Project Management Institute

The human side of project management

Concerns of Project Managers

This & That


Carolyn Melanson, Ernst& Young, Charlotte, North Carolina

Several aspects of project management need to be considered when undertaking any type of project. One of these aspects is human resource management and its many components.

It seems difficult for project personnel to prepare for the human side of projects. Team members feel less qualified to manage this aspect than the functions of performance, cost and time [1]. This simply indicates that more attention should be focused on the human resource segment.

The importance of human resource management within a project can be seen in a systems project undertaken by a large international company. In 1983, one of the company's divisions began implementation of a computerized order entry/inventory control system. The company had a strong project plan that was developed from their experience in 1981, when they consolidated four different existing order processing computer systems at the manufacturing sites. The project was finally completed in November of 1985, at which time the division was completely automated.

   In the systems project the vice president and group controller selected a person who had been working in the finance department to lead the systems project. This person's position in finance was no longer necessary. Placing him in charge of the project allowed management to delay a termination.
   One of the first steps required for a project is choosing a project manager. This is an extremely important decision, since this person will be the team leader and can be a very critical factor in determining whether the project succeeds or fails.
   The project manager must possess the skills of a leader: honesty, integrity, energy, enthusiasm, courage, and optimism. As a team leader, the project manager needs to clarify standards of performance, plan and organize work, implement plans, solve problems, provide employees with feedback and coach them in order to improve performance for the project. With effective leadership, the project manager can get full commitment from all team members.


In the systems project, the company elected to follow a matrix structure after stating their objectives and weighing the pros and cons. Their objectives were to automate the order entry and inventory systems for the division. From this they expected to increase efficiency and accuracy and promote better control over their assets.

Key tasks would include selection of hardware, purchase of software, development of programs and documentation, installation of computers, and training of personnel in 19 locations throughout the United States.

Special characteristics at the company were apparent. The manager of financial services had the responsibility for approval of all changes to the order entry system. In addition, the controller of the division had responsibility for all administrative changes within his group. Negotiations between the two was a critical part of the system definition.

In evaluating the various organization types, management felt the advantages of the matrix form would prove very beneficial. The expertise factor alone weighed heavily in their decision. They chose to avoid the functional form because of the disadvantages of slow communication and lack of directed interest to the project. This was a highly visible and important project to the company and they needed team members to devote undivided attention to it. The lack of expertise from outside contractors and management's concern over dedicating anyone 100 percent eliminated the pure project form. Management believed they could deal with the complexity of the matrix form and basically did not address the concern over more than one leader, which proved detrimental.

After determining the organization type, the company needed to pull together a team of people to put the project plan into action.

Another early step in the project is determining exactly what type of project organization will provide the best results for the particular situation and the company controlling the project. The type of project and skills required should help determine which method to choose. Three major types are:

  • Functional
  • Project
  • Matrix


The functional project organization relies on various existing departmental personnel. It can include engineering, manufacturing, marketing, finance, and others.


The pure project organization is totally removed from the parent system and has its own complete staff. Staffing can be accomplished by recruiting people from within the company to dedicate 100 percent of their time to the projector by recruiting from outside the firm. Decisions must then also be made regarding hiring contractual services or adding People to the company payroll strickly for the project


The matrix organization is a combination of the pure project and the functional forms. The matrix can vary from being weak to balanced to strong, depending on the requirements of the project. In this form, functional managers and the project manager all maintain some control over the project.

Advantages and disadvantages for these organization types are shown below.

Functional Expertise Lack of team spirit and
  Clear authority
Shared knowledge
Lines of advancement
Flexibility in staff use
Focus on one aspect
Slow communication
Lack of focal point
Project Quick communication
Project takes priority
Great motivation
Quick decisions
Spot problems faster
Direct line of authority
Stockpiling resources
Less expertise
“We vs. they” syndrome
Duplication of effect
Concern over “life after
Matrix Expertise
Good communication
Focal point
Very complicated
Lack of authority and
    one leader
  Specific needs met
Life after project
Less duplication of effort

In selecting one of the above organizations, consider the following steps [8]:

•State the objectives and expected outcome

. Determine key tasks

. Determine required resources

. List special characteristics

•Choose a structure


The project manager for the systems project worked with top management in selecting his team. In determining their resources, the company realized the value of their own people. The decision was made to include an order entry clerk who had been processing orders for the division with the manufacturing plants, an administrative assistant who supported all 19 locations from headquarters, and a few computer systems people.

The order entry clerk had been with the company approximately two years, was highly skilled at entering orders and had a thorough understanding of the current system. She had previously taught school, and management felt this experience would be very helpful in training the new users of the computer system. Her teaching background also gave her knowledge in setting goals and problem solving.

The division's administrative assistant had worked as the office manager in two branch offices for seven years before being promoted and transferred to headquarters. Having started one of office from ground up, her knowledge of the day-to-day operations in this division would be of great value. The assistant had earned great respect from all her co-workers, which management felt would have a positive impact in convincing the division personnel to accept the system.

The systems group had been instrumental in developing a multi-division order entry system that is used by several of the company's manufacturing facilities. The manager of the programmers and analysts in the systems department had been with the company for over ten years and was extremely familiar with all the existing programs. The manager selected members of his staff who had been involved with the creation of the initial order entry system in 1981. This resuited in team members with high-quality technical skills who had a thorough knowledge of the database and programs.

Management realized they did not have enough human resources to perform all the necessary tasks. They used an outside agency to help prepare documentation and brought in contract programmers to help with various segments of the system development. As the project proceeded, the division controller and project manager recognized that the administrative assistant needed support to relieve her of a few of her functional duties in order to devote more time to the project. They decided to authorize the hiring of an assistant from a temporary agency for the curation of the project.

Selecting the team members is another important phase of the human resource segment. The project manager must assess personnel needs in relation to the tasks and skill levels required.

Common characteristics the project manager looks for in effective team members are [8]:

  • High quality technical skills
  • Political sensitivity
  • Strong problem orientation
  • Strong goal orientation
  • High self-esteem


The project manager at the company was very capable of establishing the time frame for various segments of the project but had never developed people skills. This resuited in the lack of necessary team building to get the project off to a good start. The respect team members had for each other and their rapport with division personnel was the key that held this group together.

Once the project team is established, new concerns confront the project manager. Motivation problems and team building skills must now be addressed.

Building a good team requires some effort from the project manager. Key steps to begin with are [12]:

  • Develop a realistic priority level. Have each person rank priority activities and the amount of time that can be committed to these activities. Summarize the rankings and commitments and have each person explain his own choices. Reach agreement for total time expectancy from the group as a whole.
  • Share expectations. Have each person express concerns about the project. Have them discuss what would happen if everything went wrong and if everything went well. Discuss actions required to ensure positive results.
  • Clarify goals. Develop a basic function or “reason for being” for the group. State specific objectives for a given period of time.
  • Establish operating guidelines. Agreement needs to be reached on: (a) how to make decisions, (b) method for working, (c) resolving differences, (d) ensuring work gets done, (e) changing things if results are not produced.

For ongoing results, it is imperative to remember certain basics—“constant face-to-face contact is the glue that holds groups together.” It creates the team identity—caring for each member and the desire to achieve shared busi - ness goals [5].

Team members must remain motivated to ensure the success of the project. Teams function well when there is a clear role definition, careful time control, sensitivity among members, a relaxed atmosphere, commitment, self-assessment, reward for effort, and recognition for results [1 2].


Many areas of conflict arose with the systems project. A key concern for team members was where to place their priorities. Each team member worked for two managers during the project; the functional department head and the project manager. This caused the team members to be pulled in two directions, unsure of what to do first. This is often typical in a matrix organization. In this case, the project manager was inexperienced and therefore ineffective in resolving this problem.

The administrative assistant was tom between working on the project or performing functional duties and was unable to keep up with both effectively. The assistant failed initially to obtain additional support from either her functional manager or the project manager.

Several delays occurred during the implementation process which were due in part to the result of management's unrealistic concept of the physical and emotional limits of the project team. These people were expected to leave home on Sunday, return late Friday night, fly out again on Sunday for another city, new faces and new environment, and to maintain a positive attitude with the division personnel.

In addition, management had unrealistic expectations as to how much could be absorbed by the end users during training. As a result, the implementation process had to be slowed down to provide support to locations previously installed as well as to relieve stress of the team members. Conflict arose between the end users and the project team at times because of the users lack of involvement in the ongoing process. Some users felt unimportant; as though their thoughts in these areas were meaningless.

In spite of the time spent building good project teams, some conflict will still exist. Recent studies show that project managers spend 20-25 percent of their time resolving conflict. Conflict within the human resource aspect of project management deals mainly with interpersonal conflict. Executives have mentioned both positive and negative outcomes of this type of conflict [1 O]. On the positive side:

  • Better ideas are produced.
  • People are forced to search for new approaches.
  • Problems surface and are dealt with.
  • People are forced to clarify their views.
  • Tension stimulates interest and creativity.
  • People have a chance to test their capabilities.

Negative outcomes were:

  • Some people feel defeated and demeaned.
  • Distance between people increases.
  • Distrust and suspicion develop.
  • Some people look only after their own interests.
  • Resistance develops where teamwork is needed.
  • Some people leave because of the turmoil.

The project manager needs to recognize these outcomes to direct the conflict, making effective use of the positive and diffusing the negative. Once conflict is recognized, the project manager must act quickly to analyze and resolve it. After the project manager has investigated the cause, a method must be chosen to resolve the conflict. Conflict resolution modes which have been identified are:

  • Competing
  • Accommodating
  • Avoiding
  • Compromising
  • Collaborating
  • Smoothing
  • Withdrawing and Forcing

At one time, theorists believed the only good solution was problem solving. Anew contingency approach indicates various methods may be appropriate, depending upon the situation [7]. One study cited examples of using differing methods based on the situation. For example, they chose competing [7]:

  • When quick action is vital
  • When unpopular courses of action are necessary
  • When issues were vital to company welfare

Compromising situations were chosen:

  • For temporary solutions to complex issues.
  • To find quick solutions under time pressure.
  • When goals were moderately important.
  • For backup if collaboration or competition fails.

Collaborating situations were selected when:

. You need to find an integrative solution.

. The objective is to learn.

. You need to gain commitment.

. You have to work through hard feelings.


Feedback was never sought from the team members in the systems project. They had direct contact on a daily basis with each other and the end users at the branch offices. They constantly heard about current issues in the various areas but were never given an opportunity to share them. They also were never given any feedback, positive or negative, regarding their own performance.

The project manager did not establish routine meetings with his team to communicate problems, ideas, or concerns, and attempted to resolve everything without their help. This lack of communication caused resentment among the members of the team and made it very difficult for him to organize work and implement plans after losing their support.

The lack of communication between the project manager and the functional managers also increased the difficulty of the project. On certain occasions, the manager of financial services and the division controller were at opposite ends of the spectrum in what they hoped to accomplish. The project manager was unable to act as a mediator and help resolve their differences.

Communication becomes an extremely important aspect for the project manager in trying to build and motivate his team or resolve conflict. Good communication involves more than the spoken word. It also takes listening actively to project members’ problems and their ideas [6]. Each member of the team is important and they must be encouraged to work together, sharing ideas and solving problems [1]. The following are several guidelines which can be directed towards improving communication [9].

. Be aware of emotional release.

. Think in terms of the receiver's frame of reference.

• Obtain feedback.

. Transmit complicated messages with specific examples.

. State the key thought immediately and summarize again after the message.

. Put the message into benefits from the leader's perspective.

. Listen with suspended judgment

. Listen to yourself speak.

•Deliver communication in small doses.

•Repeat communication.

. Listen as if you were responsible for note taking.

The project manager needs to keep these guidelines in mind when communicating with top management, outsiders, functional departments, and the project team. Non-verbal communication must also be considered and signs of impending problems need to be recognized.

Strong communication skills can help the project manager deal with several aspects of the administrative side of projects.

The project manager uses these skills in performance evaluations for the project team. Depending on the situation, the project manager may only offer the project performance level as information to the functional department head who actually conducts the review. In the pure project organization, the project manager may need to write job descriptions, set goals and measurement standards, conduct performance appraisals and assist in salary administration. In this case, assistance from the organization's personnel department will probably be needed.

The project manager must also be familiar with legal aspects of employment in certain areas, including government regulations, equal employment and discrimination laws, and also avoid wrongful dismissal. Again, assistance from the personnel department can be very beneficial in these areas.

An important consideration for the team is career path planning and determining their futures when the project ends. If the project used the functional organization form, chances are the project manager and his team will return full time to their regular duties. This can be very stressful since it is similar to breaking up a family. Many team members also can find the project work very challenging and exciting and feel returning to their previous position will be boring and routine in comparison.

In a matrix or pure project organization, many times the project manager, if successful, and the project team may have the opportunity to go on to other projects. On the other hand, layoffs may be involved which can be a very difficult time for the project manager. Team members may try to stretch the project out as long as they can to avoid termination.

The most effective project manager would advise the project team of pending termination. The project manager should consult with the group and individuals to help in reassignment or finding new work. [8].

Project termination is not an easy time for anyone on the team. The project manager must remain honest, confront the situation immediately and keep the communication lines open to minimize rumors and provide support for the team.


All of the team members in the systems project had concerns about where they went after the project ended. The administrative assistant and order entry clerk were ready for new challenges and did not want to return to the positions they held before the project. Their functional department managers did not understand the problem or situation and were unable to receive support from the project manager. The assistant and clerk were valuable employees to the company but the clerk resigned when the project was finally completed. The administrative assistant returned to her functional department as a supervisor but was no longer challenged in this position. After completing another project a year and a half later in a different department, the administrative assistant also left the company for lack of opportunity.

The project manager resigned from the company at the end of the project. The company again lost a valuable resource since the manager had extremely good financial skills. Top management did not, however, invest the time to develop this person into a well-rounded manager.


When the systems project was completed, management took the opportunity to evaluate the results. They realized the value of the lessons they had learned and how they would use them in future projects.

Management's first decision was to spend more time selecting a qualified project manager. They understood the problems that were created because of the lack of leadership skills. It was easy for them to see the importance of the human side of a project.

The disadvantages of the matrix form also proved a deterrent in this project. The project team members had two managers to report to, which resulted in several conflict situations. Management would look more thoroughly at the functional organization type in any ensuing projects.

Management recognized the importance of regular status meetings to keep the project team and functional departments apprised of current situations, ongoing concerns and problems. Good communication among all participants would more likely occur as a result.

Project termination would be addressed on a timely basis. More effort would be expended to work with the team members to determine their placement when the project was completed.

The project manger would list objective performance levels for each member of his team. These would then be included during the performance appraisal period.

Management would assess the needs and stress factors of ‘the project team. They would develop a more viable plan of implementation.

Depending on the type of project, management would involve the end users in planning discussions. This should help ease the users’ doubts of the impending changes and ensure better relations between them and the project team. The team members would continually keep the users informed of the progress they were making.

Conflict will exist in any project and management was aware of this. In the systems project, the project manager had a tendency to avoid conflicting situations rather than addressing them. Because of the lack of commitment and hard feelings from the team members, the collaborating method of conflict resolution would have been the best choice for the project manager. In future projects, a project manager should be chosen who could recognize conflict when it arises and deal with it immediately.


It has been shown that the human resource aspect of project management includes many functions. Much more is involved in this aspect than “just people.” It takes the right kind of leader, a good, qualified team and the right organization.

Problems occurred in the systems project that could have been avoided if the human resource aspect of the project had been considered more carefully. A poor decision was made when management selected the project manager. Although it provided a solution to their current situation, it created tremendous problems during the life of the project.

The project manager in the systems project had a tendency to trivialize the other team members’ ideas and inputs. This prevented any solid teamwork, trust, communication, or motivation among any of the team members.

The project was considered a success in that the company had accomplished the automation of the division. Orders and inventory maintenance were being processed on the computer system. The company estimated a $390,000 annual savings as a result of the project [2]. However, management also identified areas of the project that were unsuccessful. They lost valuable employees, created time delays which cost them financially, and had to struggle to regain the confidence of the division personnel. After the project was completed, top management commented on the changes they would make if they had to do it all over again. They included investigating the needs of the people more and not underestimating the value of the right project team [2].

In a similar project completed by the same company for another division, management stated various changes they had implemented. More effort was put into planning and implementation and a functional organization type was selected.

Management named this division's department manager as the project manager. This decision was very beneficial because the project manager had ongoing responsibility for the operation when the project ended. The department manager had several years of experience in leading, directing and motivating people; skills that proved very useful with the project team.

The user implementation team was pulled from the ranks of the operational department, and they continued to support the system when the project was completed. This created abetter environment for the team members in that they only reported to one manager who served as both their functional and project manager. By utilizing existing personnel for the project team, management also eliminated team members’ concern over their futures when the project ended.

In this project the end users in the branch locations were more involved from the very beginning. Project members visited their sites to interview the users and see first hand their daily operations. Written and verbal communications were used weekly to keep all parties informed of questions and progress.

In the initial division systems project, several contract programmers were brought in, and once they left, it was up to the system maintenance people to keep the programs going and to support them. There were hard feelings and animosity on the programming support staff, since they did not develop it nor were they familiar with the applications.

With the recent project, additional systems resources were hired specifically to develop the project. As a result of being on the permanent staff for this project, the post-implementation supper; requirements were reduced. The development staff and the users had more incentive to do a better job in the first place because they knew they were going to be responsible for the ongoing system.

1. Bailey, Betty Ann. 1990. The Human Side of Project Management. Kloppenborg's Korner, Metrolina PMI Chapter Newsletter (May). Project Management Institute.

2. Compressing Distribution Into a Network. 1986. Modern Office Technology (Apr.).

3. Drucker, Peter. 1954. The Practice of Management. Harper Brothers.

4. Herzberg, F.H. 1968. One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees? Harvard Business Review (Jan. -Feb.).

5. IBM Management Institute. 1985. Building Relationships.

6. Johnston, Robert W. 1983. What You Need to Know to Be a Supervisor. Supervisory Management (Mar.).

7. Kleiner, Brian H. 1978. How to Make Conflict Work For You. Supervisory Management (Sep.).

8. Meredith, Jack R. and Samuel Mantel, Jr. 1985. Project Management. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

9. Miller, George. 1981. Management Guidelines: Being a Good Communicator. Supervisory Management (Apr.).

10. Schmidt, Warren H. 1974. Conflict. Management Review.

11. Stretton, Alan. 1989. Consolidation of the PMBOK Framework and Functional Components. Project Management Journal (Dec.).

12. Truell, George F. 1984. Building and Managing Productive Work Teams. Buffalo, NY: PAT Publications.


Carolyn Funk Melanson is the director of administration and finance for Ernst & Young in Charlotte, North Carolina. She has a B.S. in business administration from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She worked on various project teams for a major company in their many computer projects. Ms. Melanson belongs to Executive Women International, a professional organization of women designed to work together to enhance business skills, community interests, and national affairs. She is also a member of the Professional Management Association, which is dedicated to developing business leaders. for a better tomorrow.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

MARCH 1993



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