b-school, HRM, Management, MBA, Project Management, Projects, Thoughts

An unexpected impact of the crisis in project management (no, they are not lazy)

As the new terminal in Barcelona’s airport nears its completion and the trials are increasingly successful, we are increasingly dwelling into the depths of this recession / depression. No manager can have the luxury of forgetting the external environment, as it always impact us somehow, somewhere.

Sometimes project managers tend to think that they are insulated from the rest of the world. They have their budget, their plan, their milestones. Of course there’s a great deal of interaction with the customer and the stakeholders, but sensing the environment isn’t usually deemed necessary.

They are wrong.

I’m not talking here of budget cuts, or milestones changing. That could happen anywhere, anytime. I’m here referring back to an old post: Soft and hard human resource management (utilitarian instrumentalism versus developmental humanism) and the concept of the psychological contract.

There are many definitions of the psychological contract. For our purposes, let’s say that the psychological contract is the assumed relationship between employer and employee that includes a lot more than what’s included in the papers: what you’ll do for me, what you expect from me, including the promises I might have made, the way you expect to be treated, and the expectations you have for the future. Those small things you’ve talked with your boss about and the trust you have in him that they’ll be taken care of. If your boss lied to you, for instance, your psychological contract would be shattered, and your attitude with your job would dramatically change… for worse.

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So, what’s in it for construction workers here? They are usually contracted through companies that have a working relationship with the companies that have been awarded the construction contract. There may be two, three, even four layers of agreements between them and the project. They may even work for several contracts, always ready to switch between one form of contract or another, everything transparent and irrelevant to the direction of the project, apparently.

But, what used to be the reality for them, that they went from one thing to another always having things to do and always earning money in one form or another, no longer holds true. Their expectations have dropped and, for many, next destination is unemployment. They won’t get bulky severance pays as many other layoffs. They will be simply be no longer required and no longer invited to participate in the next move. They will be have unemployment compensations, of course, but I bet they will be lower, for many reasons, than those of other kinds of workers.

So it’s no wonder they psychological contract has been shattered as well, as they expected to be able to keep living as they had been living. Not anymore.

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And when is that going to happen?

The scary thing is that this is going to happen whenever they finish their job.

So, where is the motivation to finish as soon as possible? Do you think their intentions are aligned with the timeframe of the project’s direction? Obviously they are not. If they are not paid lump sums but depending on the days spent working, which is the usual contract as the lump sums are in higher layers, they will take as much time as they can. And with that they will also shatter part of the psychological contract.

I have been observing this effect. And this feeling is dangerously infectious as workers from one contract see workers from others procrastinating as much as they can. Moreover, this has no easy solution, as the usual ways of control are not responding effectively as they were never designed to overcome this threat or to better manage people, but to apportion and divide the value of the contract between several companies. 

Sometimes, when we are thinking of leading our team to peak performance, we are forgetting to look around and realise how things are changing. We can name them however we want, but we can’t forget that, layers below, there is not a collection of resources: they are people.

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One thought on “An unexpected impact of the crisis in project management (no, they are not lazy)

  1. Lazy and Smart s the world of ‘Productive Laziness’ as described in ‘The Lazy Project Manager’ by Peter Taylor.

    The best project managers are lazy but smart

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