the missing ingredient of effective project management


“In this Guest-written column, Ralph L. Kliem suggests that there's more to Project Management than managing cost, quality and schedule. That same conslusion has been presented by PMI in the form of the PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge), where eight areas of expertise one considered necessary to effectively carry out project work.

Kleim proposes that four areas are enough: the well-known triangle of cost, quality and schedule would be made into a square, by adding the factor “people”.

Is Kleim's version over simplified or does the PMBok breakdown go into unnecessary detail?


PEOPLE: The Missing Ingredient of Effective Project Management

by: Ralph Leonard Kliem

Experts in project management often view projects as the synergistic sum of three interdependent variables: schedule, cost and quality. They consider the schedule in the context of meeting the project end date; cost in regards to not exceeding budget allocations for the project, and quality in respect to a limited or zero level of errors in the product that is eventually delivered to the customer.

Often, they put the project in jeopardy if one or more of these three variables are not followed closely. If the project end date slides, penalty payments will result and the customer becomes angry. If the budget is exceeded, the profit margin could be reduced or eliminated completely. If the quality of the product declines, the company's reputation will be at stake and may face legal consequences.

While schedule, budget, and quality are important, another variable is just as critical. Too often, projects fail despite meeting goals and objectives in regards to schedule, cost and quality. A project can just as easily fail if project managers overlook one other important variable, the people working on their projects.

Project managers can do everything by the book. They can plan the project by building a work breakdown structure, developing charts and network diagrams, and estimating. They can organize the project in regards to resources by publishing organization charts; setting up projects history files; purchasing the necessary equipment and software; and, preparing project procedures. They can control their project by collecting status, hiring additional people, and developing workarounds to get back on schedule. Despite these efforts and others, project managers may still fail and fail miserably. Likewise, some project managers may even avoid doing the above activities and complete a project successfully.


A significant reason is that project managers in the latter category recognize the importance of people on their project. They know how to manage people, to motivate them, regardless of the environment they find themselves within. They can motivate people. They can lead people, not just manage them. Anyone can manage a project, given the requisite skills and experience; however, few can lead.

What are the typical indicators of a project that emphasizes schedule, budget, and quality but places little or no value on its people? The results are a high level of turnover, something that constantly plagues technical projects. Absenteeism is another area, which is often the result of people not feeling like a valuable contributor to a project. The work environment is frequently filled with an air of unproductive tension. Quarrels, even fights, arise and people start competing negatively with one another. The level of suspicion and rumors increases. Meetings are like boxing matches, except people exchange verbal blows rather than physical ones. Such circumstances result in low morale, poor esprit de corps. In the end, that translates to lower productivity which, in turn, results in missing schedule milestone dates, exceeding budget estimates, and lowering workmanship quality.

So why do such circumstances arise in a project environment?

One reason is the criteria for selecting a project manager. Frequently, project managers are selected for their technical prowess, not their leadership ability. The recognition and financial rewards these project managers received in the past were the result of their technical achievements and not their skills in interpersonal relations, communications (verbal and oral), and teambuilding. In many technical environments especially, these skills are considered by some as secondary to technical ones. The reason is because such skills are difficult to measure and training in them is almost nonexistent in most technical curriculums, such as engineering or computer science, at vocational schools and universities.

Another significant reason is that too often project managers must yield to pressures that require immediate attention, such as meeting a milestone date, falling within a budget, and getting the product functional. Ignoring any of these three variables can result in immediate, negative repercussions. The reason for this reaction is because these variables are tangible, measurable, and predictable. The results on how one deals with people, however, are less tangible, measurable, and predictable. Ironically, people are a project's most valuable asset for without them project managers could not complete their projects (common sense that is seldom appreciated). Yet, to meet an immediate milestone, for example, the people on the project team are “mishandled” when the reason for the problem “in the first place may be a human relations one. These project managers' hands, therefore, are tied because them must satisfy their immediate management who, in turn, must meet the wishes of the financial experts and stock brokers.

How can managers turn around this lopsided emphasis on schedule, budget, and quality at the expense of people working on a project?

First, management must select project managers for their interpersonal relations skills in addition to their technical expertise. Effective project managers are ones who recognize that people play an integral part in successfully managing a project. That means having the necessary skills in teambuilding, communicating (verbally and orally), and providing employees with a supportive environment.

Second, project managers must understand that a successful project depends on four variables, not just three (schedule, budget and quality). That means recognizing that people play a significant role in successfully completing a project. Indeed, many projects have failed because of low morale, turnover, and absenteeism precisely because project managers paid little attention towards their people.

Third, and somewhat related to the last point, project managers must recognize that project management is more than building a detailed work breakdown structure, picturesque schedules, and impressive estimates. It means getting people to support and follow the work breakdown structures and schedules, for example. It means providing leadership necessary to get people to perform willingly and to participate in risk-taking.

Fourth, project managers must understand the importance of providing an environment that encourages the best in people. That means giving people the opportunity for growth rather than constantly placing obstacles in their path. In other words, providing people with the opportunity to fail, not just to succeed.

Finally, project managers must attune themselves to the signs of inadequate attention paid to the people aspect of a project. These signs include the presence of endless negative rumors, persistent absenteeism, excessive turnover, argumentative meetings, and many others. Unless project managers apprehend the importance of such feedback, people problems will persist in conjunction with schedule slides, budget overruns, and quality degradations.

Hence, the “eternal” triangle of cost, schedule, and quality is inadequate in today's project environment. The triangle should be changed to a square by adding this additional variable: people. All four variables are clearly interrelated. A change in one will impact the other variables, positively or negatively. Effective project managers recognize this new interrelationship as a cornerstone to laying the groundwork for a successful project.


Georgia's On My Mind for PMI ’ 89

Visit the BIG “A”

Carter Center...........Governor's Mansion

Cyclorama........The Zoo.......Chattahoochee

Six Flags.........Stone Mountain......and more!!!!!!

January 1989 pm network



Related Content

  • Project Management Journal

    Work Outcomes of Job Crafting among the Different Ranks of Project Teams member content locked

    By Haffer, Rafal | Haffer, Joanna | Morrow, Donna Lynne This study examined the effects of job crafting on the work meaningfulness and work engagement of project participants of different ranks.

  • PM Network

    Office Redux member content open

    By Ali, Ambreen | Hendershot, Steve | Hermans, Amanda | Thomas, Jen | Wilkinson, Amy When COVID-19 rocked the global workforce, the reaction seemed obvious: send employees home, if possible. But a return to the office has been far more fitful. In China, real estate firm Cushman &…

  • PM Network

    Una nueva versión de oficina Equipos reimaginan los espacios de trabajo para lograr entornos libres de contagio member content open

    Cuando COVID-19 sacudió a la fuerza laboral global, la reacción pareció obvia: envíe a los empleados a casa, si es posible. Pero el regreso a la oficina ha sido mucho más irregular. En China, la…

  • PM Network

    Remote Support member content open

    By Vergini, Sante There's a gap for remote workers. I discovered it during a recent business process outsourcing implementation project I managed. Although more than 70 percent of the employees worked from home, none…

  • PM Network

    Natural Collaborators member content open

    Employees in the United States are on their own—at least, more than in other parts of the world. Latin America is the only region where workers spend more time working together than alone, according…