The Soft Skills in a Hard Universe

Around the year 2001 I was asked to create the design for a project management tool that was a little bit different. I never actually thought it would make such an impact on my perception of the success or failure of an IT project, because, well – face it – as an ex-art-student-turned-IT-prof you don’t really want to think about project management. In art school you are taught to handle things on the fly, be ad-hoc and mostly do everything unplanned, because that is art! It is the moment! It is now!

Well, I still feel sorry for the people who were in my class who still think it works that way in the corporate world and wonder why they are always spending time inbetween jobs. But, lets not deviate too much this time of the initial subject. This project management tool was a little bit different than MS Project, Basecamp or what kind of tool you can throw at it. It was solely about project-team management and started to talk about soft skills of the team members and not the ‘real’ or as they named it ‘hard’ skills.

The concept was simple enough, as a team or project manager you should prefer a lower quality team that works well together than a higher quality team that has a lot of social issues going on. I never really thought about that, but that was not that strange, until that time I always worked in small companies where there was a small social structure, you always worked in the same team, and for me the social aspect was always a main reason to accept a job. But at this time I was working with a giant company as a consultant, so often I was working in different teams on different projects.

This was already after I had started my first business, that sunk faster than the Titanic did on that unfortunate night. Because, well, in this perspective, think of it that we were a buch of ‘softies’. We had a team of professionals who got really along well togehter, but there was too little ‘hard’ skill available. So, by the time I worked on this project management tool, I started to understand this a little bit, and the following years and projects I saw how right the people behind this tool were. I have seen many projects get into deadline and overal quality programs because the most perfect people for the job could not get along, or did not want to work according standards. As you can imagine, the client usually was not happy with this, so even though our company could deliver the best of the best for the job, we were not able to deliver a simple product, while in other teams, that were more mediocre but a better team, delivered top notch quality.

Team building, that should be there for this issue, is not always a good idea. If people that are used to a certain social status in a team have to deal with a complete different type of team or social order, it will simply not work out, and team building might actually hurt more than the team and production might benefit from.

The company I am involved with right now has loads of issues, especially with the top management and the board. The side effect though is that the people working in the company share the frustration they have at work and because of that, found common ground, respect for each other except top management, and passion for their work. It became a solid team, capable of creating amazing things. Too bad the production it is running is doomed from the start, and too bad the top management did not realize that the team they had is amazing and could produce one success production after another.

Ah well, dealing with management is also a skill. I don’t know if it is a ‘hard’ skill, but I can tell you that it is hard though.

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