow problems to be raised and addressed. Regular communication is vital, so that these issues are not allowed to fester.

The Manage Project Team process stresses conflict management and offers several approaches to dealing with this. You can force your will on the group and insist they do things your way. This is fine if you can be sure you are always right. However, this approach does discourage people from contributing and can lead to a very passive team that is effectively working to rule.

Another approach that is not recommended is withdrawing or avoiding. Turning a blind eye to issues might work in the short term, but they can sow the seeds of serious problems down the line. A better approach is to accommodate or smooth over conflicts. This involves highlighting the common ground between opposing factions and seeking compromise. The big goal of this is to remove the conflict.

Unfortunately, conflict often leads to clever new ideas. In a person’s efforts to point out flaws in another’s thinking, they might stumble on a much better solution. The Project Management Institute encourages collaboration and seeking multiple viewpoints before deciding. Many companies proclaim that their people are their most important assets. If that is the case then we should make sure we listen to their views and offer them working conditions that facilitate their contributions.

By Velopi Seamus Collins

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