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Just Human, Would Do

Just Human, Would Do

Many thought leaders and academics suspect a major link missing from the project management armoury is a focus on the humanity of the human beings that ultimately have to work together for a project to succeed.

Project managers must move beyond methodology and focus upon the often neglected and hardest part of project management - the people

Reader ROI

  • Why project management is as much about teamwork as it is technique
  • How to overcome communication problems
  • How to encourage a project-based culture in your organization

In the masterful 1953 trilogy More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon writes about a bunch of mostly very young misfits, all handicapped one way or another, who band together to become something new, mystical and unbelievably powerful. Society's rejects, incapable of functioning on their own, these disabled misfits "blesh" (a word invented by Sturgeon combining blend and mesh) into a Gestalt: a single, integrated whole. One of them explains: "The I is all of us."

As the publisher's blurb puts it: "Separately, they are talented freaks. Together they compose a single organism that may represent the next step in evolution, and the final chapter in the history of the human race."

Management is talking about the end and we as PMs are talking about the process. I sometimes wonder if we are even in the same conversation, the disconnect is so large

Diane Dromgold - RNC Global Projects

Don't you wish your project teams could do that? Wouldn't it be great if you could find a way to get all your "talented freaks" to "blesh"?

"IT projects are about blending the minds of a team," noted Cutter Consortium senior consultant Michael Mah earlier this year in an article called "Complexity Rising Tide". "In this model, it's possible that 1+1+1+1 doesn't equal four. It might be six or eight if you get the blending right, and discover how to make real magic happen."

Today's executives face no greater challenge than that of being a global company with geographically dispersed teams, dealing with the rising complexity of technology projects while under higher pressure from ever-tighter deadlines. In this environment, a blending of the minds in project teams is vital - especially since the things you are innovating today are harder than the things you tried to innovate yesterday. Yet mind-blending is very communication intensive, and "It is a lot harder to blend minds that live, eat and sleep on different continents", Mah noted.

Yet if Sturgeon's characters become something greater than the sum of their parts, many project teams have a kind of reverse alchemy at work. Project team members - all highly competent individuals - find themselves diminished by the chemistry of the teams they serve on. Far from reading each other's thoughts, they misunderstand, miscommunicate, scapegoat, politic and all too often, quarrel. Their leaders pair them with the totally clueless, or vital work falls through the cracks as each uses another's inactivity as an excuse for stalling. They do not so much "blesh" as "squlash" (a new word one could make up: a combination of squabble and clash - hey, if Sturgeon could do it . . .). No wonder so many projects fail.

It has become a cliche to call people a project's most important asset and to say that any project's success depends on the calibre of those working on it. Yet it seems a notion more honoured in the breach than the observance. Enraptured with technique, project managers immerse themselves in approaches to selecting projects, detailing project progress and estimating costs. So now many thought leaders and academics suspect a major link missing from the project management armoury is a focus on the humanity of the human beings that ultimately have to work together for a project to succeed.

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