“Ninety-five percent of 255 international companies surveyed state that project management is vital to the success of their business.”
– PIPC Global Project Management Survey, Feb 2005
In today’s world, businesses, organizations, and the clients they serve are strongly dependent on the successful execution of projects. The Ontario Public Service is no different. This focus on projects, however, requires the expertise of skilled project managers and, in turn, project teams.
The obvious question that follows is what exactly does “skilled” mean in this context? Does it mean memorizing the project management body of knowledge and taking pride in leading discourse on theoretical project management knowledge? Or is it the application of technical and managerial skills?
Being a new professional in the project management stream of the Ontario Internship Program, defining “skilled” in the world of project management is one of the biggest challenges I have faced thus far in my career.
To answer this question, I turned to Susan Kseizopolski, the acting director of the Project Management Centre of Excellence. In terms of the most important skills a project manager needs, she stressed the importance of having the technical skills associated with managing the triple constraint: budget, scope and time. However, she was quick to also emphasize the frequently neglected soft skills. “…The often forgotten component of a successful project manager is…being able to manage people and relationships.”
Even as an intern, I have already come to learn that the “human dimension” of project management is indeed often overlooked.
As the 2003 winner of the Economics and Business Cluster for Partnership and Collaboration Award, and the 2005 winner of the Economics and Business Cluster Valuing People Award, Kseizopolski is a strong believer in valuing the people who do the projects, and knows the importance of this aspect of project management.
I asked her why, in her experience, she thought soft skills were so frequently disregarded in project management when they are clearly a crucial success factor. She believes that “project managers tend to focus more on the deliverables, the end result and getting things done versus the people that are involved and how things get done.”
We must realize, however, that although the end-result is the driving factor of any project and deserves our focus, the achievement of that desired end-result depends on the people who will bring about that result.
According to Kseizopolski, the “people-side” of project management is so vital because “most projects take place in a matrix reporting environment, where the resources report to a functional manager on paper but report to potentially multiple project managers in executing their daily work. As a result there isn’t a direct reporting relationship between the resources/subject matter experts (SMEs) and the project manager. This means that project managers must be aware of their sphere of influence versus their span of control and use this influence appropriately. We cannot execute projects and complete deliverables without engaging people to do the work on time and with all the skill they can bring to bear.
“So, in addition to managing multiple projects, multiple reporting relationships and also having to deal with competing priorities for the project resources/SME, the crucial component of a successful project management is to pay attention to the human side of project management. Rewarding, recognizing and celebrating successes keeps team members motivated. Engaged, motivated team members are required for accomplishing results. Team members feel engaged when the project manager involves them as much as possible early on in the project life cycle and consults with them through the duration of the project. This means getting their input on the definition of the scope of the deliverables, [and] their assistance with estimating the work involved to complete the work. This helps them to take ownership.
“Having the project vision and outcomes clearly articulated from the onset also helps to keep the team focused on the end results. Hearing about the project vision directly from the project sponsor also re-enforces the team’s commitment to the vision.”
Furthermore, Kseizopolski highlights that “team members are individuals; what motivates one person may not motivate another. As a project manager it is important to know your team members and what works to help keep their commitment at a level high. Most people are motivated by recognition – a thank you, a certificate of appreciation, a card, coffee and donuts also work well.”
On my quest to define what it means to be a “skilled” project manager, I have learned that the best project managers are well rounded.
I have learned that although it is extremely important to have that in-depth knowledge of project management methodologies and best practices, and to possess technical skills, it is necessary to be able to build relationships, maintain them, and to gain the trust of your team members.
I have learned that the ability to celebrate, use humour, and reward others is integral to good project management, as is never forgetting that at the core of any project is a group of real people that need leadership, vision, and that ever important “human dimension.”
Thansha Mahalingasivam is in the project management stream of the Ontario Internship Program in the OPS. In her current rotation, she works as a project control and methodology assistant in the eHealth Program at the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.