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25 November 2007

Hard and Soft Project Management

I wrote last week’s posts as a result of reflection of some work I have done where there were no tangible outcomes, no clear objectives and in fact the only way to tell if I have done anything is by the absence of trouble. And then it’s only a case that my contribution may have helped.

My reflection got me thinking about how you go about managing projects when the outcomes are clear versus when there are clearly defined outcomes.

I came to the conclusion that you need to think outward for intangible projects – to direct your efforts at people external to the project team. And when you are dealing with a clear outcome you are better off focusing on managing your team so you deliver the right level of quality within the time and cost constraints.

Naturally there is a degree of internal and external focus required for all projects as it is rare that things are sitting at the extremes of this spectrum.

My reflection didn’t satisfy my own curiosity so I researched via the Internet and found plenty of info on the issues of hard versus soft management.

Project management in general tends to come down in the hard school of management. We do things for measurable benefit and do them in a scientific manner by breaking work tasks down and allocating them in the right order to the right people.

(Strangely enough project managers are also known for managing without authority. That is; people report to you for the duration of a project within the scope of project work, but they are still spending most of their time reporting back to a line manager who can prioritise the project team member’s time contrary to your best laid out plans. In that context you have to lead with other skills, such as negotiation, charisma, leadership and so on.)

Anyway the point of this post is to share a discovery with you. I found an article called “Hard and soft projects: a framework for analysis” by Lynn Crawford and Julien Pollack which talks about the same issues of tangibility and people versus expertise based project management.

In the article the authors list seven dimensions of a project that can help you determine what sort of project you have on your hands and thus how you should go about managing it. The seven dimensions are;
  • Goal clarity
  • Goal tangibility
  • Qualitative versus quantitative success measures
  • The degree of influence exerted by external stakeholders
  • The range of potential solution options
  • Relationship versus expertise based perceptions of value by stakeholder
  • Facilitative versus expertise based project manager style

Go and check out the article for a more in depth discussion.

Now that you’ve read the expert’s views go back and see what thoughts this inspires in the context of my posts. How should you change the way you are managing your projects?

Ref; Lynn Crawford and Julien Pollack Hard and soft projects: a framework for analysis International Journal of Project Management Volume 22, Issue 8, November 2004, Pages 645-653