It’s not about the project, it’s about the people…

There is a significant investment made into the false belief that words will materialise into action. I participate in a range of professional interactions from meetings, to workshops, to teleconferences where I constantly observe a phenomenon I call “talk with no commitment to walk”. As a project manager you are responsible for the successful delivery of a business change imperative. You can’t be successful in delivery if you make the foolish assumption that anyone else, but yourself and “hopefully the person or group paying your invoices” gives a rat’s arse if the project is delivered.

This is why I say, it’s not about the project it’s about the people. You can have all the GANTT charts, budgets and PM Methodologies in the world, but if you can’t capture the hearts and minds of the people who aid you in delivery of this piece of work, they are nothing more than wasted bits and bytes on laptop. Having a detailed understanding of your entire stakeholder group and what motivates them to walk, as opposed to just talk, is the only way you can be successful in project delivery.

So how do I do this?

1.       I accept that everyone is different

A real eye opener for me was when I got exposed to personality profiling a few years back. Since this time I’ve explored a number of techniques including Myers Briggs (ref 1), Insights (ref 2) and Competing Values Framework (ref 3). Whilst all these will give you a slightly different take on what and how, the why remains the same. And the why is that every personality type views the world differently. This directly impacts what they value and what motivates them. The penny dropped for me that I was struggling to motivate people by erroneously applying my value system and not tapping into a why that connected with them. Often these people would have a differing value system and couldn’t care less about my motivations. It was at this point I realised to be effective in motivating others, I don’t need to worry about my value system, I need to worry about their value system…

2.       I find out what makes people tick

PM Methodologies often put Stakeholder Management Activities like Identifying Stakeholders in the initiation phase of a project, I personally take these activities a few steps further. Don’t stop at identifying, you also need to understand, engage and connect with stakeholders. Use this time to get to know the types of people you are working with and understand their strengths, weaknesses, history, education, experience and bias. All these variables give you clues as to who they are and why they may behave the way they do.

If you are familiar with Simon Sinek (ref 4) and he’s thoughts on why, he explains don’t tell people what to do or how to do something, but tell them why something needs to happen. Work with them to understand how they can do it effectively and the task will often look after itself. If it doesn’t, it’s likely you have a person who can’t or won’t complete that given task and when this arises, apply the maxim that if you can’t change the people, change the people.

3.       I make regular engagement mandatory

Some of you may be thinking, I don’t have time for this touchy-feely stuff, I have a project to deliver. Well here’s the news flash, ignore the people and you won’t deliver anything.

Setup regular meetings with your key team members and stakeholders in environments where people are at ease to communicate openly and honestly. During these meetings gain the required commitment surrounding how they will complete project tasks and deliverables and how they will keep you informed of progress. Obviously, it’s not all on their terms, you need to negotiate with them how their delivery approach will meet relevant project constraints (ref 5), however when an individual is bought in and motivated they will openly accept and work with realistic project constraints. It’s when you let them own the what and how that you not only empower your team, but also remove the possibility of excuses for non-delivery as it’s their plan, not someone else’s.


In summary, if you want to be a leader and deliver complex projects and portfolios, this is all part of the territory. You have to put the work in and make time for this touchy-feely stuff whilst you are delivering. Like all skills, the more time you spend with it, the more hacks you will learn which will enable you to expedite some of these exercises. That said, nothing of value comes easy and if it did, everyone would do it or have it and it would no longer be considered valuable.

In some later posts I will explore some of the hacks that have helped me to expedite on-boarding people within a project.


In Text References – To help expand on some of the in text references, the links below will provide some more information:

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