Psychology and project management

Manikantan Poonkundran
December 7, 2012

A project usually has a framework and methodologies which are being followed for successful project management. While the framework and methodology is vital for project management, the human aspect of the project management too has to be taken into consideration, since this human aspect has an important role to play in the way the projects are managed.

Projects are managed by individuals who are unique in themselves and hence each individual manages his or her project in his or her own unique way. A same project if given to two individuals will be managed in two different ways. This is because the psychological aspects of the individuals such as perception and emotions vary hugely and play a pivotal role in many processes like problem solving and decision making, which affects the way the projects are handled in the real world.

Projects are unique, so are project managers

The PMBOK defines a project as “A temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result.” From this we can infer that each and every project is a unique one in that a particular endeavour is undertaken in creating a particular unique product, service or result which cannot be replicated. Though the project itself is unique, there is common framework or methodology which helps project managers manage the projects.

Similar to the uniqueness of the projects, the project managers who handle the projects are unique in themselves. A particular project if given to two different individuals, in all probability will be managed in two totally different ways, even though they follow the common framework. This is due to the inherent differences present in the individuals. Any project manager worth his salt will not be a stranger to the term ‘troubled projects’. The organisation, when met with a large troubled project, invariably pulls in a successful project manager to assist the existing project manager to bail out the project or at least to bring the project back on its tracks.

In a few cases, the project might be handed over completely to another successful project manager who has a proven track record.

Now how does a project manager come in and bail out a troubled project, which his counterpart cannot? What makes one person achieve that, even though both of them share the same common framework and share the same tools and techniques?

One of the answers could be the difference in the amount of experience. But does experience alone make one successful in what he or she does? What makes one individual to be highly successful as a project manager while another can merely meet the required standards? In many organisations there are a few project managers who are stars and other project managers look up to them. So this makes us clearly see that certain individuals are apt at handling projects in a more successful way than others.

While we say ‘successful project managers’ it is to indicate that these people have a higher rate of success in managing their projects. It does not mean that they do not have failures, but their projects have a higher chance of attaining success.

The psychology of the individual employed may sometimes be the difference between success and failure of a project. What is the relationship between the psychological aspects of the individual and how it affects the way the projects are being handled by different individuals?

Download the Psychology and Project Management whitepaper.

Author avatar
Manikantan Poonkundran
Dr Manikantan Poonkundran is a program manager at IBM in India.
Read more