The Intersection of Art and Science

At present writing, it has been my privilege to instruct for four years at the University of Arizona.  I’ve led six courses where student teams were formed and responsible for selecting and initiating, planning, executing, and closing and realizing an actual project.  From the first class I taught, students have been responsible for capturing Lessons Learned as part of project closure.

Here is a histogram of the distribution of those Lessons Learned across the ten Project Management Institute (PMI) Knowledge Areas:

May 2014 Lessons Learned Chart

In my last blog post, I made some observations about the order, specifically the prominence of the Human Resources, Communication, and Risk Knowledge Areas toward the top of the list.  (I also temporarily discounted the supremacy of Time, for reasons also published on 05/20/14.)

Let’s look at some of the excerpts from student team Lessons Learned documents.  All of the following are associated with the Human Resources Knowledge Area:

  • “The team may have performed better if team members had met for reasons outside of the project, such as having dinner together.”
  • “It is helpful to share personality types with the team (such as using the Myers Briggs assessment).”

Getting to know the other members of the team may seem like an indulgence of time that a project can ill afford.  Yet in the next comment, notice how the following student team links the soft skills of human resource management to the hard skill of risk.

  • “Internal team difficulties proved to be the largest project risk.”

This intersection is intriguing for a variety of reasons – including that it is often overlooked.  Yet, are we missing an opportunity to achieve excellence in project management?  Much like Steve Jobs saw the intersection of art and science as necessary to innovation, project managers must view human resource management (art) and risk management (science) as inextricably linked.

It is also interesting to note the language used in the third comment.  Not “internal team difficulties were a risk to the project.”  They were the largest project risk.  If we think about all three comments together, we can derive a more robust message:  When we better understand each other – through personality assessments, social engagements, or other non-work related events – team performance is positively impacted.  Individual contributors start to coalesce into a team.  The team moves from the storming to the norming (or performing) stage.  Engagement improves.  Performance improves.

Right Management published a study in 2009 entitled, Employee Engagement: Maximizing Organizational Performance.  They surveyed 28,810 employees from the Americas, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific and found “there is a strong relationship between the level of employee engagement and organizational performance.  Employees who indicated that their organizations were one of the best performers reported double the level of engagement compared to employees who reported average organizational performance” (p. 9).

Employee EngagementSource:  2009.  Right Management.  Employee Engagement: Maximizing Organizational Performance

There is no reason we cannot translate those findings to a smaller scale: chiefly, the project.  What will your project gain with an investment into team-building strategies?


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