Project Management

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.

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Recent Posts

Leading by Listening (Part 2)

Leading by Listening (Part 1)

Lockdown! Just Like That Everything Changes (Now You Lead)

Project Site Design for Stakeholders (Part 2)

Project Site Design For Stakeholders (Part 1)

Planning Around Scarce Expertise (RPA & OCM)

This is the third post in a series related to Robotic Process Automation*, begun in association with PMI's Information Systems and Technology Symposium, June 14, 2017, where I presented Becoming an RPA-Ready Project Manager. You can filter posts in this blog to find all related to "Robotic Process Automation". You can also watch that presentation for PDU credit.

Communicating the vision and the schedule were the two organizational change management success factors covered in previous posts. They are very important pieces in the change puzzle. But let's get a little more practical. Successful change management also requires having the right project resources with the necessary skills in time for project start, does it not?

Here are two scenarios that you could encounter in an RPA situation. One is what might be experienced in a group new to RPA projects. The other is what might be experienced in an RPA shop that is a little more mature. Each illustrates the importance of managing project resources to the success of the organizational change as a whole.

In an organization just starting out with RPA, preparing for the first project, few or none of the resources may be familiar with agile methodology or the general process for short RPA projects. The resources are not fully prepared for their roles. Training and preparation activities delay the start of the initial project and likely the end of the project. Leaders, expecting fast financial results as per the business case for RPA, are suddenly questioning the RPA group's ability to execute. Non-supporters in the general organization's workforce suddenly see a reason to become more vocal against the RPA-based organizational changes in general. The new RPA is team is frustrated that they are off to a bad start and will not find it as easy to drive forward in an environment of skepticism as they would have had if they had better managed resources.

Avoid this scenario with more precise planning. You must avoid underestimating how fast you can produce a ready team.

  • Use "left to right" schedule planning for this. Include all activities, especially because you may need to justify a long period before the first project can begin. Think you can produce a full task list? Be sure to add these: expertise gap analysis, create job description for brand new specialist role, recruit needed specialists, interviewing, hiring, wait for background checks, wait for other HR activities you're not sure about but always cause delays, orientation, special new RPA training, team formation. Remember that RPA teams are small. Every unfilled role is a critical problem.
  • Make a conservative estimate as to the time it will take to obtain and prepare the specialized resources you need. Don't even think of scheduling your first project start until all activities are completed.
  • Create a contingency plan for not being able to find the expertise you need. For example, you may have to identify and poach expertise from other organizations. You may have to wait for someone newly trained to get up to speed. Either way, alternatives will take a little extra time and attention than using the standard recruiting group.
  • Consider delaying certain communications about project start if you are not sure of being able to execute on your resource plan. Treat as a high impact risk.

The second scenario is when you are in a more mature RPA shop (as in the Establishing Phase as described in the presentation), you cannot hire new resources with the necessary agile or RPA expertise causing a set of projects to be delayed before they really get going. Organizational leaders, made more hungry by your initial success, desire the same cost-saving benefits coming at a faster rate. They are frustrated by your lack of ability to scale operations.

The point when you start to scale up your RPA operation is significantly different from when you have one or two teams.  (Refer to presentation for details if you like.) The problems with resource management are multiplied.

  • Include in your scaling up plan a tightly-bound recruiting function. Use the corporate recruiting function if you have one. Spend time training these recruiters on what skills you need and why. Describe the needs of your small teams and their short intense agile projects.
  • If you have to use outside recruiters, do the same but also remember to meet often to provide feedback on quality of candidates. You need to get what you ask for. The timing is also important so provide feedback on how fast they are finding experts. Use their info to set expectations on the rate of scaling your team. If you can't fill a role, the whole team has to wait. Your schedule must be set accordingly.
  • Don't suggest to leaders that you can move faster than you can clearly prove through action. We are in a time of high growth for RPA work. That can easily lead to a shortage of talent when you need it. Set expectations accordingly - with everyone involved.

Making sure you have the resources you need when you need them to complete projects is always important for successful organizational change management. With RPA, a new, fast-growing specialty, resource availability presents a significant risk. Don't it be your weakness.

Note:  There will be resources that are not involved in specific project work that will need to be covered by an organizational change plan. These will be covered in other Change Management posts.


* Robotic Process Automation:  For our purposes, configuring a software robot, using one of the relatively new tools available, to complete a certain part of a work process formerly completed by FTEs. RPA is not Artificial Intelligence, but simply a way of automating the execution of well-defined business rules. Projects are short and bring quick benefits to the organization.

Posted on: December 29, 2017 02:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Keep Drama on the Stage

How much does worker drama affect your projects? Is it a significant factor? Is it the common topic of conversations? Would you rather be focusing on something else, such as project tasks and priorities?

If you are experiencing drama from worker's immature behavior, you are not alone. Careerbuilder recently conducted a survey that is a bit depressing. A key finding: Seventy-seven percent of employees have witnessed some type of childish behavior among colleagues in the workplace. If nothing else, it can inspire you to take measures to reduce the amount of drama that may occur in your project.

CareerBuilder had their team survey 2,532 hiring and human resource managers and 3,039 employees for this report. All respondents were employed full-time and not self-employed.

The following behaviors were reported by more than 30% of respondents:

  • Whining(55%!) and pouting
  • Tattling
  • Starting rumors about co-workers
  • Playing pranks on co-workers
  • Forming cliques
  • Making faces behind a co-worker's back

Sounds like first grade. Of course, a small amount of pranks and fun can be healthy, but the results of this survey indicate that many workplaces have a culture that allows too much immature behavior. Looking through the list should make it clear that such behavior can be corrosive to teams, workforce morale and performance. Understand that this kind of culture does not occur immediately, but evolves over time as some improper behavior is allowed to happen, enabling others to do the same.

If your project work environment does not suffer from this situation, then give thanks and go to another post on this blog. But if you are cursed with such a work culture, then it would be best to take some kind of action rather than let your project be affected by such unconstructive acts.

First, stay positive and constructive. Your message theme should be related to everyone succeeding in the project so the project itself succeeds. Here are some example to get you started.

  • Early on, convey the message that constructive behavior is necessary for everyone to work together respectfully on teams. It enables everyone to trust each other. This is expected, of course, in your project.
  • Be specific as to what is expected, trying not to focus too much on what is not desired. Allow team members to add behaviors that help teams be successful.
  • Be careful when you say "professional" behavior is required. This is essentially an undefined term, so you should elaborate with examples and details when you use the term.
  • Correct those who exhibit improper behavior quickly and privately, contrasting their reaction to  the constructive alternatives discussed previously. Be sure the individual sees the disadvantage of the unconstructive behavior and the advantage of behaving more constructively.

Finally, you can counter with data from the survey. For example, the following indicators are used by significant numbers of employers (sometime significant majorities) that workers are not ready for promotion:

  • negative or pessimistic attitude
  • use of vulgar language
  • participation in office gossip

There are other tactics that apply to different types of work cultures. What might work in your experience? Do you work in an environment where there is drama or immature behavior? What is it like?

Posted on: October 16, 2015 09:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Bring on Replacements Faster

Our theme this month is emerging trends and I wrote an article based on economic and demographic trends. It was about retaining employees - avoiding "job switching" to other employers or other projects in the face of more opportunities in the improving economy.

But there is more to tell on how to adapt to these current economic changes. Namely, what do you do if, despite your efforts to retain workers, you have to replace a worker? Job switching is more of an issue now and will increase in the future. Recruiters are using LinkedIn and other sophisticated methods to find those who are unsatisfied with their current positions. Replacement is time consuming and expensive, so you want to do whatever you can to reduce these adverse impacts.

These ideas should help get you started.

Position your position and culture as desirable . . . Workers in all demographic groups want  flexibility, manageable deadlines and management who cares. To the extent your project and organization can meet these needs, promote that in your job opening descriptions to differentiate your position from competitors.

For positions or temporary assignments that need less experience, perhaps those desirable to Millennial generation candidates, promote what you do to focus on their developmental needs. Describe how you enable growth and development while on the job.

Help your own recruiters sell you position in a sophisticated manner. Your recruiters may not know how appealing your project is, but you do. Give them the information they need to sell it.

Understand the recruiting process early . . . Meet with your recruiters to see what the process entails. Review it to determine what you will have to do to move quickly if necessary. What are the lead times? Is there anything for which you need clarification before you have to actually follow the process?

Prepare in advance for worst case scenario . . . Reduce risk by identifying the key resources - the ones that will cause issues immediately if they  leave. Have a contingency plan ready. It may be that you just immediately look for a quick replacement and, if there is not one, then you communicate a project issue related to the activity. You may have to put the activity on pause until a replacement found. This is the kind of thing you need to know in advance.

Get your other workers involved .. . Others in your project and workplace know people who may make great candidates. Use them. You may already have some kind of recruitment program where your own employees can be rewarded for finding successful candidates. If so, promote this program when a resource gap opens. If you have no such program, then ask your team for help. They have connections and will want to get the right person in place.

Don't be caught short as job switching increases. Do some basic planning so that you are ready to act quickly to replace resources who are lost. It's an important way to ensure your project is delivered successfully.

Posted on: December 20, 2014 05:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

PM Is Perfect Job to Hone Most Desired Executive Trait

Do you exhibit the most desired executive trait? If you do, it certainly makes your work easier and even benefited your career.

So see if you can pick the “most desired executive trait” as determined in the  IIC Partners survey of leaders from this list of desired traits:

  • Strong Communication Skills
  • Decisiveness
  • Vision
  • Performs Well
  • Ability to Motivate

This should be a pretty easy choice. Executives around the world chose this 3:1 over the next most desired trait which is "Performs well."

I've got to admit, I might not have guessed it although I know of its importance. I might not have guessed because we are talking about executives ranking their own most desired trait. I may have been led astray by my experience or Dilbert. Anyway, the trait they chose overwhelmingly is Ability to Motivate.

Do you see why I would have selected something different? Is it your experience that executives are great motivators?

If you are a project manager and you have the ability to motivate, you can better get project teams to meet deadlines with expected quality. You can get stakeholders to participate more often. You can get decision-makers to make decisions. You can get your project core team to focus on the correct tasks and follow the best project management process. And that is good for everyone.

And, if you are thinking about moving up in the organization, there is even more reason to build your motivation skills. It's what executives are looking for in other executives they are hiring. The good news is that you can build and show off your motivation skills as a project manager!

There are many posts in Eye on the Workforce on motivation (filter the posts on Leadership or Performance Improvement to start) not to mention the rest of the site. You can find plenty of other resources on this topic.

Posted on: August 19, 2014 10:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Leader Concerns vs. Your Workforce Issues

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)

Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there.

- Will Rogers