As project leaders we have an abundance of tools to choose from when it comes to project management — we have methodologies, processes, and plans, but at the end of a successful project, who do we thank? It’s not the tool or the methodology; it’s the people. How many tools, methodologies, or processes do we have when it comes to the people — the ones responsible for actually delivering our projects successfully?
Traditionally, PMs have been trained on project management and related topics but how much of that training is surrounding topics like ‘leadership’ and ‘team management’. The irony is, the majority of issues that come up within a project always relate back to ‘people’ rather than ‘process’.
Whether it’s team conflict, ambiguity, or stakeholder management, it is people that are responsible for delivering and receiving projects, and thus, developing people capabilities is crucial for successful project management.
People Over Process
Project tools are great for managing tasks but not great for managing, or better phrased, empowering people. Tools and methodologies are important, yet they are futile if your team is disengaged, overworked, and misaligned.
What might be surprising to some is that by focusing more on people and team enablement, your life as a project lead becomes a lot easier and less stressful. This mindset shift doesn’t detract attention from the project itself, rather it enables you to take advantage of the collective intelligence of your team to improve project efficiencies and detect issues at an early stage, thus increasing the probability of project success.
I’ll expand on how that looks in a minute but what is important to note is that people data is not just ‘the soft stuff’. It is not just providing us with better visibility into our team’s performance; rather it provides us with the insights needed to execute projects efficiently and successfully.
What Is People Data?
Simply put, people data is data generated from humans and/or data related to people in the workplace. There is a fast-growing field called ‘people analytics’ which seeks to use people data to increase organizational performance and effectiveness. However, until now this has been the domain of HR and team leads on the ground have benefited very minimally from these efforts.
While it’s critical to measure the employee experience organization-wide, I believe the effort is somewhat in vain if managers and project leads don’t have access to real-time data on their own team’s health and engagement.
“Capturing people data alone is not enough. Unless that data is delivered to the right people at the right time, it is merely a tool for us to understand issues after they’ve happened”.
Leveraging People Data For Project Success
Continuous Feedback And Team Intelligence
The first step to this new approach is understanding and appreciating the importance of continuous feedback from team members (and stakeholders alike) throughout projects. Continuous feedback not only gives team members a platform to be heard, but it gives the team and their manager an opportunity to uncover issues that may have been missed and provide actionable suggestions on where the team can improve.
Team members are a powerful and dare I say, underutilized resource for discovering ways to improve and even predict project performance. The only way to tap into this valuable layer of data is to adopt a process of continuous feedback throughout your projects.
“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said”. – Peter Drucker
This collaborative approach to spotting and solving problems is a factor consistently found in top-performing teams. Furthermore, including yourself (the project lead) and other stakeholders in these 360 feedback loops provides an important viewpoint on potential misalignment or silos that may exist in your project. When your team is constantly self-assessing and collectively looking for ways to improve, you can be sure your team is on the path to success.
“High-performing teams are continually examining their interpersonal dynamics and collective approach to challenges” – Dana Byrd
Measure What Matters
Despite common themes that contribute to project success, each project is unique and success is subjective to its specific goals. Thus, it is important to remember that ‘what you measure is what you get’, and being proactive about measuring the metrics that matter to your specific project will make the feedback you receive from your team more valuable and contextual. Remember to include your team and stakeholders when determining what these success measures are.
For example, our team has a success measure called ‘building skateboards’ because we want to ensure we are sticking to our methodology of lean product development and that we are not spending large amounts of time building scalable software. This helps us stay focused and of course reduces rework for the dev team.
Keeping a constant pulse on how your team is performing against the success measures of your project is a great way to ensure you are all aligned and on track to project success.
Autonomous Micro-Feedback Loops
As opposed to creating manual surveys or trying to pull everyone together to do a review, go for an autonomous and asynchronous method of feedback which runs in the background without you needing to manage it.
In order for you to identify issues at an early stage, feedback frequency should be high and effort should be low. 30-60 second feedback prompts once or twice a week is ideal to pinpoint any potential blindspots or issues creeping up in your project or team.
The reality is we can’t manage remote teams the same way we managed in-office teams, and having a process of asynchronous feedback loops, allows everyone to contribute in their own time and allows team leads to receive the insights they need to manage and empower their teams.
Use People Data To Make Decisions
With this new layer of data, project leaders are equipped with faster access to information about their projects. This of course allows them to understand where their time and energy can be most impactful and prioritize critical attention areas at an early stage. In addition, teams can now have more contextual discussions based on the data and vote on real action items without having to participate in group exercises intended to manually generate relevant insights.
Many of the team’s needs and challenges might never have surfaced if not for the ability to provide anonymous feedback. No, it’s not just for the introverts on the team — anonymous feedback is a powerful way to surface deeper truths about what’s really going on in teams and organizations. Having said all that — accessing this data alone just provides information; it’s acting on the data that creates true value and visible change.
If you can identify signs of disengagement early on, you will be able to prevent the possibility of a burnt out team, which isn’t the kind you want to execute your projects. Understanding stakeholder sentiment is also extremely valuable in ensuring client satisfaction and making them feel included in the project performance process. Lastly, receiving feedback on your leadership is an opportunity for you to recognize where you can improve in responding to team needs.
“Adaptability is about the powerful difference between adapting to cope and adapting to win.” — Max McKeown
Have A Centralized Source Of Truth
I know I’m pushing this concept really hard but I can’t begin to explain the value in capturing feedback digitally over time. It is a game-changer. Yes, you have actual quantitative data based on qualitative data collected throughout your projects, but what this really provides is the opportunity to learn from previous data in order to execute better projects in the future and distribute these learnings to other teams.
Learn From The Data For Future Projects
Retrospectives and lessons learned evolve from being an exercise the team does to contributing to an intelligent analytics system that provides actionable insights across the organization or project office. This becomes a centralized place where leaders can view project team performance across the board and identify common themes and influences in project success. Using data and not intuition is the key to improving organizational effectiveness and team performance.
3 Things You Can Do Today To Start Leveraging People Data
- Implement a process and continuous feedback tool like Perflo.
- Welcome and encourage team members and stakeholders to contribute throughout your projects.
- Analyze and discuss the insights derived from feedback with your team and action the most appropriate suggestions.
“Project team performance is the next quantum leap in project success”. – Peter Taylor, former Head of PMO – Siemens
The Next Big Thing In Modern Project Management
People-centric organizations have consistently outperformed their competitors, and people-centric managers who pay attention to their team’s dynamics and seek to understand where they can support them, end up running healthier, happier, and of course, higher-performing project teams.
The obvious outcome of this approach to team performance is consistently delivering successful projects with less hiccups and ultimately delighting your stakeholders. In the new world of work where teams are distributed and agility is a priority, there’s never been a more crucial time to pay attention to people and leverage people data (not just project data) to run high-performance project teams.
Find out more on people data and its applications in project management.