7 September 2010

Projects are about people, now deal with that

I have to endorse Bas de Baar's latest post.  Bas is right into the sociology of projects and his latest post is another great reminder abut the human aspects of projects.

Your relationships are more important than technical skills to both you and the projects you work on.   Sure, technical skills are both important and useful, but not nearly as important as your relationships with your team mates, customers and partners.


  1. Anonymous9:59 am

    The notion that your relationships are more important than technical skills is highly domain specific and ignores that both are needed, but technical trumps social in any non-trivial project where science, technology, or complexity are involved.

    Here's three examples that negate Bas:

    1. Management of the flight avionics systems for the replacement of the Shuttle. You know nothing of flight avionics, you're pretty much useless in a status review meeting. Forget leading the software development teams.

    2. Management of an Army anti-viral program in the bio-tech research firm. Know nothing about bio-pharma, not a problem, you've got 2 weeks to come up to speed, since the First deliverable in 12 months from now on a 6 year $300M program.

    3. How about nuclear weapons decommissioning program, $7B over 6 years. Never been in the nuke weapons business. Not a problem, but you're likely going to stand in the weekly stand up (literal stand up) meetings trying to figure out what every is talking about.

    Social and interpersonal skills are necessary but far from sufficient. This is a popular myth in the agile SW development world. The myth is these are generally applicable outside the agile SW development world - they are not. You MUST have domain knowledge as PM to survive long enough to gain the deep domain knowledge to assure the program is proceeding according to plan.

    Outside the small team agile SW, the definition of "done" may be 100's of pages of WBS level 3 SOW pages. The CWBS (the contract WBS) many times goes down to Level 6. This completely swamps the notion that social and interpersonal skills over comes lack of technical competency.

  2. Glen

    I don't disagree with what you say - Interpersonal skills are necessary but not sufficient.

    The importance of technical skills depends on domain, but the importance of being able to work with others is a constant.

  3. It is really a must to have good relationship with the team, with this a better functionality and effective technical skills is possible

  4. I think the human factor is one of the most importnant ones in project management - especially the attitude towards the project ('s goals). There is a known formula for the effectivnes: (Knowledge + Skills) * Attitude. Now think.

  5. @jeffclarkct11:48 pm

    Agree with this very short post, though there is much more that should be said. Assuming everyone is highly skilled the issues will largely come down to interpersonal issues being improperly managed.

  6. Hi Craig, thanks for the kind words. Appreciated.

    I think there is not much of a debate here. I look at it sometimes like this: the human system (people interacting) is like the infrastructure, and the belief systems/methods/rules of engagement/culture is kind of like an operating system which agrees on certain protocols. And yes, projects would be applications, needing both layers :)

    Ah. A nice geeky metaphor :)

  7. Well said, Craig. Especially the follow-up: "The importance of technical skills depends on domain, but the importance of being able to work with others is a constant."
    This is an eternal discussion between engineers and managers, but the bottom line is: if you have no communication/social skill, you will not build a complex product.

  8. So true, no matter how good your technical skills are if you can't work well with people and communicate a plan your projects will never run smoothly at all.

    Great communication skills will always make up for lessened technical skills.