Eye on the Workforce

Workforce management is a key part of project success, but project managers often find it difficult to get trustworthy information on what really works. From interpersonal interactions to big workforce issues we'll look the latest research and proven techniques to find the most effective solutions for your projects.

About this Blog


Recent Posts

Why A Little Anger May Go a Long Way

Leader Concerns vs. Your Workforce Issues

WBS Dashboard Placement for Projects Establishing PPM

Employers Don't Know What Workers Want Now

This Tendency May Lead You to Bad Decisions

Why A Little Anger May Go a Long Way
Categories: Communication, Manage People, Performance Improvement

If you are like me, you spend some time making sure you don't make people around you angry. You get expected reports out on time, you strive to deliver on time at the expected quality, you don't ignore your budget, you try to work collaboratively with stakeholders, you don't sneeze without covering your mouth. Likewise, if they are angry you try not to interact with them until later.

And when you want to motivate someone to act, you commonly use fear. You say things like: "If your team doesn't complete this work on time, it will lead to a significant budget overrun." "We'll never meet the deadline if we don't get additional resources."

So if you wanted someone you work with to want something more and work harder to get it, would you make them fearful or angry?

New research tells us that it is better to make people angry if we want them to want something in particular. Specifically, people who were shown a picture of an angry face desired objects more and exerted more energy to obtain those objects.

So consider using anger as a motivator rather than fear.

For example, when you are talking to the individual who can approve needed resources: "The shared resource we thought would be available will not be available. We requested the resource far in advance, so I do not blame you if you are mad. Let's get a contingent worker to finish of this work so that we can stay on schedule."


"Other project managers I have spoken to do not think we can get requirements and design completed fast enough to start development on time. They think it is too complex for this team. I hope that makes you feel as angry as it does me. Let's show the doubters what we can do."

A little anger may go a long way.

Posted on: July 01, 2014 05:52 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Leader Concerns vs. Your Workforce Issues
Categories: Communication, HR Mgmt, Manage People

You as a project manager do not work in a vacuum. The issues that leaders in your organization worry about effect the environment in which you work. Some things they tell you and some things they don't necessarily make public. This blog is about workforce management and so keeps you updated on workforce concerns of leaders so you don't have to worry about sneaking into their offices at night to find out.
A recent report gives you an insight into how workforce management concerns stack up against other areas. Business leaders were asked to identify what they worry about when it comes to threats to the business.
See how well you understand business leaders' collective mind. (Don't be afraid. Results will not be tracked.) How would you rate these factors (highest to lowest) as threatening your business?
Attracting and Retaining Talent
Cyber Risk
Complying with Laws
Legal Liability
Increasing Employee Benefit Costs
Medical Cost Inflation
When asked business leaders said that they worry "a great deal" about these threats at the rates shown below.
Medical Cost Inflation 32%
Increasing Employee Benefit Costs 29%
Legal Liability 24%
Cyber Risk 18%
Complying with Laws 22%
Attracting and Retaining Talent 18%
So you see that the original list posed to you was in reverse order. The order shown above represents the order where "worry a great deal" and "worry somewhat" are bundled together. No matter how you slice and dice the numbers, talent management remains lower than the others. Maybe I better rethink my blog topic.
Now it might be more clear why you wrestle with workforce issues in your project! On the positive side, this report does help develop tactics for resolving certain workforce management problems.
You may have to make strong efforts to resolve your more difficult workforce issues to get them on the radar. For example:
  • Band together with others in your organization who are experiencing the same workforce issues, be it need for more workers, particular expertise, or a re-look at who gets shared resources.
  • Specify the urgency of the problem. Urgency is a good motivator to action. Your workforce issue can be urgent because your project cannot be completed on time or that, once implemented, it cannot be utilized properly to gain the business benefits projected at the beginning. It can even be that your workforce issue may keep you from obtaining the necessary stakeholder input for a successfully accepted project.
You can increase the possibility of success if you connect your workforce issues to an item that is a higher priority on the "worry a great deal" list (or any other item on the priority list). Example connections:
  • Inadequate staffing in your project may result in legal problems later due to defects or problems with controls provided by software.
  • Shared resources prioritizing projects other than yours may make complying with laws more difficult or impossible.
  • Lack of expertise and slow hiring may make cyber risk more likely. Here's a struggle that we will all continue to experience: We are asked to get results through people, but organizational barriers to doing so keep getting in our way.

Here's a struggle that we will all continue to experience: We are asked to get results through people, but organizational barriers to doing so keep getting in our way.  

Posted on: May 29, 2014 07:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

WBS Dashboard Placement for Projects Establishing PPM
Categories: Communication, Manage People

This month's topic is Project Portfolio Management (PPM) and before it gets away from us, I want to make sure you do not inadvertantly promote confusion about a particular deliverable.

In a project to deliver PPM for the first time, there is a deliverable that you cannot confuse in your WBS. It is related to communication, but you don't want to get it mixed up with the Communication Plan developed with the Project Management Plan. The communication deliverable for your PPM project is the "dashboard" or other display of the status and health of the projects being managed.

In your WBS, don't call activities to create this dashboard anything like the "communication plan." Use the deliverable name, such as Portfolio Dashboard, if you know it, otherwise just use a working title like they do in the movies. "Project Status Display" for example. Separate them geographically as well, keeping the dashboard activities away from project management tasks and into project deliverables design and development teritory.

While we're thinking about this dashboard, we might as well develop more WBS activities. Start with these three activities:

Identify sources of information (data) for status and health of projects covered in the scope of your PPM project. Among these are financial reports, some of which may be new. There will also be schedule and resource information, from a variety of sources.

Identify the roles that will create the dashboard that will go into production immediately upon project delivery. This first phase may be a subset of what is planned eventually, but make sure there are enough resources to handle the load into the near future.

Determine if hiring is needed because of inadequate resources available. It is easy to consider those who are looking at the dashboard. They are leaders and stakeholders and can intimidate you. People who work for these leaders may be expected to compile data and approve updates to the dashboard, or it may be expected that new production support resources will do this. The most fun happens when there is disagreement over who is going to do the work.

If hiring is needed, consider hiring early so that the new resource(s) will be able to learn the process, but even help with implementation and documenting and procedures and management.

You can build on these ideas for activities in your WBS. But first, make sure you build your WBS to avoid confusion between your project communication and the dashboard being created by your PPM project.

Posted on: April 27, 2014 04:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Employers Don't Know What Workers Want Now
Categories: Communication, Manage People, Performance Improvement

One thing I try to do in this blog is make sure you are aware of areas where you may have misconceptions about what your workforce needs to be productive. After that, of course, I give you ideas to use in your project. Here's your latest test.

Which of the following two lists represents the five factors, in order of descending importance, that workers in a recent study said causes them stress?

Group A

  1. Inadequate staffing (lack of support, uneven workload or performance in group)
  2. Low pay or low increase in pay
  3. Unclear or conflicting job expectations
  4. Organizational culture, including lack of teamwork, and tendency to avoid accountability and assign blame to others
  5. Lack of work/life balance (excessive workloads or long hours)

Group B

  1. Lack of work/life balance (excessive workloads or long hours)
  2. Inadequate staffing (lack of support, uneven workload or performance in group)
  3. Technologies that expand availability during nonworking hours (e.g. mobiles, notebooks)
  4. Unclear or conflicting job expectations
  5. Fears about job loss, too much change.

While there are some overlaps, you would have to know the correct list in order to properly intervene to help your workers be more satisfied with their jobs and more productive in your project. Towers Watson and the National Business Group on Health teamed up in the U.S. to study how workers felt about their stress at work. Researchers asked employers the same questions to see what employers believed the main sources of stress are. That's why there are two lists above, one is the employee list and one is the employer list.

The study found that there is a disconnect. Take a minute to get over the shock.

The worker's list of causes of stress is Group A. Note how workers are more concerned about inadequate staffing. Group B, representing employers' view, shows employers think the main problem is of work/life balance. Just looking at these two factors illustrates a trend. Employers believe that they can implement programs to help employees solve their own problems. But employees see the main cause as outside of their control, and inadequate staffing leads to uneven group performance and keeps them from getting the support they need. No wonder participation in employer programs for health and productivity is low.

You can make a big difference if you give workers in your project the support they need.

Help everyone prioritize their work . . . With so much to do and not enough resources, workers report that they need more help with prioritization.

Clarify the matrix . . Workers complain of matrixed organizations working under inadequate staffing where conflicts occur from multiple projects and uncontrolled workflow.

Pay attention to your high potentials . . . Don't make the common mistake of believing your high-potentials are immune to stress. If the study represents you workplace, chances are that your high potentials are working harder than others and are burning out. They may be looking to leave for greener pastures.

Help with time flexibility . . . If there was a peak period of work where long hours were needed, reduce hours during a slow period by giving people Friday off or Fri afternoon off or some other option they suggest. Tell your workers that they can come to you and ask for a break.

Listen to complaints about what you cannot change . . . Be a good listener. Perhaps the complaint is low wages after hearing the enterprise has had another profitable year. This is a common feeling according to the study. 

Think of your own ideas appropriate for your workplace that can help workers with their highest sources of stress. You don't have to solve managment's problem with meeting the needs of the workforce. You just have to build a powerful skill useful for the foreseeable future.

Posted on: April 08, 2014 07:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

This Tendency May Lead You to Bad Decisions
Categories: Manage People, Performance Improvement

Let's say you need a solution to a relatively complex project problem. It could be to fill a gap in a portion of the technology solution. It could be to simply design a better solution.

Let's say further that you have two proposals at this point.

  1. Proposal 1 is from a team in your project workforce. This proposal does something your company has never done before and does appear to solve the problem based on your first read.
  2. Proposal 2 is from a well-respected consulting firm on the opposite coast from where your office lies. Your initial evaluation determines that their unique solution also solves the problem.

Given only this information, what is your inclination? Would you choose Proposal 1 or Proposal 2? What details would you want to see next?

If your reaction is like most people, you would have a tendency to favor the consulting firm's idea. But not necessarily because it is from a consulting firm. Researchers found that when people were told that an idea was generated far away, they rated the idea as significantly more creative than when the idea was generated nearby.

It turns out that your mind interprets nearness as detailed and concrete and tends to become more critical of the idea. On the other hand, your mind interprets distance as more abstract and may not be critical enough when making a decision.

At any given time, you will be looking for solutions to problems in

  • Training
  • Design
  • Construction/Development
  • Documentation
  • Process Improvement
  • Product Innovation
  • And more.

So don't miss out on good ideas right under your nose. Awareness of your tendencies will help you overcome  this problem. But also consider using a standard test or scoring process to select between rival alternatives. Be sure this standard process is used throughout your project to make decisions between options.

Consider also the benefits of innovation using your existing workforce. This builds morale and expertise for the future. You will have a more engaged workforce if they know that their creative ideas may help make the organization more successful.

Posted on: March 17, 2014 07:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

"Not only is there no God, but try finding a plumber on Sunday. "

- Woody Allen