Project Management: Striking the Right Balance Between Human Capital and Software
Friday, September 26, 2014
When managing a project, it is normally expected that all processes and activities essential to the completion of a project are completed on time and within budget. It is, more often than not, the “on time” and “on budget” parts that identify success in project management.
The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines project management as “the application of knowledge, skills and techniques to execute projects effectively and efficiently.” To ensure this success and aptly consider yourself an effective project manager, should you manage and execute every little detail of the project management plan yourself?
Project management and the pyramids
Project management was formally recognized as a profession around the 1950s, but the earliest project management achievements date back to the completion of the pyramids of Giza, 2750 BC. BBC quotes the Turin Papyrus as saying the Great Pyramid of Giza took about 23 years to build, while other estimates go up to around 30 years.
Today, huge structures can be completed much more quickly, like the longest suspension bridge in the world, the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge in Kobe, Japan. Construction commenced in 1986, and the bridge was opened to the public in 1998, a total completion time of only 12 years for a bridge with total cable length that can circle the world around 7.5 times.
From planning to construction, faster project completions have much to do with better technology today. Technological development has armed project managers with better tools at their disposal. Part of the findings of a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers reveals that 56% of survey respondents who used commercially available software reported higher levels of performance and satisfaction within their organization’s project management practices.
This does not mean, however, that tools and software do all the work. They make project and portfolio management more efficient, but effective project management still relies mainly on the human who plans, delegates, directs, and manages the whole. The best strategy would be to utilize tools for structured, repetitive tasks that can be modeled into templates, so that the project manager is afforded more time for unstructured, creative processes.
Striking the right balanceHere is an example of an effective “division of labor” between humans and software.
The human side of the equationManagers focus on the more “human” aspects of project management such as:
- Planning from the ground up. Before assigning processes to a tool, the project manager has to understand the scope, timeline and goals of the project, and then plan accordingly.
- Resource allocation. The next goal should be to define the scope, timeline and goals to the rest of the team, so the manager can move on to create a work breakdown schedule (WBS) with budget allocation.
- Directing. Someone should be actively steering the direction of the project: What are the priorities at the moment? What concessions to make for what issues? What to let go? What to absolutely go for? Even machines only carry out what is programmed for them to do, and teams are organized by a leader.
- Leading, motivating, collaboration and team management. The work does not get done by automatons alone; it is also done by humans. Therefore, the manager has to invest in the right people skills to motivate his team to do the job and to work together to do it better. According to Project Smart, the power to motivate, collaborate and inspire the same of others in the team is the difference between effective managers and mediocre ones.
- Risk management. Every project will encounter bottlenecks along the way, and part of successful project management is the ability to foresee risks, so that backup plans to mitigate such risks can be put in place.
- Change management. In an interview with Fast Company’s Kevin Purdy, Frank Ryle, the then 20-year old project management veteran, said that to be a good project manager: “You should be comfortable with ambiguity. You have to be willing to reshape the rule, the process, whenever things change.” Project stakeholders may offer new ideas, they may change their goals, or you may encounter issues that make you realize your initial budget or schedule isn’t feasible. There are many reasons project plans will need to be tweaked. To be effective, you need to accept that change is part of the whole process and that you have to roll with these changes.
The software piece of the overall pie
According to an infographic by the Access Group, the top qualities managers look for in a project management software are reliability, ease of use, and ease of integration.
Your chosen software must effectively perform routine and template-able tasks, so you don’t need to send reminders over and over again, forward the same set of emails, or check up on the team’s progress all the time, among other things. Such tasks include:
- Schedules and reminders
- Prioritization and WBS visibility
- Budget information
- Issue tracking and accountability
- Ticketing and approval
- Communication channels
In conclusion, striking the right project management balance means that managers create the plan, and software simplifies the processes and provides convenient mediums for connection. Managers monitor the actual effects of the execution while focusing on communication, collaboration and team member motivation. Along the way, managers may encounter situations where process tweaking may be necessary, and the software must be flexible enough to accommodate these changes. In doing so, valuable time isn’t wasted dwelling on details that are formulaic and repeatable.
As Max Tsypliaev, Comindware’s founder and CEO, said in a GetApp interview, “Human capital is becoming the most valuable business asset. Therefore, the products that are geared toward improving the effectiveness and efficiency of people become more valuable day by day.”