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Project Management: The Importance of Soft Skills Part 1

By Marc Backer, Project Manager, STG

Project Management: The Importance of Soft Skills Part 1

This is the first of a 3-part Project Management series dealing with key activities that project managers deal with every day but approaches these activities from a different angle – the human side or soft skills. The science and methodology behind Project Management is well defined and yet complex projects remain problematic. This series addresses how soft Project Management skills can be the key to success.

Project management soft skills are critical to the success of any project, yet these skills are often overlooked or completely ignored.  Why is this?  These techniques are nearly impossible to teach.  They are skills learned on the job after years of experience; most are learned through painful projects.  Some Project Managers never really get it.  Hard skills represent a project manager’s baseline and can be obtained through a rigorous curriculum on a path to PMP certification.

A project manager’s greatest competencies are INSIGHT and VISION and his own personal creativity and ingenuity.  No amount of training or the use of the most sophisticated project management tools will prove more useful in a project management career.

  • If you are building or reaffirming the value of a PMO (Project Management Office) or
  • If you are running a professional services or consulting organization or
  • If you are responsible for delivering product services or
  • If you are a Project Manager – You should keep reading!

The following series attempts to discuss the other side of project management – the Human side.  It is a collection of personal experiences organized by common Project Management topics.  These examples highlight where projects begin to go sideways – the reasons for this are not readily recognized as “project management” issues but ultimately will make or break a project.

Relationship Management
This topic is perhaps the most important role of a Project Manager.  It has nothing to do with technology, project schedules or staffing plans.  It is the one on one relationship with Clients, Customers, Sponsors, Stakeholders, Vendors and Staff.  Project Management is all about relationships.

Have you ever organized and started a project thinking everything was OK and thought this was just another ordinary project?  Suddenly, out of nowhere, the project is stopped or cancelled.  What happened?  The answer may lie somewhere in company politics.  Be sure you understand the environment you are walking into.  Project Managers are sometimes hesitant to ask the basic questions.  The best project managers take advantage of formal and informal networks to get things done.  Ask the sponsor and administrative assistant about office politics and then make it your business to navigate this complex maze.

Have you ever been at the end of a phase and are looking for sign-off and it never happens?  You can’t figure out why the client is so reluctant – you did everything right.  You may have not engaged all the key stakeholders.  Management is attempting to gain consensus from those missed players.  Once you have failed to engage a key project player, it is very difficult to re engage him or her.  Feelings get hurt and emotions rule the day. Emotions are very difficult to manage.

As a project manager, what is your relationship with the project sponsor?  At the beginning of a project, it is almost never what it ultimately needs to be.  It takes time to build a good relationship.  I describe the project manager/sponsor relationship similar to that of a marriage.  There are going to be good times and bad.  The key is to work through the rough times.  The relationship needs to be built on trust. Tell the sponsor what he needs to know including the things you are doing to adjust for problems.

Integration Management
Integration is an often misused and misunderstood term.  The Project Manager must ensure that all elements of the project are properly coordinated with all the other systems, people and organizations with which it interacts and/or impacts.  It makes no sense to implement a system that does not “play nice” with the existing environment.

It is rare to find a project that is so isolated that it does not impact anyone or anything outside the project itself.  Look for integration points. Take a step back to understand where these points may occur. These can be operational, technical, and/or organizational.  Be sure to include all parties that are impacted by your project even if it is just a courtesy.   If you miss a key integration point, you may miss the boat and not know it until it is too late.

Most likely you are using an established development or implementation methodology.  WHY?  You were told to or it is the corporate standard.  But why are you really using it?  A methodology is a guide.  It is there to help you understand the process and to give you helpful hints along the way.  If you use a methodology as a bible, you will probably be very inefficient at best and even worse, you may miss the point of what you are trying to accomplish. You have heard the saying, “you can’t see the forest for the trees”. The same is true about methodologies. A good project manager understands the “why” behind the methodology.

The next part of this series will address the following Project Management topics:

  • Scope Management
  • Time Management
  • People Management
  • Quality Management 

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