Training Soft Skills to Project Managers An Experience Report

Training Soft Skills to Project Managers An Experience Report

Anne Kramer ( GmbH, Germany)
DOI: 10.4018/jhcitp.2012040106


The success of software projects is driven by the magical triangle between time, budget, and quality. While short term thinking focuses on time and budget, it is quality that has the most important impact on long term customer satisfaction. Thus, providing good quality software is crucial for success. Quality is influenced by several factors. It depends on the entire software development process and related activities (e.g., requirements management, configuration management, design controls, etc.). However, quality cannot be forced from outside. It is well known, but often forgotten, that it is the team and its relation to the project manager that decides on success or failure of a project. Improving the skills of the project managers improves the quality of the products. The limiting factor usually is not related to technical skills that can be trained quite easily. In fact, project management is all about communication and leadership competencies which are far more difficult (but not impossible) to train. In this paper, the author reports on experiences with this kind of training from an industrial point of view. In particular, the author describes what was most helpful and where the major difficulties lay.
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The Challenge

Trainings usually focus on technical skills. You learn about processes and methods (such as work breakdown structure or estimating techniques). In the 4th edition of the PMBOK® guide published by the Project Management Institute only a tiny part is dedicated to soft skills (PMI, 2008). The project management methodology PRINCE2® does not focus on human aspects such as motivation, delegation or team leadership either (CCTA, 1999). A positive exception is the training program of the International Project Management Association (IPMA). Roughly one third of the competencies defined in (IPMA, 2006) are so-called “behavioral competencies.”

Of course, processes and methods are important for project success, but they do not improve the “relationship” of the employee with “his immediate supervisor.” For this soft skills are required – and should be trained.

The relationship between employees and their supervisor is closely related to the idea of leadership. People will follow those they admire, those that communicate a vision and those they feel attached to. In the world of software development we tend to forget this aspect. We are used to base everything on logic. Emotions and conflicts are taboo. We are conditioned to keep them low.

However, relationship cannot be explained purely by logic. It is something very personal, since it concerns individuals. One of the results what the world's greatest managers do differently is that they are not “just”, which means that they do not treat their employees equally. Instead, they give different degree of autonomy and even different kind of benefits, depending on what is most motivating for the employee. This implies that the manager has to understand the individuals, their personality, their wishes and needs. Tom DeMarco goes even further in “The Deadline” when he states that “you have to like them” (DeMarco, 1997).

Can this be trained? Surely, a certain disposition of the trainee is mandatory. What can be definitely trained are communication skills and the understanding of schemes and mechanisms. You can sensitize team leaders and project managers to the human factor in project management. Of course, this is not easy. Like skiing, it becomes more difficult with growing age.

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