Know Your People


In project speak this is people resources and their capabilities.

Table of Contents

Who have you got?

What people resources are at you disposal? Are they full time, part time, internal or external? These factors will influence how easy it will be to control your team and resources. External people need to be monitored closely to ensure you derive the best value from them. Working as a consultant for many years, I have always been staggered by the number of companies that hire me and then have nothing set up for me when I arrive. (Eg Sign on to the system). This results in a very relaxed first day while everyone rushes about trying to put it all in place. I don’t mind as I am still going to bill you for a day. If there is nothing for me to do then get me off the site as quickly as possible. Consultants waiting for work burn through your budget. Also watch them like a hawk to ensure that additional work is not “invented”, excessive documentation being a favourite. Remember it is in my interest as a consultant to sit on that seat as long as possible and get paid. Use me wisely and you get value for my knowledge. Use me poorly and you get my knowledge at a cost.

Are the internal people from many departments? Will they all report directly to you or not? All this will affect how you need to handle your team. Where you do not have direct authority a much more persuasive approach has to be taken. You will need to spend time getting managerial support for what you need them to do.

Where ever possible go for full time. Part time people are rarely as productive. Why? Well there is a “start up” curve every time they switch from one activity (the day job) to another (the project). This costs time. Part timers are often not available when you actually need them or at an important moment are called away to sort out problems with their other job. People may promise them half time but experience shows that you will very lucky if you get them for that without keeping on top of the associated managers. If you do have to accept part timers then aim for whole days when they are dedicated to your project and better still are located in the project room away from their normal desks so there are no interruptions away from project work.

When have you got them?

When will they become available? It will be a minor miracle if your project starts on the day originally planned. Last minutes hiccups in approval of budgets or signing of contracts usually results in late start. You can also bet your bottom dollar that they still want it delivered on the original end date.  In these cases it is common to find that the resources you have been given are not available immediately. Perhaps they were available but the delayed start has meant they have been given other temporary assignments.

If availability is unclear it will impact your project unless you get it sorted out quickly. Some stamping of feet is often required or being very persuasive (call in the heavies or escalate). For the project to work you must have the people when you need them not when other people say you can have them. Compromising is only second best and can still wreck any plans.

Do not be fobbed off by Externals not coming free from other projects. You are paying so you can have them when you want them. It is their problem. Let’s not get soft about this.


What are their capabilities

This is a tricky one so tread carefully. You need to find out what your people can and can not do well. This is their capabilities not to be confused with behaviour or personalities. How can you play to someone’s strength if you do not know what it is? You need to know how good they really are not how good they say they are. CV’s are one place to start but be careful as they are subject to the personalities of the people that wrote them. Generally the details can be a little overstated (everyone will want to look as good as possible). For a shy person, they can even be understated. So always treat CV’s with caution. Phrases like “I worked on project X” may mean they were a lead developer or just someone helping out. Really only use these as a guide to what people should be capable of. The information then needs to be corroborated by evidence of things done in the past or by what other people say about them. In today’s appraisal systems you are supposed to be perfect at everything as you get marked down for any weaknesses. Because of this, people are unlikely to admit that they are not very good at something.

The secret is in what everyone thinks of each other. How good a person thinks he is can be very different to how good everyone else says he is. Talk to everybody, managers included and then cross compare you notes to get a clear picture.

Now you find that some are not that good. Well, you have a few options here.

How well do they fit together?

We are talking teams, behaviours and personalities here. You are not only assembling a team with the right capabilities but also a team that will perform well together. Here is a simple technique to help you to do this.

Leftie and rightie

Using this technique you grade people on a score from 1 to 5 for how much they show a tendency to be a leftie or a rightie. A score of 5 shows the most extreme tendencies, so a R5 is a complete an utter control freak. An R1 is someone who shows only a few controlling tendencies. People can show left and right characteristics but one will dominate more than another. Most people will span a small area. So someone may show L1 àR2 behaviour with their mean (average) position being about R1 so they are a bit of a rightie at heart.


Generally people will show their mean position when under stress. However you can modify your behaviour so that you move to the left or right as required by a situation remembering that you will tend to snap back to the mean when things get tough. Typically people can move themselves one or two positions in either direction by acting the part.

So go and have some fun and score all the people in your project based on behaviours you have witnessed.

A good team needs a mix of righties and lefties. The far lefties are shy technical wizards, far righties are accountants (just joking!). You need righties to dot the i’s and cross the t’s and make sure everything is done. They are the methodical ones. Extreme lefties (L5+) may be brilliant thinkers but can be emotionally demanding, unreliable and loose canons in the team. Similarly an extreme rightie ( R5+) can become exceedingly awkward and stubborn. Both can be very destructive to a team and need careful handling. L5 and R5 have the potential to be wreckers. These are people who do not fit easily into the team and are typically always cynical or complaining. They look for fault and put themselves forward as “constructive critics” but are really just nasty individuals who gain enjoyment from upsetting others.

If you have all of one end or the other you are in for a tough time and should consider changing people or emigrating. A broad mix is great. If they cluster just to one side or another then do not worry too much as some of the team can modify their behaviour to slide into the other side. An L1 can behave as an R2 for this particular project if you give him the R2 type responsibilities and request R2 type behaviour from him.

In a similar way an R4 can lighten up and move to a R2 position with encouragement.



You are aiming here to have a mix of people that will let you build a competent and cohesive team. Even if you have to take what you a lumbered with (the usual case) you can at least get a feel for the difficulties ahead and start making plans for it (like packing your suitcase or trying to get some other resources from somewhere else).

During the course of a project the team is often changed and reformed as different people are required for the different tasks involved. Always keep an eye on the leftie/rightie profile to make sure you do  not introduce a wrecker or end up with a team of air-heads that get nothing done (all far lefties) or doers who can not come with solutions (all far righties). Typically in a Design-Develop-Build-Test cycles you want more leftie behaviour in Design and Develop stages, and more rightie behaviour in Build and Test. Remember that you can nudge people up and down the scale a few places if needed.

It has always been a mystery why organizations insist on people with “full project life cycle” experience when widely differing skills sets and behaviours are needed at the start from the finish. A good project manager will draw on resources that best match the team and tasks that need to be performed. 

25 January 2009 (2)