Hard Skills With The Soft Skills Management Essay
Project Management is the science and art of harmonizing the hard skills with the soft skills to deliver a successful project. Hard skills or the science of project management are referred to the technical aspects of a manager in carrying out the processes, tools and techniques in the project. Soft skills or the artistic aspect of the project manager refers to the interpersonal skills or emotional intelligence necessary in working with people. According to a research from the University of Arkansas, they found out that IT companies now are aware that soft skills are requisite for projects success. The finding is indeed true because companies like “Polaris, Sun Microsystems and Mastek” (Sukhoo, 2005) included interpersonal skills in their training curriculum.
This paper will identify the important soft skills for the project manager that will contribute to the success rate of IT projects. It will also present training opportunities where a manager can enhance the soft skills mentioned in this paper.
The Standish Group International published an article about Chaos: A Recipe for Success mentioned that in America, companies spend more than $275 billion a year for IT projects. Most of the projects “will fail but not for lack of money or technology; most will fail for lack of skilled project management” (Standish Group International, 1999). The group introduced 10 success factors. The top three success factors are; User Involvement, Executive Support and Clear Business Objectives. These three factors “account for 50% of a project’s chances for success” (Standish Group International, 1999). Out of these three success factors, two are in the art of soft skills. In order to carry this out, a project manager must have the excellent interpersonal skills to effectively communicate with the Users and Executives for their involvement and cooperation in the project.
About the Study
It is of no argument that hard skills are an essential part in project management. The manager’s technical skills will provide him/her with the framework of generally accepted processes, tools and techniques to carry out the project. The authors, Mantel and Meredith, assume that the success in project management is due to the “technical credibility and the ability to use a systems approach (Mantel and Meredith, 1986)”.
However, in the scenario of managing the scope without clear communication with the team will surely doom the deliverables and requirements which will result to the client’s disappointment. Doing the processes, using the tools and right techniques in project management but “without displaying leadership in delivering the end product or service will result in failure” (Belzer, 2001).
This is where the missing link comes in which is the Soft Skills of the Project manager.
An Overview of the Soft Skills
The soft skills are non-technical skills but “it is one of the cornerstones of successful projects” (Standish Group International, 1999). Sampson (2007) writes, “The skills required for project management are now often divided 50/50 into traditional ‘hard’ skills, such as risk management and scheduling, and ‘soft’, people-oriented skills, such as interpersonal communication”.
An article about Psychological Skills for the Workplace discussed that soft skills are the human relationship skills that include: “emotional awareness and management of mood, the ability to create an atmosphere of trust and growth, taking actions that result in a deeper level of commitment and integrity, and discovering the ability to connect to others effectively”. Soft skills help the project manager to get their message effectively to the team member, stakeholder and other intended listeners.
This section will not discuss all the soft skills in IT project management but will give emphasis on the five soft skills that are needed for the project manager.
Communication Skills refer to the ability to communicate thought or ideas effectively. Effective communication is a must for every project manager because if the staff under him/her doesn’t completely understand their task and how to accomplish it then the entire project is in jeopardy. If the project manager fails to communicate clearly with the customers on its expected output then the project will be of no value or become a failure. Buehring (2009) said that, “maintaining open, regular and accurate channels of communication with all levels of project staff and stakeholders is vital to ensuring the smooth flow of instructions from customer to factory floor and sufficient of risks and changes to enable early assessment of preparation”.
Communication skills increase success. Authors Johanson and Fried in Teaching of Psychology Journal did a research on graduate students and found out that communication skills contributed to their success in studies and projects. Moreover, Brian Tracy the world renowned personal business consultant said that the highest paid people in the United States are those with good interpersonal intelligence or effective communicator. Tracy said, “A person with such intelligence understands people’s feelings and desires – and employers pay big bucks for someone with these skills” (Uebergang, 2008).
Better communication increases success rate regardless of geographic location of the teams. In order to ensure effective communication, the project manager must utilize any form of communication, e-mail, phone, face to face conversation, and other channels of communication. The Cornelius & Associates (2004) suggest a Project Communication Table as one of the tools of defining who is responsible on what, where, when and how in understanding their communication obligations as shown in Table1.
Detailed Project Status by Email
John Doe, Steering Team Sponsor
To review successes, progress and the short-term future.
Steering Team Members
Posner (1987) made an observation and noted “that the fundamental problems confronting a project manager are related to management of people, not to the technical challenges”. In the effective management of people, leadership skills of the manager are needed. Leadership is a skill that is related to a person’s ability to make people move to attain a certain goal. According to the PMBOK Guide it is, “the ability to get things done through others focusing the efforts of a group of people toward a common goal and enabling them to work as a team.” A good leader is tantamount to the success of the business plan but a poor leader “can ruin even the best plan” (Mills, 2005). Leadership deal with people with their ideas and personalities. Different personalities are handled with different style of leadership. Hersey and Blanchard (1981, 1988) “recognized the contributions of leadership style to management effectiveness and noted that subordinates and the work place situation are key factors to consider when selecting appropriate leadership style”. Use the styles at the right time depending on the situation.
There are different theorists on leadership style and one of them is Daniel Goleman who introduced the six distinct leadership styles in project management. Harris (2009), White (n.d) and Scheid (2010) believed and wrote articles about the Goleman’s leadership style:
Coercive – requires an immediate action or compliance from the team. The manager is giving a direction on what to do.
Authoritative – the leader has a vision, shares it in the team and allows collaboration of ideas within the team. In this kind of style the manager is “project-knowledge-full and their teams notice and respect that knowledge” (Scheid, 2010). The founder of Apple Computers, Steve Jobs, did this kind of leadership “to make his vision come to real life” (Harris, 2009) by hiring people who are eager to make the technology possible. His employees take the sense of pride for being part with the innovations.
Affiliative – a One-For-All and All-For-One leadership. There is flexibility on how to carry out the project as long as the deliverables are met accordingly and on time.
Democratic – team participation is encouraged as well as involvement in decision-making. The team members are allowed to give their inputs which will encourage and strengthen the team’s commitment to the project.
Pacesetting – a kind of leadership expects the highest standard performance and eliminates the weak in the team.
Coaching – They have the encouraging personality and good in risk management.
Team building is the ability of the manager to, “set up a team with an appropriate mix of skills to ensure the successful completion of a project” (Sukhoo et al, 2005). It is a discipline in psychology as organizational psychology wherein team members will be given the sense of ownership in the job through well-planned activities in the project that are motivational.
It will enhance self confidence and more job responsibilities can be given to a person. The psychology of team building is “with positive feedback following positive action; a far more efficient way to have efficient workers” (Donaldson, 2009).
Teamwork is very important in project management because it will promote interaction among members doing different deliverables for a common goal. When the people involved in a project understand that they are part of the process then they will have a sense of worth that will drive them to work on a common cause.
There is good stress and bad stress. Good stress also known as eustress which gives the person the feeling of contentment, excitement and drive to work. In psychology, it is a positive phenomenon which changes the mindset of a person to problems regarding them as challenges with eagerness to solve. It gives “one a feeling of fulfillment or other positive feelings because it is a process of exploring potential gains” (Wikipedia, 2010). However, when stress is excessive it will cause distress and problems to the project.
Stress management is a soft skill that the project manager must have because without it, the progress of the project will be jeopardized. According to Chapman (2001), “stress sufferers can lose up 50% of their aptitude to perform their jobs”. Smith et al (2009) listed a summary of the warning signs and symptoms of distress:
“Cognitive – Memory problems, inability to concentrate, poor judgment, seeing only the negative, anxious or racing thoughts, constant worrying
Emotion – Moodiness, irritability or short temper, agitation, inability to relax, feeling overwhelmed, sense of loneliness and isolation, depression or general unhappiness
Physical – Aches and pains, diarrhea or constipation, nausea, dizziness, chest paint, rapid heartbeat, loss of sex drive, frequent colds
Behavior – eating more or less, sleeping too much or too little, isolating self from others, procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities, using alcohol, cigarettes or drugs to relax, nervous habits like nail biting”.
Conflicts are, “serious disagreements that emerge within the project team during the execution of a project. They may arise due to disagreements over priorities, allocation of resources, quality of work or other reasons” (Sukhoo et al, 2005). A conflict resolution skill is essential to prevent the crisis getting worst. According to Kerzner (2001) there are five modes of approaching conflict resolution:
Confronting -face-to-face meeting of both parties. This should be used when: time is sufficient; trust is present; and learning is the ultimate goal.
Compromising – “Give and take” style where both parties bargain. It could be used when: situation is in a deadlock; time is not sufficient.
Smoothing – one party may sacrifice his concern to satisfy the other party. Used when: create obligation for a trade-off at a later time; one party would like to create good will;
Forcing – One party wins while ignoring the concern of the other party. It should be used when: “do or die” situation is present; relationship among parties is not important; and quick decision must be made.
Avoiding – postponement of the problem or known as withdrawal style. Used when you are not prepared to face the problem and maintain neutrality or reputation;
Moreover, active listening to resolve conflict is a proven technique according to Lloyd (2001). This was reechoed by Van (1999) that when the manager listens he/she will be able to understand the concerns of both parties and come up with an acceptable resolution. “As a result of this process, trust and a relationship bond will form preparing individuals to listen also to the needs of the manager” (Van, 1999).
An Action to be Taken
Now we know that the mentioned soft skills are important to a project manager. The question now is how and where to train and equip them for such skills?
The Training Opportunity
There are several training providers on the soft skills. The MMM Training Solutions (2010) provides executive coaching and soft skills training where they can deliver the training through workshops, webinars or customized training material that will suit the need of their client. The Cor Consulting (2010) in Canada provides one-to-one training in their office or on-site training that fits client’s schedule. In Australia there is Brainpower Training that offers workshops Australia-wide to 10-16 people or offer DVD trainings in case for individuals. Another group is the
There are some other groups also that the project manager can join aside from its membership in the project managers professional group. An example of this is the ToastMaster where a person can enhance its communication skills. Joining local or international clubs like Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis would improve the leadership or interpersonal aspect of a manager because he/she will interact with people from different walks of life. At the same time he/she gain networks for future project clients.
For the project managers who would like to do a self study as a start then he/she can use the Free Management Library which discusses about Soft Skills and how to effectively use it that can be found in this link http://managementhelp.org/.
It is of no argument that hard skills are an essential part in project management. The manager’s technical skills will provide him/her with the framework of generally accepted processes, tools and techniques to carry out the project. Those methods were developed in an attempt to improve and increase project’s success rate, however, according to Standish Report some IT projects do not meet the expected output satisfactorily. Furthermore, companies and other professionals in the project management field believed that the project’s success is not mainly due to technical skills but it is greatly contributed by the manager’s interpersonal skills. Research reveals that the soft skills directly impact the outcome of the project. The training institute found the demand of soft skills for project managers because companies are looking for this managerial trait. As a result they provide soft skills training for the professional growth of project manager mentioned by Belzer as “the missing link”.