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Best of PMTimes: Does People Behavior Impact Projects? How? And What Do We Do About It?

We all know that projects are considered successful only when they are completed within the boundaries of scope, time, cost and quality. Bad project management is detrimental and can be very difficult to deal with – for especially large projects that involve a lot of money. A small percentage of several projects undertaken across the globe are really successful. Projects do get completed and closed but not necessarily are considered successful due to cost or schedule overruns – cost overrun – being the most common cause for project failure. Therefore, it is imperative that organizations employ better ideas and novel methodologies and frameworks in managing projects.


People behavior is one of the KEY factors that drive successful project management. In today’s world – virtual project teams often not co-located – are commonplace. In this environment, it is essential that behavior, emotions and culture be well understood by project managers.

Traditional Project Management methodologies revolve around sound technical and procedural factors: Scoping, Scheduling, Budgeting, Quality Assurance & Control, Risk, Communications and Procurement; and they all have very well established frameworks. Even with all these well established methodologies and frameworks, we just don’t seem to get project management right.

If you just thought “there MUST be something that is NOT well-documented or frame-worked well enough yet”, you have just arrived at the right place! The core of project management is – PEOPLE – around which all other processes revolve and interact.



People centric project management emphasizes that project management should be based on Experience, Dynamics, Human Psychology rather than solely on Processes. Wise project managers focus on learning and understanding how people function in an organization – both as individuals – and as a team. It is important to figure out during project initiation how people in the performing organization behave and adapt.

Human Psychology should also be considered as an integral part of Project Management. Technical knowledge and following standard processes is one aspect but that is only 30-40% of day-to-day activities. We need to better manage the remainder of the 60-70% – which is people centric.

The aspect of projects that gives project managers sleepless nights is people behavior – especially factors emerging from them – such as push-back, resistance to change, acceptance, trust etc. There are several real life scenarios project managers encounter – that emanate from these aspects. Project managers are encouraged to implement people centric management techniques that will eventually will help them implement processes as well as manage behavioral aspects of people successfully.

People centric project management differs from traditional project management in that it does not reject the basic principles of traditional project management but in addition, it emphasises that all traditional project management processes be followed as usual but be tailored according to the need in order to reap rich benefits coming from good people behaviour being exhibited as part of the project implementation.




The most important factor coming from humans including sensitive aspects is Culture. The term culture means different things to different people. From a project management perspective, culture simply means “how is stuff done here”. Culture is something that comes with people as a baggage along with them. It is imperative that a project manager understand and interpret what the culture of the performing organization is. This becomes increasingly challenging with virtual global teams. When a team member responds swiftly “It is impossible for us to carry out this work” without analyzing the work assigned – it is likely that employees are striving within an organizational culture that is not supportive of their efforts!


  • Study: People will likely not understand this concept at the outset – since PCPM focuses on how people function and how they apply project management to be people centric. Managing triple constraints (Scope, Time and Cost) is the objective of healthy project management. However, it needs to be understood that this does not happen in isolation. This happens in a colloidal medium where people see each other, talk together and interact with others. It is crucial that project managers don’t curb or belittle Emotions, Politics, People Dynamics. Instead, they should be seen as the arteries and veins of human life and we should be able to better manage them.
  • Analyze: How you go about implementing PCPM varies from one organization to another. It needs to be a part of the organizational strategy. Organizations would be project based – where large parts of the workforce is involved in multiple projects. Analyzing how the organization is structured helps the project manager make some of the most important people related decisions in an effective manner.
  • Adjust or Adapt?: Most project managers tend to enforce processes without understanding the culture and capabilities of the project team and stakeholders. In PCPM – focus should be on adjusting processes to fit the culture and behavioral responses rather than trying to adapt human nature to follow processes. Adjust the role and processes for people – do not enforce processes on people.
  • Propose Changes: Create a governance committee or steering committee that is part of the leadership team. Ensure that the PMO, Senior Management are on board and devise a strategy on how you will move from rational to behavior centric project management. A roadmap needs to be laid to bring about either procedural or cultural changes. In 99% cases, people work in environments that Resist Change. So, what is new with PCPM? In PCPM, project managers must educate the senior management, team and stakeholders of considering people behavior while planning each project phase of the project.
  • Gain Buy-In: The challenge for most project managers is to work with senior management and the team in tandem, to gain buy-in and decide on adjusting or adapting. Adjusting or adapting does not happen overnight.
  • Implement (Kaizen): PCPM will not happen overnight but will require a cultural transformation. PMs should quickly identify strengths and weaknesses of team members and encourage people to identify their strengths and work with their strengths. Some people will have competitive strengths and it is important to leverage their competitive skills. Project managers tend to polish people and make sure people fit the role instead of adjusting the role for people.
  • Introspect: It is essential that project managers introspect how PCPM is being implemented. The introspection frequency will depend on several factors such as the team size, stakeholder size, location of teams and stakeholders, senior management demands etc. Introspection is the only way of answering the questions “How are we doing today? Will we be able to implement PCPM? What else needs to be done to strengthen the PCPM process? How long will it take for people to be on board? etc.”



Engaging project team members is the foundation to project success. In PCPM, it is extremely important that the groundwork be laid to engage team members and stakeholders and finally sustain in the short and long term. Focus should be setting key performance/productivity indicators for the performing team as a whole. The level of engagement of team and stakeholders should be monitored and strategies be devised to maximize the engagement levels of both at the same time. Performance, Productivity, Efficiency and Efficacy must be maximized or at a minimum balanced.

Across the project lifecycle, engagement levels of individual team members and the team as a whole should be monitored. Emotional and personal expectations of the team members must be addressed to bring about the best in them. Questions such as “How is this individual doing on the current project?”, “How does this employee react to his work load?”, “Does the employee feel good at the end of every day’s work?”, “Does the team connect their personal objectives with project objectives and organizational objectives, in turn?”, “How is the project team doing as a whole?”, “How are we engaged as a group to meet our objectives?”, “What do stakeholders/customers think abour the project team?” etc. – must be asked and answered satisfactorily.


At the Senior Management Level or at a PMO level (if a PMO exists), it will be important to update or change the overall project management framework to integrate all the knowledge about human nature and the questions answered above. Tools must be developed or customized to measure the level of engagement of teams or stakeholders accurately. These new tools must be integrated into the new project management framework.

Finally, the new approach of People Centric Project Management (PCPM) should be reflected in the overall PMO’s strategic objectives and long term vision/mission.


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Emotions have to do with hormones and neurotransmitters in the human body. Emotions drive employee motivation positively or negatively. Oh boy! Isn’t it difficult to psycho-physio-bio-logically scan a person’s mind and body to anticipate what the Expressions, Feelings, Body Language, and Actions he or she may exhibit e.g.– they are sometimes Happy, Sad, Angry, Excited, Tender, Scared etc. This has been a long standing challenge for most people managers, especially project managers!

Feelings, Moods and Actions affect the manner in which team members and stakeholders carry out their work on projects and so management of emotional aspects is supreme for successful project management. A good project manager should not just be a technical person but should be a rare breed of individual who should be able to manage both the technical and emotional factors. If both factors are not managed, projects will cost way higher than what they are originally planned for! e.g. a strong skilled, high performing employee with tremendous knowledge (not shared with anyone else on the team) exhibiting negative attitude and emotions may not only choose not to perform but also may become a project manager’s nightmare if he decides to not co-operate.

Little attention is devoted to emotional factors in traditional project management – project managers must realize that this is the key reason for project failure! E.g. when we conduct lessons learned for failed projects, we focus only on the project management methodologies followed or those that were not followed – but we hardly attempt to identify the lack of focus on the management of the emotional and motivational aspects of people.


To ensure project success – PCPM might be a critical factor that needs to be looked into and implemented so that project managers are allowed to exhibit strong people skills and vibrant emotional intelligence!


There is advantage to project managers being assigned to a project during initiation and PCPM reinforces just that principle.

In ensuring that project teams will get better and provide maximum output, the following steps are recommended:

✓ Select & Recruit Team members keeping in mind the new PCPM framework, project and organizational objectives.
✓ Develop Team based on PCPM framework, keeping in mind the culture of the team on board – here we again stress on adjusting processes vs adapting!
✓ Motivate Team keeping in mind Emotional factors. More about the impact of motivation below is discussed. Emotional stability would ensure project success.
✓ Periodically Introspect behavioral responses of the team members – understand that PCPM framework needs to be iteratively fine-tuned and optimized.

Project team members or stakeholders do NOT work in an environment where they feel threatened, insecure or disarmed. Productivity is at its lowest when there is no trust and people don’t feel comfortable. If people don’t have confidence and passion for the work that they do – it does not bring about the best in them.


How is this addressed? Here is a simple question that will help us understand better:

Q: So, we all know from the laws of Physics that Force = [Mass] x [Action].Here, Mass refers to people and Action refers to project success. So what is the force then that needs to be applied to people to achieve project success?

A: Motivation!

Motivational factor in knowledge based industries (IT etc.) is important and is desperately needed in PCPM. Project managers need to look at alternative ways to look at projects as a social system rather than a technical system.


From an organization perspective, projects entirely involve around costs, risks, frameworks, internal/external market scenarios, decision making, harnessing talent, identifying critical resources etc. With virtual global knowledge teams working in different time-zones across different projects at the same time, it is very important to ensure that people stay motivated and magnetized to a specific project. PCPM becomes a guiding methodology in this dynamic environment and proper motivational drivers are a MUST. This helps get people focused on one project and give it the priority it deserves.

There are several motivational theories that can be applied in the PCPM framework but it is important to consider Motivation as one of the key drivers.



Behavior refers to the range of actions and mannerisms exhibited – in this case – by people. Certain desired behavior is assumed by project managers when they stitch and integrate several of the established project management processes. This assumption is based on factors such as Culture, Attitudes, Emotions, Perceptions, Values, Ethics, Authority, Rapport, Hypnosis, Mindset and Persuasion, among others.

On most occasions some of these assumptions don’t hold quite valid. When people don’t behave like the way we originally assumed them to, their behavior seems unpredictable to us. And, when people behavior becomes unpredictable – project outcome is inevitably affected – either positively (success) or negatively (failure). Even if project managers don’t forget to include people behavior, they may find out that the people in the system don’t behave as expected, with unanticipated project outcome.

Think of the human brain emitting encrypted signals. Most project managers intercept these signals but hardly a few actually decrypt and interpret them. This act is called Intuitive Mind-Reading!

The ultimate goal of project management is to ensure project success. As part of PCPM, project managers MUST sharpen their mind reading skills and identify potential Known Behavioral Risks that may emanate from ALL people involved (team members, stakeholders, bosses, senior management etc.) in the project and adapt to this behavior to ensure that things that can go wrong don’t go wrong. Successful project managers are gifted with Intuitive Mind-Reading. During project execution, project managers must reach out to all these people involved, observe what tends to go wrong – and ensure it doesn’t.

Is Intuitive Mind-Reading the only tool for identifying behavioral risks? Not necessarily but in most cases, Yes! E.g. it is best to begin with analyzing our own behavior and from there extrapolate and extend our understanding to all types of people behavior across the team.

However, in other cases where Unknown Behavioral Risks show up during project execution, it is the skill and brilliance of project managers that helps them better manage the situation and drive towards project success.



The real problem of projects is NOT the planning or technical aspects but is the day to day contact with people – which is the major nightmare and poses the biggest challenges to project managers.

At any given point of time in the project lifecycle, there will likely be hundreds or thousands of communication channels across project team members and stakeholders. These channels provide the opportunity for people to exchange information among one another. Whether it is Email, IM, Meetings, 1:1(s), Reports etc. it is important to question – what percentage of these channels actually yield positive and fruitful interactions? This will be a key indicator for project success. Project managers need to create a conducive environment for nurturing positive people interactions.

As always, you need the right blend of people in your team to talk to the appropriate stakeholders, gain buy-in and work along project integration. Once you have the PCPM thinking in place, then the next step is to focus on the project team.

In PCPM, it must be the daily duty for project managers to maintain the line of communication very open so that they keep catering to the basic needs to employees.

What needs to get communicated across and top things project managers need to keep in mind while implementing PCPM?

  • Understand and believe that project managers have the most impact in opening up communication channels.
  • Communicate what is expected of each team member
  • Establish a clear sense of what each team member’s duty or role is.
  • Provide recognition – this is actually part of communication!
  • Empower team members’ with the right tools and techniques to do the job
  • Keep your ears open to suggestions
  • Have open conversations about every aspect that requires the PCPM framework to be adjusted.
  • Frequently talk to team members about their progress and provide feedback –
  • Learn from people on how they think they connect to the mission of the project team and compare that with how you think they connect.
  • Communicate between the current statefuture state the gap  and how is the team member is doing.
  • Make Action Plans for the longer term to ensure you are actively managing the emotional and motivational aspects of ALL the people
  • Gather feedback and inputs on how are people interact with each other on their communication channel.
  • Finally, it is the project managers duty to ensure that interactions on ALL communication channels yield positive results!

The key truly is communication, communication, communication and communication!



If organizations want project managers to deliver projects perfectly, that cannot be done solely by following a rule book, using project management software, firefighting problems, implementing the concepts from PMBOK etc. Project managers MUST also be able to manage the thousands of interactions people have within the project and outside of it (environmental factors). The emotional bonding between individuals must be well understood and recognized to get the best out of the people. This ultimately is crucial for achieving proper level of teamwork, communication and performance that is needed for successful project management.

In addition, because our society or organization is not good at working with the behavioral and emotional drivers, we cannot motivate people to complete the project on time, cost, scope and quality. Aspects of project management dealing with people, behavior, emotions are not much stressed upon. In most documented areas, either it is in a footnote or in an appendix.

To conclude, emphasis must be on the importance of people behavior and having a framework such as PCPM – in place to account for people behavior – as an effective solution guaranteeing higher project success rates!


Published: 2014/08/07


About the Authors

Shreenath Sreenivas, B.Sc.(Hons.), M.Sc, PMP has in-depth knowledge and experience in software project planning, integration management, requirement gathering, risk management, scheduling, vendor management, contract management, execution, monitoring, controlling, quality assurance and on-time delivery. He is a Project Management Professional (PMP)® credential holder and has delivered projects successfully across a wide range of domains, such as Pharmaceuticals, Bio-IT (LIMS), Tax and Accounting, Mobile Web Apps; in addition to the field of software product development and consulting. He earned his Bachelor’s B.Sc. (Hons) & Master’s M.Sc. degrees in Industrial Chemistry from the Indian Institute of Technology (I.I.T.), Kharagpur, India.

Ambadapudi Sridhara Murthy, M.Tech, PMI-SP, PMP has extensive experience in the fields of software project planning, scheduling, risk management, budget management, vendor management, contract management, execution, tracking, monitoring, controlling, quality assurance, and on-time delivery. He is a Project Management Professional (PMP)® credential holder, PMI Scheduling Professional (PMI-SP)® credential holder, and has delivered projects over a wide range of domains, such as Leak Detection Software, Semiconductor software, implementing desktop/mobile websites, and Bio-Information Management Systems, in addition to the field of software services. He earned his bachelor’s degree (B.Tech) in chemical engineering from Pune University, India and earned his master’s degree (M.Tech) in computer-aided process and equipment design from REC/NIT in Warangal, India.

Ambadapudi Sridhara Murthy

Ambadapudi Sridhara Murthy, M.Tech, PMI-SP, PMP has extensive experience in the fields of software project planning, scheduling, risk management, budget management, vendor management, contract management, execution, tracking, monitoring, controlling, quality assurance, and on-time delivery. He is a Project Management Professional (PMP)® credential holder, PMI Scheduling Professional (PMI-SP)® credential holder, and has delivered projects over a wide range of domains, such as Leak Detection Software, Pipeline Hydraulics, Semiconductor software, implementing desktop/mobile websites, and Bio-Information Management Systems, in addition to the field of project management and consulting/software services. He earned his bachelor’s degree (B.Tech) in chemical engineering from Pune University, India and earned his master’s degree (M.Tech) in computer-aided process and equipment design from REC/NIT in Warangal, India.