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Human Resources Management

It is somewhat surprising that Human Resources Management (HRM) knowledge for project management is rather elementary, in that project management guidelines deal inadequately with the topic. They refer project managers to external HRM literature (Pollack 2007). Yet the 'people' aspect is present in all project activities; it is the human component that completes projects and not the processes and structures as they exist on paper.


In line with the current functionalistic approach to project management, centralised control over team members tends to dominate team dynamics. The project manager is perceived to be an expert in project management and knows best how to respond to crises (Pollack 2007). The particular characteristics of project-oriented organisations, however, have created specific challenges for HRM practices, and new approaches are required (Huemann et al. 2007; Bredillet 2008). The nature of HRM within the operations of project-based organisations can be identified as follows:

• A strong project management culture, but weak HRM culture. People in project teams often work in stressful situations because of the expectations to complete the project as soon as possible in order to gain the promised benefits as early as possible.

• Recognition of the temporary nature of projects. By definition, every project is unique, with differences in duration, scope and complexity, and requires a human resources configuration that suits it. People on projects experience uncertainty about the continuation of their position from project to project. This causes stress about two possibilities: reassignment to a new project or release from the organisation itself.

• The dynamic nature of projects. The nature of projects is constantly changing in terms of their scope, size and position vis-a-vis other projects. Employees are expected to be multi-skilled, adaptive and flexible without necessarily receiving the guarantee of permanent employment.

• A changing external environment. Projects exist in the broader world, influenced by factors such as globalisation, diversity of the workforce, expectations to share knowledge, and networking with current or potential partners.

• The need to interact with higher levels of management. Projects are vertically integrated for strategic reasons through governance processes and structures. HRM activities need refinement to provide support to governance.

Among the changes required is altering the mindset of project managers from exercising control to one that welcomes suggestions from the team. The project would co-evolve through participation of the project team and other stakeholders. Instead of emphasising being the leader of the project, the project manager becomes its facilitator and draws on the strengths inherent in the team. Team learning replaces management control. Greater collaboration is sought with other levels of organisational management to overcome project- versus-management barriers and distinctions.


Efforts to increase knowledge sharing among project members can readily be justified. Ignorance of each other's project knowledge or superficial knowledge transfer causes opportunities to be missed or to be under-exploited. Gaining insight into team members' knowledge and attitudes leads to better project management decisions and to colleagues' better understanding of each other's behaviour. This leads to improved reciprocal working relationships.

Accepting that knowledge sharing is desirable, the previous 'essentialist' attitude to project members changes to one that empowers them. Under the former, project members are seen to be passive and unwilling to participate in leading the team, and have a strong, insular relationship with their particular area of expertise. The latter encourages team members to share knowledge with stakeholders of the project and their colleagues. The right culture has to exist, which, according to Trawler (1997: 301), has 'moved from a position of seeing culture as enacted to a view of culture as at least partially constructed by social actors'. In other words, today's project members play an important role in shaping the knowledge culture and influence its manifestations through the attitudes they display.

The concept of knowledge is a sophisticated one, as there are many manifestations. Most commonly, knowledge is classified as tacit and explicit.

Tacit knowledge is a highly personal, subjective form of knowledge that is usually informal and can be inferred from the statements of others; it is personal, context-specific and therefore hard to formalise and communicate (Nonaka and Takeuchi 1995). Explicit knowledge, by contrast, can be expressed in print or through electronic media, transmitted through formal channels, stored and shared between individuals and groups of people through networks such as the internet, an intranet or extranet (Alavi and Leidner 2001).

Examples of knowledge sharing are easy to find in project work. A member who has participated in numerous projects would have accumulated tacit knowledge on 'what works and what does not'. When starting on a new project, he/she will transfer this form of tacit knowledge, person-to-person. By contrast, explicit knowledge, contained in supporting project material and notes, is tangible and suits itself to documentary storage and transfer. Neither tacit nor explicit forms of knowledge exist or operate independently when project knowledge is transferred. They are mutually dependent and work side by side, reinforcing the generation of new knowledge for the recipient.

The dearest evidence of current knowledge sharing is during the 'lessons learned' phase. Experiences of the project team are established, recorded, and recommendations are made for future projects. This repository is examined by the project auditor as it provides information about the conduct of the project. The auditor examines the adequacy of the policies and procedures to ensure that improvements are made for subsequent projects. Activities should take place soon after the project is closed and involve all team members, managers and stakeholders. Insights are provided into what went right and what went wrong. The following are examples of 'lessons learned' from completed projects (Barkley 2004):

• Examples of 'What Went Right':

° Little or no scope creep.

° Resources to resolve problems were allocated quickly.

° Contingency plan was in place when required.

° Communications within team was good.

° Team was highly proficient, professionally and technically. ° Project manager was flexible in responding to team issues. • Examples of 'What Went Wrong':

° Project changes created resources issues.

° Project staff were not always trained.

° Ineffective version control of documents.

° Stress created by long working hours.

° Schedules were not accurate.

° Team sometimes did not understand the 'big picture'.

Relevance of Human Resource Management to Project Risk Governance

The performance of PRG depends largely on the manner in which organisational members accept their roles and carry out their responsibilities. Currently, HRM knowledge for project management is lacking, and non-existent for the more specialised PRG domain. Those responsible for PRG need to recognise the unique nature of projects since their impermanence determines the team dynamics. Uncertainty a bout tenure and career prospects may affect attitudes and motivations towards project activities, including risk management. The willingness to share knowledge among team members determines how effectively and efficiently project risks are identified, analysed and responded to. Project managers have to become more of a facilitator than a controller in the way they lead their teams. At the organisational level, senior management will have to align their approach to PRG with the dynamic project risk environment.

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