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5 Human Hurdles in Project Management and Tactics to Overcome Them

As a Project Manager you are rather familiar with buzzwords such as ‘Return on Investment (ROI)’, ‘Risk Analysis’ and ‘Iterative Planning’ among a host of other terms that are commonly used in your day-to-day activities. In fact, when it comes to project management, there’s generally a lot of business jargon that gets bandied about. Allow us to throw one more concept into the mix – Human Hurdles – these are intangible factors related to human nature that can truly hinder a project’s progress as much as poor planning can.


Companies go through great lengths in order to hire the ‘right’ Project Manager. Many insist on taking their pick only from the cream of the crop – experienced professionals with proven expertise and recognized credentials hanging on their walls. They believe that good project management equals good end results and they would be right on several counts. But no matter how careful a company is when making their selection, there are certain unpredictable factors that that they simply cannot foresee when building a team.


No matter how experienced a Project Manager you are, there are just some human factor barriers that you could face that go beyond what your prestigious  PMP Certification training prepared you to handle. Let’s take a closer look at some of the human hurdles that can come in the way of productivity when working on a project. What exactly are we talking about and can they be anticipated or even prevented in advance?


Ego Clashes

We all have our pride and it’s hard to swallow that pride when a cocky, young team member resists your authority or a client behaves like he or she knows better than you do. If you give into your human impulse to lash out at the people who hurt your ego, great project manager or not, you will immediately put up unecessary walls between you and your team members or between you and your customers. That’s not the ideal way to cultivate a work environment that is conducive to productivity. Remember that team leaders aren’t the only ones with egos.


As a Project Manager, your greatest challenge lies in managing your people. Planning and implementing best practices aligned with a company’s strategy may be a great way of bringing order and balance to your project, but you still need to be able to understand basic human nature and implement leadership methods that bring balance to the dynamics of your team.


Put aside your ego but not your authority. You must be able to garner the respect of team members as well as your client, without needing to lose your cool or disrespect them and their points of view.


Ego clashes can lead to internal team resentment that can fester below the surface and ultimately negatively impact the way a team member functions on a project. This is not what you want. Be smart, learn to choose your battles wisely and ensure that you give your team freedom without too much micro managing. If you think that you are the key to a project’s success, then remind yourself that you can only guide and motivate your team. Without your people, nothing would be accomplished.


Procrastination and Accountability

If you’ve been working for a while, it doesn’t take long to spot the one person in the team who works hard…only when crunched for time. This person always gets the job done, so you can’t really haul them up for non-performance. However, their way of working is predictable and not very healthy for the team. Procrastinators are often people who can only function when under a great deal of pressure and they create that pressure for themselves by pushing their work to the eleventh hour.


The procrastinator on your team is as cool as a cucumber when you assign him or her some work to do. In fact, they’ll be happy to take on responsibility for a greater workload and you’ll be thrilled at first to have such an enthusiastic hard worker on your project. Initially you may ignore the warning signs – the procrastinator is watching a video online when everyone else has rolled up their sleeves and is elbow-deep in project-related work. When you gently question the team member, they will assure you that they’ve got it all under control and their confidence may make you believe what they say. The real alarm bells go off when there’s only a day to deadline and you realize that the procrastinator has just begun work on the huge task load that had been assigned to them.


There are many kinds of procrastinators. These range from perfectionists who are afraid to start work because they are afraid of failure, to professional control freaks who likes to create a false sense of dependency and then feed off it. Whatever the reason, it isn’t acceptable professional behavior.


Nip procrastination in the bud by making every team member accountable on a daily basis. Set goals every morning and make it mandatory for team members to finish those tasks within the mandated time limit. Link performance reviews to this format of working and you’ll definitely see results. You may face initial resistance from the procrastinator, who truly believes that he or she functions well under duress. Don’t let their personal views cloud your judgment. You will have to put your foot down when it comes to unnecessary delays that impact your project’s progress.


Taking Advantage of Poorly Defined Roles and Responsibilities

If you don’t clearly designate responsibilities to the people on your team, there will be an overlap of roles and sometimes these blurred lines can lead to trouble between teammates. Imagine a team member who always likes to take the lead, working on the same job as another team member who is more passive and doesn’t always speak up. Even if the passive team member has a valid point of view, the more aggressive team member could overrule it, ultimately leading to a simmering dissatisfaction that causes stress and tension.


Clearly define roles and responsibilities, putting it into writing where possible. As a Project Manager, it is your duty to capitalize on the strengths of the individuals in your team. Designate work that you think would best suit a particular team member.


Lack of Communication

This one may seem obvious, but remember that when dealing with human beings, clear communication is possibly one of the biggest challenges you will face. From giving a vague instruction, to poor updates on project goings on, lack of communication can be a huge barrier to your team’s productivity.


Poor communication often leads to confusion, arguments and accusations. This in turn leads to an extremely unhealthy work environment and ultimately impedes a project’s progress.


To avoid any future issues, set communication protocols in place at the start of the project. Whether it’s for communicating project updates to team members or sending across a report to the customer and senior management, a fixed time, and format is always the best way to go.


Make sure you include a communications plan in your Project Planning master document. If you feel that communication is a personal challenge, you’d do well to hire a communication specialist as part of your team.


Lack of Motivation

Not every project you manage is path-breaking or exciting. For team members this can often lead to demotivation through boredom. One could argue that the work is what they get paid for and therefore they should give it their 100% best. Unfortunately, when the human factor is involved, nothing is ever as simple as it seems.


Team members need to be motivated in order to function well. Sometimes that motivation needs to come from their team manager. Try to create a feeling of camaraderie between team members, so that they feel more at home with the work that they are doing. You could also ensure that team members have fun while they work. Order in pizza and donuts on a Friday evening, and call for an enforced break from work. Even small recreational events can help alleviate mental fatigue.


In conclusion, remember that your greatest assets on any project are your people. No matter how qualified, experienced or skilled your team members are, you will always have to be prepared for the one little fact that is rarely taken into consideration when a project is planned – the fact that your team members are only human!

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