Projects are very much a human endeavour.
People plan projects, work on projects, and deliver projects. For all of the technology and methodology, it is your team of people, and how they interact with the stakeholders around them, that are the most important contributor to the success of your project.
The big challenge that many projects face is that they represent a disruptive influence on an existing culture. And, whilst that culture may not be highly productive nor deeply enriching, it is often comfortable for the people involved. A project can shake up cultures and present people with an uncomfortable challenge.
So, for project managers, the so-called ‘hard skills’ of scoping, programming, risk management, and project control are barely the start of your skill set. These represent nothing more than the barriers to entry into the profession. The measures of your long-term success will be largely in how you handle the human factors of project management.
It is worth examining what these human factors are. The best project managers put substantial work into their projects, from day one, in creating the culture that they need; whether it is stable, innovative, supportive, or hard-driving. At the heart of a strong culture is a clear articulation of a vision and values for the project.
These PMs support this with an unremitting focus on communication; with their immediate project team, and with their wider stakeholder group. These processes establish trust and build the working relationships that foster true collaborative working. Finally (in my quick list), is committing to developing the people for whom the project manager is responsible. Good PMs use the project as a vehicle for learning, skills development, and reputation building.
A lot of this can be bundled up under the heading of ‘motivation’. Any capable PM will have a good understanding of how to get the best from their people, day-to-day, through the ups and downs of a long, complex project. And there are two levels, first articulated by Frederick Herzberg, that you need to be mindful of.
People cannot be motivated by their work when they are actively demotivated by aspects of it. As a project leader, you must prioritise taking care of what Herzberg termed the ‘Hygiene Factors’. These are the little things that bug people. Fight for the conditions and the resources that allow people to get on with their work without constantly feeling ground down by frustrating peripheral issues.
There are four big levers you can pull, to provide a GRAM of motivation
Only when you have done this can you start to really motivate people. There are four big levers you can pull, to provide a GRAM of motivation – a handy acronym for a busy PM who wants a reminder of the principal ways of motivating your team.
G is for Growth: the need we have to feel we are learning and getting better at what we do. Set people challenges that allow them to increase their skill levels and feel that your project is a step towards a higher level of responsibility, mastery, or status.
R is for Relationships. Our workplace relationships are every bit as important as those outside. Largely, this is because they occupy more of our waking hours than relationships with family, friends, and even life partners.
A is for Autonomy. When we do not feel we have sufficient control of our lives, we experience stress. By giving control and allowing people to manage a part of their own workload, we remove a potent source of stress, and therefore under-performance.
Finally, M is for Meaning. Without a clear purpose and meaning for what we are doing, we find the ‘why?’ blocks all motivation. Which brings us back full-circle to the need to create a strong vision and values that give your project a real meaning to the people involved.
This article was first published in the Summer 2015 edition of the APM (Association for Project Management) journal Project. It was later re-published on the APM website, on 11 August, 2015.
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