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How To Bridge The Gap Between Project Management And People Management

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Project managers are primarily responsible for carrying the project on their shoulders from the start to the finish. Completing projects on time and delivering them within allocated resources (time, manpower, and money) remains the foremost priority of project managers across various industries. 

That said, some project managers are so focused on managing the vital elements of a project (time, tasks, reports, scheduling, risks, project objectives, deliverables, etc.) that they sometimes ignore the most important element of the project – people; the ones who work together to make the project a success. 

It’s no secret that no matter how capable a project manager you are unless you pull together a high-performing team, you are unlikely to deliver a project that syncs with the expectations of both clients and the organization. 

Poor people management in projects is as likely to contribute to project failures as failing to look after other vital dimensions of project management. 

What Is More Crucial- People Management Or Project Management?

Most of the time, when you put up this question to project managers, they’d reply by saying that people management is an integral part of project management and that the latter is a broad and comprehensive subject. 

Now here’s the thing. If you are amongst those managers who consider people management as a part of project management then you should brace yourself for more challenges during the project. Why? Simply because you are not giving enough attention where it’s due i.e. human resources. 

On the other hand, if you consider people management as your foremost priority and the fulcrum around which the entire project revolves around, you’re likely to be on track to deliver your project with fewer or manageable issues. 

As mentioned earlier, you’ve to put people above and over everything else. The success of your project lies in the hands of these people. You should make sure that the people management part does not get lost. 

Why Project Managers Get It All Wrong When Managing Human Resources?

Project management has evolved from a simple process to highly technical over the past couple of decades. The use and reliance on the latest tools and technology has increased manifold to bring efficiency and accuracy to work processes. 

Even though the introduction of technological advances has helped project managers to deliver more projects successfully, many projects still end up as a failure despite having all the tools and strategies at their disposal. 

Have you ever given it a thought that why such projects fail to cross the finish line? It’s mainly due to poor management of human resources by project managers. Since project management is teamwork, even a small issue can metamorphose into a big hurdle that can impact the project’s success possibilities besides demoralizing the team working on it. 

Let’s take a look at some main reasons why project managers sometimes struggle with good human resource management

  • Communication Issues- Poor communication has always been one of the main reasons behind fueling misunderstanding, suspicion, and intra-team conflicts. As a project manager, you must make sure that all team members are in the loop whenever crucial information is circulated. Fewer, irregular interaction with team members and failing to determine the use of right communication channels results in poor people management.

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  • Clash Of Diverse Personalities- Every team has people coming from different cultural backgrounds, ethnicities, gender, races, etc. There’s a difference in perspectives and behaviors, which can give rise to a clash of different personalities in the workplace.
  • Vagueness Over Job Responsibilities- When project managers fail to assign right tasks to the right people, it results in poor work performance and unclarity over distribution of the tasks. This also leads to under-utilization of manpower, which further adds to their frustration. 
  • Unrealistic Expectations- Another common mistake. In order to get the maximum productivity out of team members, some project managers push their team members too far by setting unrealistic expectations at work. This creates a lot of unnecessary pressure on employees to deliver results that are beyond their capabilities. 
  • Inadequate Support- Managers cannot take all decisions by themselves. Sometimes, they have to get approval from the senior management or the business owner to move on with the project. Slow decision-making may hamper the team’s overall progress.
  • Weak Workplace Culture- When team members feel like they’re not an integral part of the workplace, they could lose interest and zeal in their work. They do not feel like a part of a larger group and their productivity declines, which can have a ripple effect on other team members as well. 

“47% OF ACTIVE JOB SEEKERS CITE COMPANY CULTURE AS THEIR DRIVING REASON FOR LOOKING FOR WORK”

Why People Management Is Crucial For Successful Delivery Of Projects?

Any experienced and skilled project manager knows that working with disorganized, demoralized, and poorly managed teams can have a devastating impact on various aspects of your business. 

On the other hand, working with a productive team that is high on motivation and determination generally results in improved productivity and efficiency, besides giving your business a crucial competitive advantage over its competitors. 

Let’s take a look at how proper people management benefits organizations in more ways than one. 

  • Better Intra-team Chemistry

High-performance teams have one trait in common- they gel well with each other irrespective of holding different personalities and perspectives. Team members share cordial relationships, which shows in the form of improved work performance due to collective efforts of the entire team. Good teams celebrate achievements and milestones together, learn from mistakes, and work together to overcome different challenges. 

  • Improved Productivity

A bunch of happy people tend to be more productive than those who’re always fretting and whining. Right? Having properly trained and well-guided employees who collaborate with other team members to achieve common project and organizational goals are the most valuable asset any organization would yearn to have. Unsurprisingly, smartly managed employees are the most productive of the lot. 

  • Helps Businesses Have Upper Hand In The Marketplace

Building a motivated workforce gives businesses a strong upper-hand in the marketplace. Since small businesses have limited resources at their disposal as compared to large-scale, well-equipped counterparts, guiding a smaller pool of human resources to utilize their maximum potential is crucial.

  • Improved Work Environment

The work environment within the organization tends to improve significantly with proper human resource management. The implementation of positive practices helps employees develop an empathic attitude towards each other, shows them how valuable their resources are, and how their contributions assist in the achievement of organizational goals. 

  • Workforce Development 

Investing in training employees and empowering them with the latest technology will improve their performance, which will be beneficial for the organization. Project managers need to introduce effective training programs that can maximize their skills to deliver desired results. 

  • Attracting And Retaining Top Talent 

Good people management invariably results in helping companies to attract and retain top talent. Employees that are loyal to their organization for years find congenial environment, staff benefits, and good training as the main reasons to continue rendering services. Improved employee retention rate strengthens the company’s profile and cuts down on high turnover costs.

  • Business Goals Alignment 

Good people management makes employees understand the business goals through team meetings, feedback sessions, internal events, communication actions, etc. The alignment of organizational and individual goals motivates people to put their best foot forward to achieve business goals. 

What Separates People Management From Project Management?

What Is Project Management?

As the term suggests, project management involves planning, managing, coordinating, controlling, and monitoring all important aspects of a project to achieve organizational objectives while meeting clients’ expectations. A project manager is responsible to ensure the project is planned, executed, and delivered successfully to clients. He/she must possess strong managerial skills (risk management, communication skills, leadership, problem-solving, etc.). 

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Project management is a temporary process. Once the project is closed, the project manager role also ends. The focus is on organizing and simplifying complex plans and procedures. The main components of project management are as follows: 

  • Strategic Planning: Creating a comprehensive plan to accomplish the project, holding meetings with all project stakeholders and team members to discuss project requirements, contributions from individuals and teams, available resources, and potential risks. 
  • Collaboration: Issuing directions, decision-making, task assignment, and managing internal and external teams who report to you regularly. Taking feedback from team members to make well-informed decisions, utilize skill sets, and encouraging team participation and engagement. 

“Online collaboration tools and digital workplaces facilitate increased productivity by up to 30%, digital collaboration statistics reveal (Source-Mckinsey).”

  • Implementation: Creating plans, setting timelines for tasks and projects, streamlining work processes, tackling challenges to ensure the project progress is not hampered and stays on track. 

What Is People Management? 

People management is a part of the human resource management system but merely hiring competent people isn’t good enough. It’s also about how project managers and team leaders manage their skilled employees that sets the tone for the overall organizational performance. 

An effective people’s manager strives to train, guide, and empower employees so they can reach their full potential while delivering great services and value to the organization they work for. 

As Shelisa Bainbridge, leadership coach and head of human centered delivery at Agile by Design puts it, “people management should be reframed as team orchestration because it leads to an immediate shift in attitude, value, and impact surfaces in the managers who are responsible for the output of that team.” 

The focus shifts from creating and executing plans to listening, connecting, and relating to your team members daily to help them be the best version of themselves, which eventually leads to great results not only for individuals and teams but the entire organization itself. 

People management revolves around: 

  • Understanding People: Good people management requires managers to have a clear understanding of all the people who are part of the project. To achieve this goal, managers should hold one-on-one meetings with them to get a fair idea about their personal and professional goals, inspiring factors, and career interests. An empathetic, people-first approach will enable managers to judge where certain employees fit, and how their skills can be maximized for optimal output.
  • Communication: Seamless flow of communication between team members is a prerequisite for the synchronization of efforts of all team members. Therefore, managers need to establish appropriate communication channels to ensure the right information is conveyed to the right recipient(s) in time. Actively listening to employees’ grievances allows managers to address their concerns and provide feedback proactively. 
  • Collaboration: Establishing a strong people management system is about bringing all team members collectively on a single platform. Using a powerful project management and team collaboration tool like ProofHub enables team members to have a clear understanding of tasks and roles assigned to them. With the help of these collaboration tools, employees can have a clear understanding of the respective roles they’re supposed to play to accomplish the vision and mission of the business
  • Knowledge And Development: People management in the companies also includes analyzing employees’ knowledge and skills. This process allows organizations to identify each person’s strengths and weaknesses. Strategies are formulated to improve their current skill, which has a direct impact on their productivity and efficiency. 

Bridging The Gap Between Project Management And People Management

It’s no secret that people management is probably the most important soft leadership skill that any project manager worth his salt should have. Managing manpower efficiently is the first step towards achieving bigger organizational goals. 

The point is how project managers can narrow the gap between project management and people management? Here are a few tips that can help you to sync both these specialties for getting better outcomes. 

  • Understand The Dynamics Of Human Behavior

People management is incomplete without understanding the dynamics of human behaviour. As a project manager, you need to understand that different people behave differently in a particular situation. It is mainly due to the fact that human behaviour is influenced by the combination of various factors- family, environment, beliefs, culture, ideology, etc. 

It would be wrong to expect the same answers, behaviours, and results from all people. Hence, it would help project managers to better understand their team members by learning the behaviour of every individual. 

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  • Promoting Communication Transparency

Good communication is the core requirement of any successful project team as well as projects. Maintaining transparency in communication is the key to promote mutual trust amongst all those who are part of the project. Using the right communication channels for conveying different types of information plays a crucial part in ensuring the seamless flow of communication across the organization.

  • Give Your Team Necessary Control And Freedom

Even though project managers are primarily responsible for overseeing the project throughout its lifespan, it’s important to give your team a sense of ownership on the project. Displaying an authoritarian attitude will make you look more of a ringmaster than a collaborator par excellence.

Trust your team members and their skills to carry out tasks they are assigned to. When you give your team members a sense of freedom and flexibility to do certain things their way, they will feel more confident in their abilities as well as your leadership. 

  • Requesting Feedback From Employees

Sometimes, managers keep a close eye on employees who are primarily responsible for creating conflicts and tensions in the workplace. It’s crucial for managers to nip the problem in the bud before they go on to become a bigger problem. So, you should request feedback from your team members to know about any impediments they may be facing at work.

You can implement some of their suggestions that deem feasible to show you’re an active listener who understands their perspective. You can take the help of the HR department of your organization to find a solution to their problem.  

  • Setting Time Estimates 

When assigning tasks to individuals or groups, project managers should set time estimates so that assignees have a fair idea of by what date and within what timeframe they are expected to complete the work. This will also help team members set their own pace for specific tasks.

When evaluating employees’ performance, managers can easily find out how many tasks were completed by set due dates, and how many tasks were delayed and completed beyond due dates. Setting time estimates also promotes job accountability and responsibility among employees.

  • Team-Building Exercises 

Team-building exercises play a vital role in strengthening the bond between all team members by helping them understand each other- how each person thinks, reacts to a specific situation, and solves problems. Such exercises not only help to relieve work-related stress of employees but also helps them to lift their falling energy, motivation, and morale.

Rather than organizing random team-building activities, it should be a continuous process that aims to improve particular skills of employees and keeps team conflicts to a minimum. You should assess whether your team is facing specific challenges before choosing a team-building exercise

For example, does your team need to know each other better, or do some of the team members are not on the same page with each other?  

“According to new research of 600 US businesses with 50-500 employees, 63.3% say retaining employees is actually harder than hiring them.”

  1. Recognize And Reward

Recognized employees are known to be the most satisfied employees. Nothing makes employees happier than being praised and rewarded for their hard work. This further motivates them to work harder because they know their efforts would not go unnoticed/ignored by the senior management. Although cash reward remains the most preferred form of reward, team leaders can also use promotions, email appreciation, trips, certificates, and gifts to recognize well-performing employees. 

You can consider surveying your staff to assess what are their expectations from recognition. You can put up a list of options and ask them to vote or seek their suggestions. Employees’ input will help you figure out what type of recognition program will deliver value to your team as well as your organization. 

The Final Thought

People are your most valuable resource, and great leaders know how to get the best out of their teams to improve the overall quality of projects. Properly managed people will undoubtedly yield better results than those who are not given due weightage by their organizations. 

This article will help project managers and team leaders pay more attention to their workforce, so the latter doesn’t feel undervalued, unrecognized, and overlooked. Take care of your employees and they will take care of your business, as simple as that!

 Sandeep Kashyap
Sandeep Kashyap

Sandeep Kashyap is the Founder and CEO of ProofHub — a leading project management and collaboration software. He’s one person always on a lookout for innovative ideas about filling the communication gap between groups, teams, and organizations. You’ll find him saying, "Let’s go!" instead of "Go!" many times a day. That’s what makes him write about leadership in a way people are inspired to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more.


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