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Project Management: The Importance of Soft Skills Part 3

By Marc Backer, Project Manager, STG

Project Management: The Importance of Soft Skills Part 3

This is the final part of a 3-part series addressing Project Management soft skills and their essential role in successfully managing complex projects. 

Communications Management
To borrow from the immortal Yogi Berra: “You can hear a lot by listening.”  The experience is daunting and thrilling – by listening, the quality of communications will improve.  Talk is cheap: communications is the key.

I will periodically take a step back and just listen to all the side conversations around me.  It is amazing what you can learn from these side bar conversations.  Listen for the symptoms of problems.  The dirt on the street is based on reality.  If you sense something is awry, it probably is.  These sound bites can lead you to make significant project adjustments.

Everybody feels compelled to write status reports.  The purpose of a status report is to communicate.  I have read more status reports that neither communicate nor report status.  They tend to be more of a chronological synopsis of every little detail.  Status reports should be very focused and concise.  The emphasis should be on the issues at hand and how they are being mitigated.  Management does not need to know what happened according to originally published plans. They need to know deviations from the plan – how and why and what is being done mitigate issues.

Sometimes status reports and risk logs don’t tell the whole story to executive management. These individuals may have many other things on their plates and have limited time to focus on your project.  Make it simple for them to get the message. Color code the report.

  • Green – no significant issues identified, on schedule
  • Yellow – issues identified with mitigating strategies, dates potentially in jeopardy
  • Red – issues not fully mitigated, dates likely to be missed

Change Management
Change is everywhere – we must prepare ourselves, our clients, stakeholders, sponsors and users.

What is the primary reason a project fails?  Is it poor planning or lack of scope management – maybe!  Inevitably, it is the ability of your client/customer to accept and prepare for change.  The best way to prepare for change is to understand and accept that change is going to happen.  Start preparing for change early in the process.  Develop a change management plan to include: training and communications.  Develop a strategy to educate everyone impacted by change.  The fear of change diminishes as the message of change is repeated.  Make sure key executives are involved in touting the benefits of the impending change.  I recommend that every project of significance include a senior level executive assume the role of Change Management Champion.

You have several project team members that have been on the job for 20+ years and are well respected.  They have a vested interest in the current system. You have heard they are resisting the impending change and maybe doing things that are subverting your efforts.  Psychologists call this passive aggressive behavior. What do you do with these guys?  If you do nothing, they will undermine you and the project to a point of failure.  Doing nothing is not an option.  Assuming you have management support, have a heart to heart discussion with these individuals explaining the consequences of their actions.  Find a role where their skills continue to add value – typically with interfaces and conversions.  If cooperation is not in the cards, you have to make hard decisions.

Conclusion
Typical project management skills are routinely taught and written about are essential for all project managers.  These skills assist project managers to: organize, monitor and control the technical aspects of a project.  These skills include such things as: developing a project plan, linking dependant tasks, identifying the critical path, and monitoring time to tasks.  These skills are clearly laid out in the PMI’s PMBOK and are a necessary component of a project manager’s arsenal of tools and techniques, but it is the soft skills that enable a project manager to navigate his/her way to the “go live” date.  Without soft skills and the necessary INSIGHT and VISION, project management becomes an exercise in fire-fighting and ultimate futility.  Every project manager has found himself in this mode and wonders why.  They can’t quite put their finger on it.  It is the soft skills that enable project managers to prevent problems before they occur and to adjust to the twists and turns that are inevitable in the course of a complex project.

Without the need for soft skills, one would think that you can simply go to a book and pull out the appropriate chapters on project management, fill out a few forms and reports and you’re done – project success.  The statistics point to a very different conclusion.  We have all read the horror stories about out of control projects, cost overruns and failure and yet with all the courses, and documentation, little has changed.  Projects are difficult to manage.  I would argue that it is the soft skills that are the essential ingredients that make project managers successful.

This is the final part of a 3-part series addressing Project Management soft skills and their essential role in successfully managing complex projects. Prior topics included:

  • Relationship Management
  • Integrations Management
  • Scope Management
  • People Management
  • Time Management
  • Quality Management

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