My current work lives here: Oddball Empire - Rock on.
This is a repost of the original Project Sociology article/video. I removed the old one a while ag o oops.
In this first episode I will discuss how project people look at each other to measure them selves.
Projects are all about people. Its the human element that determines the success or failure of this temporary organizational endeavor. In my book Surprise! Now Youre a Software Project Manager I use this as the central point to explain to new project managers how to manage software projects.
The central argument goes something like this:
- The behavior of the project stakeholders determines the course of the project;
- Stakeholders are guided by their needs (their fears and wishes) in their behavior
- By examining the needs, expectations and behavior the PM can spot potential problems
- This examination provides the PM with clues which process component (method or technique) to use to resolve the potential problem.
In this way, there is a direct link between the social complex of stakeholders and the tools and techniques a project manager has up his sleeve. This subject not only consist of project management, but leans towards psychology, sociology, complex adaptive systems, social simulation and economics. There is a lot of research available, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence out there. Some of it in the context of projects, most of it in entirely different contexts.
The the real challenge lies within understanding the behavior of humans within the project context (therefor I coin the phrase Project Sociology “If you look on Wikipedia you will find the following definition: Sociology is the study of the social lives of humans, groups, and societies, sometimes defined as the study of social interactions. ). If we have a better understanding of how people operate, and more important why, the how an project manager can throw its toolbox towards the stakeholders, will be the easy part. As in many situations: Understanding is half the battle.
In the presentations I will use the term stakeholders very often. A stakeholder is anyone that has something to do or is somehow affected by the project. From users to sponsors, from testers to developers, from marketing to production. The all one thing in common: their personal needs are affected by the project.
Whatever your take is on projects, at the end of the day it is just a bunch of people working together to achieve a certain goal. During this endeavor to laugh, cry, pull pranks, play dirty tricks and have all other kind of behavior towards each other. If you are lucky the even work to reach the final goal. If you take everything away, and put people in the center of what a project is, you will see a group of stakeholders interacting with each other; just like any other group of people would do.
Just to make things easier on our life, we call the result of all this behavior the project. In this sense it is nothing more than an abstraction. If we say the project is late, this doesnt mean that some creature or entity from outer space showed up later than expected; it is the result of the project people working together that wasnt finished on the time we predicted.
In this sense the word project is the same as economy. If our economy is improving, there is not some kind of energy force that is doing better than before. The whole system of people working, people buying and people living that is better off in some way than in the past. We need this kind of abstraction, just to be able to cope with it; it is easier to talk about the economy than about 100 million individuals. And the funny thing is that this abstraction influences the people that make up the underlying system; if the economy is doing better, people will spend more; if a project is late, people will work harder.
In the end, what is the role of the Project Manager in this context? He should steer the stakeholders in such a manner that the resulting behavior (the sum if you will) reaches the desired business goal.
With every thing I will ever tell you, keep one thing in mind: it is a way of looking at things. It will never be THE ONLY WAY. So, it will never be the only truth, it may not even be the truth in certain situations. I will only show you ways to look at the project you might have never done before; to provide you with a different perspective that can be beneficial at a given moment while you are running your project.
At his moment I will use a very simple model of how stakeholders behavior is determined:
- Stakeholders have needs
- Based upon there needs and their perception of project reality they will choose a strategy that benefits them most.
- The execution of this strategy is their behavior.
Needs are fundamental. We are born with it. In various degrees, each according to his or her own unique nature, we each have a natural emotional need to feel (taken from Eqi.org):
In this episode we will look at needs in which stakeholders measure themselves with other people. Their reference group. Software engineers tend to compare themselves with other software engineers, not only within their own company but also in a wider range, even internationally. Management members mostly compare themselves with other people within their companies hierarchies. Stakeholders use the reference group to formulate their own interests: I want to earn as much as Big Shot Shirley. I want to be as good as Leisure Suit Lenny. I want to have more power than Head Honcho Harry.
The reference group is used in different ways:
- A reaction from the group can feed a personal need (think about recognition)
- Or as a yard stick, to compare a persons ranking (the need to feel important, the need to feel competent.
This kind of ranking is a relative thing: the most important people dont have a need for being important, they already reached that level. It is the feeling of being MORE important the makes up the need.
Anyway, people will look at their effort (what they bring to the table, hard work, good skills), and how their effort is rewarded. And in this sense the reward is the fulfillment of an emotional need. They will compare there own situation with that of their reference group, persons that they consider comparable. If they think they are better of, there are just happy; if they think they are the lesser fortunate they can have several strategies:
Change their effort: Working less if their not appreciated enough. So that the total sum of their effort versus reward in comparison is equaled out, or work harder if they believe better rewards will come.
Change rewards: If the rewards they were looking for, are not there, they can look for other rewards, throwing alternatives in the equation, like trying to get more money.
Sabotage: If the reference group is in their sphere of influence, they can try to sabotage their effort Ã reward sum, by undermining their position.
Bail out: People can just give up. Throw in the towel, sit apathic in front of their computer screen, calling in sick or go looking for another job.
Take for example a developer that is looking on an internet site that contains other job descriptions and salary indications. He will draw up an effort/reward equation and concludes that he is not appreciated enough. First he will try to work harder, under the assumption that the reward (appreciation will go up). When that isnt the case he will ask for more money, trying to compensate with this reward. When he doesnt get a response on this either, he will probably bail out in some way or another.
Some management teams can have a great resemblance with a monkey hill. Within corporate politics one wants to have a larger power base than the either. Managers dont want to loose face among each other, because that would undermine the need to feel respected and in control. So you get a lot of sabotage or cloaking behavior like:
- Covering Up Own Incompetence
- Undermining Anothers Reputation
- Attempt to Build an Empire within the Organization
- Attempt to Maintain an Empire within the Organization
- Attempt to Increase Sphere of Influence within Organization
When stakeholders are using the change effort / reward strategy most of the time the project manager can deal with it using motivational techniques. If people are bailing out, you have a problem, you have to reboot the stakeholder from scratch. And if you have a lot of sabotage-behavior, you better dig in deep for some heavy corporate politics.