The Organizational Staffing Process

Staffing the project organization can become a long and tedious effort, especially on large and complex engineering projects. Three major questions must be answered:

• What people resources are required?

• Where will the people come from?

• What type of project organizational structure will be best?

To determine the people resources required, the types of individuals (possibly job descriptions) must be decided on, as well as how many individuals from each job category are necessary and when these individuals will be needed.

Consider the following situation: As a project manager, you have an activity that requires three separate tasks, all performed within the same line organization. The line manager promises you the best available resources right now for the first task but cannot make any commitments beyond that. The line manager may have only below-average workers available for the second and third tasks. However, the line manager is willing to make a deal with you. He can give you an employee who can do the work but will only give an average performance. If you accept the average employee, the line manager will guarantee that the employee will be available to you for all three tasks. How important is continuity to you? There is no clearly definable answer to this question. Some people will always want the best resources and are willing to fight for them, whereas others prefer continuity and dislike seeing new people coming and going. The author prefers continuity, provided that the assigned employee has the ability to do the up-front planning needed during the first task. The danger in selecting the best employee is that a higher-priority project may come along, and you will lose the employee; or if the employee is an exceptional worker, he may simply be promoted off your project.

Sometimes, a project manager may have to make concessions to get the right people. For example, during the seventh, eighth, and ninth months of your proj -

9 Ramesh P. Shah, ''Cross Your Bridges Before You Come to Them," Management Review, December 1971, p. 21.

ect you need two individuals with special qualifications. The functional manager says that they will be available two months earlier, and that if you don't pick them up then, there will be no guarantee of their availability during the seventh month. Obviously, the line manager is pressuring you, and you may have to give in. There is also the situation in which the line manager says that he'll have to borrow people from another department in order to fulfill his commitments for your project. You may have to live with this situation, but be very careful—these employees will be working at a low level on the learning curve, and overtime will not necessarily resolve the problem. You must expect mistakeshere.

Line managers often place new employees on projects so they can be upgraded. Project managers often resent this and immediately go to top management for help. If a line manager says that he can do the work with lower-level people, then the project manager must believe the line manager. After all, the line manager, not the assigned employees, make the commitment to do the work, and it is the line manager's neck that is stuck out.

Mutual trust between project and line managers is crucial, especially during staffing sessions. Once a project manager has developed a good working relationship with employees, the project manager would like to keep those individuals assigned to his activities. There is nothing wrong with a project manager requesting the same administrative and/or technical staff as before. Line managers realize this and usually agree to it.

There must also be mutual trust between the project managers themselves. Project managers must work as a total team, recognize each other's needs, and be willing to make decisions that are in the best interest of the company.

Once the resources are defined, the next question must be whether staffing will be from within the existing organization or from outside sources, such as new hires or consultants. Outside consultants are advisable if, and only if, internal manpower resources are being fully utilized on other programs, or if the company does not possess the required project skills. The answer to this question will indicate which organizational form is best for achievement of the objectives. The form might be a matrix, product, or staff project management structure.

Not all companies permit a variety of project organizational forms to exist within the main company structure. Those that do, however, consider the basic questions of classical management before making a decision. These include:

• How is labor specialized?

• What should the span of management be?

• How much planning is required?

• Are authority relationships delegated and understood?

• Are there established performance standards?

• What is the rate of change of the job requirements?

• Should we have a horizontal or vertical organization?

• What are the economics?

• What are the morale implications?

• Do we need a unity-of-command position?

As in any organization, the subordinates can make the superior look good in the performance of his duties. Unfortunately, the project environment is symbolized by temporary assignments in which the main effort put forth by the project manager is to motivate his (temporary) subordinates toward project dedication and to make them fully understand that:

• Teamwork is vital for success.

• Esprit de corps contributes to success.

• Conflicts can occur between project and functional tiers.

• Communication is essential for success.

• Conflicting orders may be given by the:

• Project manager

• Functional manager

• Upper-level manager

• Unsuccessful performance may result in transfer or dismissal from the project as well as disciplinary action.

Earlier we stated that a project operates as a separate entity but remains attached to the company through company administration policies and procedures. Although project managers can establish their own policies, procedures, and rules, the criteria for promotion must be based on company standards. Therefore, we can ask:

• What commitments can a project manager make to his prospective subordinates?

• What promises can a project manager make regarding an individual's assignment after termination?

The first question involves salary, grade, responsibility, evaluation for promotion, bonuses, and overtime pay. There are many documented cases of project managers promising subordinates "the world" as a means of motivating them, when in fact the managers knew that these promises could not be kept.

The second question deals with the equity principle of job reassignment. According to Martin:10

After reassignment at the end of his tour on a project, a person should have the same prospects for the future that he would have had if he had performed equally well (or badly) in a normal assignment not connected with the project during the same period.

10 Charles C. Martin, Project Management: How to Make It Work (New York: AMACOM, A Division of American Management Associations, 1976), p. 41. Reprinted with permission of the publisher, from Project Management: How to Make It Work (p. 41) by Charles Martin, © 1976 AMACOM, a division of the American Management Association. All rights reserved.

After unkept promises on previous projects, a project manager will find it very difficult to get top-quality personnel to volunteer for another project. Even if top management orders key individuals to be assigned to his project, they will always be skeptical about any promises that he may make.

Selecting the project manager is only one-third of the staffing problem. The next step, selecting the project office personnel and team members, often can be a time-consuming chore. The project office consists of personnel who are usually assigned as full-time members of the project. In selecting the project office staff, the project manager first must evaluate all potential candidates, whether or not they are assigned to another project. This evaluation process should include active project team members, functional team members available for promotion or transfer, and outside applicants.

Upon completion of the evaluation process, the project manager meets with upper-level management. This coordination is required to assure that:

• All assignments fall within current policies on rank, salary, and promotion.

• The individuals selected can work well with both the project manager (formal reporting) and upper-level management (informal reporting).

• The individuals selected have good working relationships with the functional personnel.

Good project office personnel cannot be trained overnight. Good training is usually identified as experience with several types of projects. Project managers do not "train" project office members, primarily because time constraints do not often permit this luxury. Project office personnel must be self-disciplined, especially during the first few assignments.

The third and final step in the staffing of the project office is a meeting between the project manager, upper-level management, and the project manager on whose project the requested individuals are currently assigned. Project managers are very reluctant to give up qualified personnel to the staff of other project offices, but unfortunately, this procedure is a way of life in a project environment. Upper-level management attends these meetings to show all negotiating parties that top management is concerned with maintaining the best possible mix of individuals from available resources and to help resolve staffing conflicts. Staffing from within is a negotiation process in which upper-level management establishes the ground rules and priorities.

The selected individuals are then notified of the anticipated change and asked their opinions. If individuals have strong resentment to being transferred or reassigned, alternate personnel may be selected because projects cannot operate effectively under discontented managers. Upper-level managers, however, have the authority to direct changes regardless of the desires of the individuals concerned.

Figure 4-8 shows the major concern that project managers have in employee selection. In order to avoid the loss of key people, project managers should seek

Figure 4-8.

What happens to your project if you lose a key employee?

Figure 4-8.

What happens to your project if you lose a key employee?

employees who have the necessary (not superior) skills and use these resources only when needed. Hoarding good talent unnecessarily creates organizational conflict.

Figure 4-9 shows the typical staffing pattern as a function of time. There is a manpower buildup in the early phases and a manpower decline in the later stages. This means that the project manager should bring people on board as needed and release them as early as possible.

There are several psychological approaches that the project manager can use during the recruitment and staffing process. Consider the following:

• Line managers often receive no visibility or credit for a job well done. Be willing to introduce line managers to the customer.

• Be sure to show people how they can benefit by working for you or on your project.

• Any promises made during recruitment should be documented. The functional organization will remember them long after your project terminates.

• As strange as it may seem, the project manager should encourage conflicts to take place during recruiting and staffing. These conflicts should be brought to the surface and resolved. It is better for conflicts to be resolved during the initial planning stages than to have major confrontations later.

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Figure 4-9. Staffing pattern versus time.

Most companies have both formal and informal guidelines for the recruiting and assigning of project personnel. Below are examples of such guidelines as defined by Charles Martin:11

• Unless some other condition is paramount, project recruiting policies should be as similar as possible to those normally used in the organization for assigning people to new jobs.

• Everyone should be given the same briefing about the project, its benefits, and any special policies related to it. For a sensitive project, this rule can be modified to permit different amounts of information to be given to different managerial levels, but at least everyone in the same general classification should get the same briefing. It should be complete and accurate.

• Any commitments made to members of the team about treatment at the end of the project should be approved in advance by general management. No other commitments should be made.

• Every individual selected for a project should be told why he or she was chosen.

• A similar degree of freedom should be granted all people, or at least all those within a given job category, in the matter of accepting or declining a project assignment.

This last one is a major consideration in the recruiting process: How much discretion is to be given to the employee concerning the proposed assignment? Several degrees of permissiveness appear possible:

11 Reprinted with permission of the publisher, from Project Management: How to Make It Work (p. 241) by

Charles Martin, © 1976 AMACOM, a division of the American Management Association. All rights reserved.

• The project is explained and the individual is asked to join and given complete freedom to decline, no questions asked.

• The individual is told he will be assigned to the project. However, he is invited to bring forward any reservations he may have about joining. Any sensible reason he offers will excuse him from the assignment.

• The individual is told he is assigned to the project. Only a significant personal or career preference is accepted as a reason for excusing him from joining the project.

• The individual is assigned to the project as he would be to any other work assignment. Only an emergency can excuse him from serving on the project team.

The recruitment process is not without difficulties. What is unfortunate is that problems of recruiting and retaining good personnel are more difficult in a project organizational structure than in one that is purely traditional. Clayton Reeser identifies nine potential problems related to personnel that can exist in project organizations:12

• Personnel connected with project forms of organization suffer more anxieties about possible loss of employment than members of functional organizations.

• Individuals temporarily assigned to matrix organizations are more frustrated by authority ambiguity than permanent members of functional organizations.

• Personnel connected with project forms of organization that are nearing their phase-out are more frustrated by what they perceive to be "make work" assignments than members of functional organizations.

• Personnel connected with project forms of organization feel more frustrated because of lack of formal procedures and role definitions than members of functional organizations.

• Personnel connected with project forms of organization worry more about being set back in their careers than members of functional organizations.

• Personnel connected with project forms of organization feel less loyal to their organization than members of functional organizations.

• Personnel connected with project forms of organization have more anxieties in feeling that there is no one concerned about their personal development than members of functional organizations.

• Permanent members of project forms of organization are more frustrated by multiple levels of management than members of functional organizations.

• Frustrations caused by conflict are perceived more seriously by personnel connected with project forms of organization than members of functional organizations.

Grinnell and Apple have identified four additional major problems associated with staffing:13

12 Clayton Reeser, "Some Potential Human Problems of the Project Form of Organization," Academy of Management Journal, Vol. XII, 1969, pp. 462-466.

13 S. K. Grinnell and H. P. Apple, "When Two Bosses Are Better Than One," Machine Design, January 1975, pp. 84-87.

• People trained in single line -of-command organizations find it hard to serve more than one boss.

• People may give lip service to teamwork, but not really know how to develop and maintain a good working team.

• Project and functional managers sometimes tend to compete rather than cooperate with each other.

• Individuals must learn to do more "managing" of themselves.

Thus far we have discussed staffing the project. Unfortunately, there are also situations in which employees must be terminated from the project because of:

• Nonacceptance of rules, policies, and procedures

• Nonacceptance of established formal authority

• Professionalism being more important to them than company loyalty

• Their stressing technical competency at the expense of the budget and schedule

• Incompetency

There are three possible solutions for working with incompetent personnel. First, the project manager can provide an on-the-spot appraisal of the employee. This includes identification of weaknesses, corrective action to be taken, and threat of punishment if the situation continues. The second solution for incompetency is reassignment of the employee to less critical activities. This solution is usually not preferred by project managers. The third solution, and the most frequent one, is the removal of the employee.

Project managers have the right to get people removed from their projects, especially for incompetence. However, although project managers can get project office people (who report to the project manager) removed directly, the removal of a line employee is an indirect process and must be accomplished through the line manager. The removal of the line employee should be made to look like a transfer; otherwise the project manager will be branded as an individual who gets people fired from his projects.

Executives must be ready to cope with the staffing problems that can occur in a project environment. C. Ray Gullett has summarized these major problems:14

• Staffing levels are more variable in a project environment.

• Performance evaluation is more complex and more subject to error in a matrix form of organization.

• Wage and salary grades are more difficult to maintain under a matrix form of organization. Job descriptions are often of less value.

• Training and development are more complex and at the same time more necessary under a project form of organization.

• Morale problems are potentially greater in a matrix organization.

14 C. Ray Gullett, "Personnel Management in the Project Environment," Personnel Administration/Public Personnel Review, November-December 1972, pp. 17-22.

Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

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