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People and behaviours in project management

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This is the 4th in a series of posts about the basics of project management for novice project managers.

When I wrote the first of these blog posts back in May there was one comment that stuck in my mind and made me resolve to write from a different perspective, at least for some of the blogs, so that novice project managers don't get the idea that project management is all about processes and not about the people and their behaviours.

It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking process is everything, especially if you take over a role in an environment with a well-established set of processes; it is even easier to follow a well-trodden route when you are new to a job. But processes, whilst important if they are the right processes, are only part of the story of successful project management. So my thanks go to Adrian Pyne for steering my thoughts in a different direction.

So what else is important in project management apart from processes? The people, of course, but more specifically how the people behave; and that means the team members, stakeholders and the project manager.

Successful project managers do not interact with people only when a process demands they do, but build relationships with everyone involved on the project; whether that is by the coffee machine or in a more formal setting. They don't just listen to the voices of their team members but actively seek their opinions and ideas. This can be a challenge when team members are not all based in the same location (or even country).

There are so many elements of human nature that can either have a positive or negative effect on a project's outcome that it is important to handle them properly. For instance, resistance to change or people conscripted unwillingly to work on a project – these issues cannot be assigned tasks on the schedule but will surely have a negative effect if not dealt with effectively. Equally, excitement about using some new technology and enthusiasm from team members glad to have been assigned to a project will go a long way to contributing to a successful outcome even when other elements of the project are far from ideal.

So, if you find yourself in a new project management role don't spend all your time trying to get to grips with the processes. When you are communicating don't just follow a plan but get to really know the people and help everyone to see and understand the project vision.

We often think the right sort of communication is the most important of the soft skills a project manager needs; as much about listening to people's ideas and opinions and understanding their concerns as reporting project status accurately. It is about creating a team environment where everyone feels their opinion is valued and where honest discussion is encouraged. But effective communication is not the only soft skill required by a project manager – there are many others such as handling conflicts and being flexible to changing needs but maybe more on that another time.

Other blogs in this series:

This is a project management fundamentals blog written and sponsored by Parallel Project Training. For more about our project management training courses visit our website or visit Paul Naybour on Google+.



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  1. Okechukwu Anozie
    Okechukwu Anozie 21 January 2015, 09:26 AM

    The points you made are correct. I have practised project management for twenty years now and have seen several times the importance of people management in project delivery. Leading a multi cultural project team with different background requires a project manager that will recognise the link between people behaviour and what drives them to deliver.This can not be over emphasized and your blog brought that out clearly. Thanks,Okey Anozie, APMP

  2. Tina Meriluoto
    Tina Meriluoto 20 August 2014, 07:18 AM

    I just joined the APM and this was the first post, I've read here. Couldn't agree more. You need to remember, that not all of the project group members may be as motivated as you are, and sometimes people are not acting logically due to resistance to change. It helps a lot, when you get to understand the feelings behind the behavior. This may take some time, and the only way, as you said, is to try to build a relationship with everyone involved.   

  3. Michelle Symonds
    Michelle Symonds 18 August 2014, 11:25 AM

    So true that even experienced project managers need to remind themselves of the basics from time to time. Stressful, pressurised project environments sometimes make us forget the importance of the people on the project team. Without them on side a PM is just making their own job harder and a successful project harder to achieve.

  4. Paul Naybour
    Paul Naybour 15 August 2014, 09:42 AM

    Adrian PyneThanks for the feedback. I agree that people are one of the most important aspects of project management. I remember when I first started running projects, you can get carried away setting up the right processes, but you soon learn that the two are closely related. A plan without the support of the team is of very little value, as stakeholder register without communication adds no value. We do hope new project managers find these guided to the basics of project management useful. Maybe it is even a useful reminder to experience PM of the importance of doing the basics well. Paul  

  5. Adrian Pyne
    Adrian Pyne 14 August 2014, 12:19 PM

    Super Blog Paul. Great to see the Cinderella subject of our profession gain such a considered airing.The best Formula One car is just vehicle without a Rosberg, Hamilton or Alonso.So too with projects, the best process and tools need to be wielded by people with knowledge, intelligence, experience and professionalism. And within a culture that allows them to not just survive, but thrive.