The people checklist
Projects are complex, with many different parts that need to be managed – people, most of all, says Charl Bruwer, Programme Manager at Altron Bytes Managed Solutions.
Managing teams is probably one of the most challenging tasks, even in today’s 4IR environment, where technology is the focus of most projects undertaken by businesses striving to stay relevant in a digital age.
The great irony is that you still need people to run and implement these projects – that the AI and robots of the world wouldn’t exist without the very human project teams that help bring them to life, says Charl Bruwer, Programme Manager at Altron Bytes Managed Solutions.
Enter the project manager, who is not only tasked to tick the boxes in terms of costs, resources, schedules, stakeholders, risks, quality and scope, but is also expected to understand how the one impacts the other. Throw in a team of people with mixed skills, personalities, hierarchy levels and other dynamics, and a mountainous challenge is set.
To quote Liam Neeson in 'Taken', effective project managers possess "a very particular set of skills" when it comes to getting the best out of people – skills that can prove invaluable to the successful execution of any project. Let’s unpack some of them here…
Set clear expectations, roles and goals. Having an explicit end goal is important to any project, so set the expectations and deliverables upfront. Get everyone’s input at the start by exploring ideas and weighing up the pros and cons until you arrive at a workable solution that doesn’t compromise on time and quality. Also, you need to give each person a clearly defined role that involves as much work for them to do as possible; because if one person has less work than another, they automatically feel that they’re less integral, even though the small role they might play still has a ripple effect. People need to see and understand how they’re connected to the collective machine; that their role in the project is equally important and valid.
Build relationships. As a project manager, being open, honest and available to your team is crucial. And listening, really listening, to them cannot be over-emphasised, as it’s in the listening (and discerning what you hear) that you pick up on areas of concern. Understanding a project team is about WIN – wants, interests and needs – so take the time to get to know your team beyond their assigned tasks. Acknowledging people’s personalities, likes, dislikes, cultural backgrounds, strengths, weaknesses, skill levels and ambitions can only serve to make them more willing and committed. It’s basic human nature to want to be seen and heard.
Treat people like the valuable assets they are. Often, project meetings simply default to discussing only the technical aspects such as product specs, connectivity, networks, etc – countless things to take into consideration – that you almost forget about the people aspect; the driving force that makes it all work. Face-to-face engaging still plays a vital role in project execution, so don’t worry so much about the technical checklist that you forget to include the people checklist on the meeting agenda.
Happy teams are productive teams. A positive attitude goes a long way in fostering collaboration and moving everyone forward in the right direction. Of course, it’s not always easy to get everyone on board, to agree or to play nicely with others. At these times, it’s key to think rationally, to sit people down and try and get to the bottom of any underlying issues – to handle the bad apples tactfully. Again it comes down to listening, and acting with integrity and respect to curb any brewing animosity.
Share best practices. While we’re so often inclined to focus on the negatives, it’s also important to acknowledge where things go right. People love to share their success stories, so find out the hows and whys; facilitate the conversation. Sharing best practices when working with teams is vital because then they can see firsthand the value of their input, which you can then also use to motivate and inspire others.
It’s kind of like riding a bike… project management can be likened to heading out on a mountain bike trail with a team of fellow riders. Before you head out, you have to plan your route (prepare the project outline), know where you’re going (set clear directives) as well as the distance (approximate timelines). You also need to consider the difficulty of the trail and understand your team’s fitness levels (strengths, weaknesses, personalities and skill sets). Once the ride has started, you need to stick together and collectively handle any unforeseen obstacles, challenges and setbacks. It’s important to help, motivate and encourage each other along the route at all times. When you finally reach the finish line, cross as a team and celebrate what you’ve accomplished together.
Charl Bruwer is a Programme Manager at Altron Bytes Managed Solutions. Before starting at the company, he spent 15 years in the hospitality industry, where he accumulated much of his expertise in working with people, and obtained various qualifications in the field of learning and development. He also has qualifications in project management from Wits and has completed PMP Training through PMI in the United States.