Thoughts of a Project Manager about "Behaviour challenge as Project Manager"

Hi, my name is Abraham. I want to share my experience as project manager. In 2019, I was appointed as project manager from manufacturing to join a newly program led by HR. It was called “HR Digitalization”. Well, the word “Digitalization” has become more common in Indonesia. At that time, the first stage of this project will be focused on manufacturing. The first stage of the project was changing the time scheduling system (absenteeism, paid leave, etc.) from manual to automated by using RFID and self-service. Computer and mobile phones should support this concept of negative input. Do you ask yourself what is the negative input concept? Negative inputs concept is the concept which let us believe that all workers are working following their schedule and they only when they have permission or additional overtime, they need use this system.
A light bulb in the middle of a process circle.
There are two factories, one near Jakarta and the other one near Surabaya. The distance between both factories is 763 km. One thing that make a significant difference between both factories are the demographics.

The people working in the Surabaya factory mostly (more than 75 %) are Generation X and their lowest education is Junior High School. On the other hand, the people of the Jakarta factory mostly (more than 55 %) are Generation Y or Millennials and around 5 % are Generation Z, their lowest education is diploma.

Those demographic conditions affect their behaviour towards changes – especially changes which are related to new technology. Well, but it is not only the workers. I found out that the management also has hardship on changing their behaviour. Starting from the Top until Shop Floor Manager.

And how about the managers? There are three types of managers:

1. Take-it-for-granted-manager

These managers do not care about the project – from the beginning until the end. Even though they are the business owner, they think this project belongs to a project manager and not to them. When a problem arises, they will point finger to us.

2. Micromanagement manager

These managers want to know all the details from the beginning until the end. They think they know the process better because they are the business owner, even though they were not doing the process on a day to day basis. When a problem arises, they will ask us and their subordinates to solve it.

3. Supportive manager

These managers will follow their role in the project. They will give the support in terms of human resources and time. When a problem arises, they will discuss with us and the process owners to find the right solutions.
I always got headache from managers type 1 and type 2.

When we started the test stages, I found out that for the workers from Surabaya it was extremely hard to change their behaviour. What should I do then? I show empathy and listen to their pain points. They were not technology savvy; it is hard for them. Especially the female workers who are older than 50 years. Did you know, even when these women want to withdrawal money from an ATM, they tend to bring their children, who are more technology savvy or even their grandchildren to help them. Sometimes, they ask their younger colleagues for help.  

From their pain points, I found out that they still worry about the system. They said: “What if the RFID is not working? What if the system will read me as absent and I will lose my daily benefit, such as meals, shift incentive and overtime?” They missed that the system uses negative input. Then, we do run test for 3 months, so that they have the experience by themself to see how the system is working. They also give us some feedback to improve the system.

Patience is the key…

I had a little backward on the schedule. However, meet the timeline is another case, the most important is the user’s experience on using the new system. Did they become familiar and have they felt the benefits? Was the system running well in their environment? Were we solving the bugs on the system based on the user feedback?

But, how to deal with type 1 and type 2 managers? The key is to be more assertive as seen below:
  • Servant leadership
  • Open and honest communication
  • Listen actively
  • Agree to disagree
  • Take a problem-solving approach to conflict
  • Be patient and stay calm
Well, it is easy to talk but hard to do. However, I always put this mindset in my mind: Whenever I deal with hardship managers, I “put myself in their shoes”. There are reasons why those managers act like that. By understanding their reasons and showing them my solutions to their reasons, then I can bring them into the same boats. And that will make the project to be successful.
Based on this experience for me to be a successful project manager I have to show empathy to users, find a “human-centred” solution for their pain points, use a servant leadership mindset, be patient and stay calm.
About the author:

Abraham Elias is IAPM Senior Official for the Metropolitan Area Jakarta and a Certified Senior Project Manager (IAPM) as well as a Certified Agile Project Manager (IAPM). He is a graduate Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering and Master of Management from Trisakti University - Jakarta, Indonesia. He has eighteen years of experience in Operational Excellence. Furthermore, Abraham has expertise in Agile Transformation in various organisations and has successfully led major projects to improve productivity and quality.

Key words: Project management, Tip, Guide, Psychology, Communication

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