People in project management

Did you forget about people?

Project management can easily only be defined as an activity performed to achieve an objective: a new product, a new service, a research, a study, etc.  A project is approved and launched to achieve an objective, and a project manager is assigned to manage the project.  Performance indicators will be established to measure success.  They will include the achievement of the objective, the schedule, cost and quality of the project.

A project management methodology will be used and implemented to achieve the objective efficiently, and manage all the various processes included in a project.

PMBOK includes the following processes:

  • Scope
  • Time
  • Cost
  • Quality
  • Human Resource
  • Communications
  • Project Risk
  • Procurement
  • Stakeholder

This is project management. Did the methodology forget about people in project management?  At first glance, it doesn’t seem so.  I guess you can find people in the process talking about Human Resource.

So let’s take a look at Project Human Resource Management.

Human Resource Management

What is human resource management in a project? Let’s see what we can find in PMBOK on this topic.

Project Human Resource Management includes the processes that organize, manage, and lead the project team.  The project team is comprised of the people with assigned roles and responsibilities for completing the project. It includes planning human resource, acquiring, developing and managing the project team. / PMBOK 5th edition, p. 255.

This is the classic management view of humans: they are resources.  At the business or at the project level, you need resources to achieve the objectives.  These resources can be:

  • Material : various physical assets
  • Information: knowledge and information
  • Financial: financial resource requirement and the funding schedule
  • and… Human Resource:

Human resource is just one of the kind of resources required.  Human resources are defined in quantities, competencies and availability.  They can be viewed as assets, or at times, just become disposable heroes.

 A thought from the world of accounting

I am a CPA.  This is almost the ultimate world for simplifying everything to numbers.  In finance management, everything can be expressed in numbers.  It is a number and currency game.  An accountant helps a business achieve its objectives by providing financial management and advice.  Financial management is an important part of managing all activities of an organization or project.  It includes planning, business case, accounting of operations, financial reports, forecasting, internal controls,  acquisitions and merger, procurement and audits.

Yet I was lucky enough to have one of my professor at the University who understood the larger context.  He constantly explained that everything we do in accounting relates to people.  If we want to pass accounting exams, focussing on numbers, standards, methodology, and formulas may be sufficient.  If we what to excel as an accountant in the real world, and really understand financial statements, we have to see the people in the financial statements.  He dared to say that we can relate every numbers of the financial statements to people.

As an example, an asset is bought from a vendor (a person), by an employee (a person) in the organization, and will be used by employees (a person) to offer something to a customer (also a person). The banker and the investors are persons (really!).  If you think about it, you can relate everything to a person.

After all, organizations are created by humans and exist for humans.  Without humans, why would we have accounting?  So it is important to remember when crunching number the importance of people.  Some critics (or cynics) could say that it is not always done, but it should.

Think about people in project management

Let’s do the same exercice for project management.  Can we think about the larger context and find people.  After all, without people on our dear Planet Earth, there would be no project management as we know it.

  • The scope is defining to satisfy the need of a person.  The person can be internal or external to the organization
  • The cost of the project will be paid by someone.  Even a government project will at some point be paid by someone.
  • The schedule must take into account the availability of the human resources, which are people (if it is ever somewhat forgotten)
  • Communication happens between 2 persons.  It is not sufficient to push information on the various channels.  Communication must be understood and a real connection must be made to really be a communication.  Communication is not merely a mechanical exercise, supported by tasks and technologies.
  • stakeholders are persons, with various needs, that will be impacted by the project
  • Procurement is more than a legal document. It describes an agreement between two persons.  The contract may be written on behalf of 2 legal entities, but the work and discussion are still done by real humans.


 A project manager should be more than a manager, doing planning, task management, monitoring activities and issue management.  These are important activities.  However, they are not sufficient.  A project manager must be a leader.  A project manager should bring to the table:

  • knowledge of a specific area: like construction, engineering, music, etc.
  • project management skills
  • leadership skills

It often goes exactly in this order.  Someone is good at something.  He would like more results and inherit more responsibilities.  He then discovers and learns project management.  While project management provided some important performance gain, often something is missing.  Here come leadership skills.  Leadership focuses on the ability to lead, communication and influence people.

Again, this is great.  Yet, it is still incomplete. We should have a holistic view of people in project management.  They are everywhere.  A lot of things are different when we are able to really find the people in project management.  The problems are clearer, and the solutions are easier to find.

On this note, I invite you to visit Switch and Shift, a website that is on the list of RSS feed I read regularly.

the extra box

and as project managers are also human, here’s an interesting book to relax and enjoy. After all, to be good leaders, we must be human too, not just productivity machine.