Project Management in Practice

Beyond the alphabet soup of PRINCE2, MSP, MoP, PMBOK, ITIL, Agile

What are human factors in projects?


I had recently been doing a lot of travel for work. As each assignment comes to an end, I can’t wait to get home. Each travel wears you down. So much so, that I haven’t had the energy to put up a post for nearly three weeks. I had been contemplating what impact it has on my work. Does productivity and quality of work deepens on human factors?

Think about the group of people that work most under stress. That has to be people serving in the armed forces. There are plenty of movies made of their training regimes and action in the fog of war. When I look deeper, it is the footsoldiers that usually take the brunt of the extreme physical punishment. These are the people that you want to blindly follow orders. People making strategic and tactical decisions are not part of this lot. They are housed in very (comparatively) nice surroundings in headquarters. These are the people you want with a clear head and not weighed down by tiredness. They will have already been weighed down by responsibility.

Thinking back to project scenarios, in some industries it is not very different. I can think of manufacturing production line workers. You don’t want them thinking too much, just to do things in a repetitive manner. That is how you judge productivity. In other industries, it won’t quite cut it. In a creative industry like fashion design or software development it is the clear thought and ideas that you want to encourage. Simply sowing more fabrics or writing more lines of code isn’t going to get you anywhere.

If there is one thing that kills productivity, that is uncertainty. Uncertainty can come in many forms. The most common one you will see is re-structuring of business units, or organisations. Whatever anyone says, there is a limit to the amount and pace of change people can cope with. Beyond that, they stop caring about tasks on hand and are busy trying to steer a course through the mire. In many cases, what happens is the best and brightest will leave, because they are able to, and the organisation is left with those who cannot leave!

Issues with personal lives or friction between colleagues can have equally destructive influence. When you plan your project scope and likely execution timeline, these factors are usually not taken into account. The assumption is with all things being equal, it will even out over the course of the project. Unfortunately, when these issues crop up, things can go downhill very quickly. While stress related productivity loss won’t happen in a day, it may have built up over a period of time and by the time your project starts, wheels may be wobbling.

Project Managers are primarily responsible for monitoring and controlling projects, but they also need to show leadership in knowing the people in the projects. You may not be their line manager, but having a relationship at a more personal level will ensure your project has a higher chance of success.

One response to “What are human factors in projects?

  1. Mia September 20, 2011 at 9:39 am

    Absolutely agree and have seen issues that bubble beneath the surface bring projects to their knees. It doesn’t take much to demonstrate that people matter. Just knowing someone’s coffee preference can make all the difference in the world.

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