It’s the People, St…d!

people.jpgUpdate: Read a related CIO magazine article: “Six Attributes of Successful Project Managers“.


The more work I do with projects, the more I realize that many PMs don’t get it: the hardest part of project management is the soft part: the people skills. Most projects flounder not because the PM doesn’t have the technical hard skills but because s/he doesn’t have the soft skills.


Let me give you an example: I was asked to go help a project in which the customer was sending emails to senior VPs as to how messed up our organization was. He told his team to ignore us whenever possible. And it got worst from there.


So, I came in and started talking to the PM and the customer to get a sense of what was going on. Was the team not delivering? Well, they were, sort of, but promises had been made and not kept and the customer had not been informed before hand! Yes, you can argue with me, they didn’t follow the communications plan (hard skill). But you should not have to have a communications plan that articulates each and every small activity to be successful. Use your common sense! If you are going to miss the deadline, don’t wait until it happens. Tell the customer right away!


Once we started improving the communications, the storm calmed and things improved dramatically.


So, I was on the phone with David Schmaltz, author of The Blind Men and the Elephant yesterday discussing this situation. His experience, just like mine, is that most project failures are due to people issues. PMs focus on getting the plan developed (WBS, activity definition, activity sequencing, and on and on) while not worrying about the setting up a vision; making sure that the team knows where they are going, why it is important, and what is expected of them. What’s up?


My belief is that the soft skills are very hard and most people have trouble with them because they are hard to articulate. Yet we’ve been doing them all of our lives! As little kids we knew if our mother was upset without saying a word! Why can’t we sense the same from our customers?


David is pulling together a group of similarly minded people. He’s started with a group in Facebook called ProjectCommunity (no space in between Project and Community) and has a site at Come by and join in the discussion!


As a bonus, my two basic rules of PM:

  1. Under promise and over deliver
  2. If you are going to slip, slip once and slip big.


Go out and have great projects!


Jose Solera, MBA, PMP

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.