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How to Understand Soft Skill Metrics in the Next Generation of Project Management

How to Understand Soft Skill Metrics in the Next Generation of Project Management

By Dr. Harold Kerzner

Many years ago (i.e., before the Internet existed), I worked with a well-known colleague who was quite proficient at writing books. When I asked him where all of his ideas came from, he pointed to a small pad of paper and a pen in his shirt pocket. He stated that whenever any of his students asks a good question, he writes down the question immediately and later creates text material for his books around that question. Therefore, these questions often lead to individual brainstorming sessions for the creation of intellectual property.

I received a question from Sajjad Falahati, who is in the EMBA (Executive MBA) Program at the Alborz Institute of Higher Education in Qazvin, Iran:

I am an Iranian student currently working on my MA dissertation in which I am trying to customize and predict future phases of a flour mill construction project in Sarakhs SEZ, northeast of Iran.
The biggest question I have in mind is how to predict and translate behavioral nature of the Kerzner Project Management Maturity Model quantitatively.
Also, the project not being initiated yet challenges my work in that it leaves no chance for me to put my customized model into practice for now (and I believe the reason lies in the futuristic sort of approach that the Kerzner Project Management Maturity Model naturally takes).
I would be very grateful to hear your comments on this.

This is an excellent question and the timing could not have been better since I am in the early stages of preparing the next edition of my text on the Project Management Maturity Model (PMMM).

Maturity in project management is most frequently measured in terms of paperwork generated and hard skills related to the creation of forms, guidelines, templates and checklists. With hard skills (especially in regard to deliverables created with paperwork such as components of a methodology), there are several metrics and measurement techniques that can be used to show progress toward various levels of maturity. But in regard to soft skills or the behavioral side of project management, not many metrics existed in the past. However, today they are receiving some attention. There are some attempts to establish these behavioral metrics, but they are still in the infancy stages of development.

Some of these behavioral metrics under consideration include:

• Collaboration
• Commitment
• Culture
• Emotional maturity
• Employee morale
• Leadership effectiveness
• Motivation
• Quality of life
• Stress level
• Teamwork

Identifying these metrics is easy. However, the obstacle is the measurement technique—finding ways to perform the measurements over time will be challenging. Measurement techniques are now coming of age.

In the next version of the PMMM, I will be adding in material related to:

• The maturity process for establishing metrics and KPIs
• The maturity of project sponsorship and governance for levels of the PMMM
• Establishing criteria for measuring project business value along the PMMM path
• Transformational project management leadership

Mr. Falahati’s question is directly related to the last bullet above and indirectly related to the other three bullets. There have been numerous books written on the behavioral side of project management, specifically on effective project management leadership. Most of them seem to favor situational leadership where the leadership style that the project manager selects is based upon the size and nature of the project, the importance of the deliverables, the skill level of the project team members, the project manager’s previous experience working with these team members, and the risks associated with the project.

Historically, project managers perceived themselves as being paid to produce deliverables rather than managing people. Team leadership was important to some degree, as long as what was expected in the way of employee performance and behavior was consistent with the desires of the functional manager who conducted the employee’s performance review. In the past, project managers were expected to provide leadership in a manner that gave the employees a chance to improve their performance and skills, and allowed the employee to grow while working on project teams.

Today, project managers are being asked to function as managers of organizational change on selected projects. Organizational change requires that people change. This mandates that project managers possess a set of skills that may be different than what was appropriate for managing projects. This approach is now being called Transformational Project Management (TPM) Leadership.

There are specific situations where transformational leadership must be used and employees must be removed from their previous comfort zones. As an example, not all projects come to an end once the deliverables are created. Consider a multinational company that establishes an IT project to create a new high security, company-wide email system. Once the software is developed, the project is ready to “go live”.

Historically, the person acting as the project manager to develop the software moves on to another project at “go live,” and the responsibility for implementation goes to the functional managers or someone else. Today, companies are asking the project manager to remain on board the project and act as the change agent for full, corporate-wide implementation of the changeover to the new system. In these situations, the project manager must adopt a transformational leadership style.

Transformational project management is heavily focused upon the people side of the change and is a method for managing the resistance to change, whether the change is in processes, technology, acquisitions, targets or organizational restructuring. People need to understand the need for the change and buy into it. Imposing change upon people is an invitation for prolonged resistance, especially if people see their job threatened. Transformational projects can remove people from their comfort zones.

TPM, as it relates to the PMMM, is shown in the exhibit below.

Transformational project management & the PMMM

Although there are many elements of human behavior to be considered in a project management environment, I generally focus upon the factors that can influence project management leadership. In a simple context, leadership in project management is based upon one or more of the following:

• Leadership during the execution of a project where the project manager has no direct control or influence over the assigned project personnel
• Leadership during the execution of a project where the project manager has direct control or influence over all or some of the assigned project personnel
• Leadership during the “go live” stage of a project where the project manager may have direct control or influence over the workers for an extended period of time

Mr. Falahati’s question about the behavioral nature of the PMMM has forced me think about the necessity to include more behavioral information in the PMMM. Obviously, this is now becoming more important than I had anticipated. The growth of metric measurement techniques, especially for soft skill data, is now making this possible and I will certainly take this under consideration.

In February of this year, Wiley released a new book I wrote titled PM 2.0: Leveraging Tools, Distributed Collaboration, and Metrics for Project Success. I am conducting research for the next edition of this book, titled PM 3.0. One of the critical topics for PM 3.0 will be a better understanding of human behavior on projects and establishing behavioral metrics.

More research needs to be done on measurement techniques for use of soft skills metrics. Should Mr. Falahati continue on with his education and pursue a Ph.D., I would recommend this as his dissertation topic, and I eagerly wait to read his Ph.D. thesis.

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