The People vs Precision

05. 10. 17 John Chapman

My plans are not working

Have you worked on a project where you produce a plan, issue it out, then little happens. So you revise the plan, put in more detail, clarify exact periods, start times and end times, specific individuals, with ever increasing levels of granularity, and still there is no progress? Yet the plan is detailed, precise, exact, meticulous and particular.

Precision & Exactitude

We see all around us ever greater levels of precision. A mobile phone can now tell our exact location. My desk, located at TouchstoneFMS Ltd, Triton Square, London, is North 51 Degrees, 52 minutes 55.299 seconds, and West -0 degrees, 14 minutes 05.259 seconds.

Apps are available for tracking, for scheduling, to do lists, driving directions, travel alerts, banking for immediate access to the account balance, health and fitness showing distance, average pace, maximum pace, average speed, maximum speed, calories and so forth. The lists in the different App Stores appear to be endless. This technology can create a false sense of security; that we know where we are and where we are going.

Project Management

A project plan, prepared in a tool like Microsoft Project, has settings for start time, end time, hours in the day, and working days in the month. Durations can be entered in months, weeks, days, hours or minutes. The calendar can be configured as Gregorian, Hijri, or Thai Buddhist. Activities can be scheduled with successor and predecessors defined. The baseline set and the actual start and actual finish compared against the baseline. Resource assignments as full day or part of a day with % allocation. Today’s activities pushed out by email, calendars updated automatically. Time sheets are completed and the actual time compared to the planned time.

For some projects, those akin to painting by numbers, this is appropriate. You follow a fixed routine, a set of activities, one after the other. All the deliverables can be listed, the resources identified and the end goal defined. These projects appear to be easy. The methodology works so we convince ourselves it can be used elsewhere. Yet this is not the case.


In project management there are different types of complexity, one of which is ‘Socio Political’. This is about "soft skills, relationships, personalities and behaviours that arise under stress. It’s not obvious how to manage a group of clients and stakeholders who change their minds and who behave in infinitely complex ways, especially under pressure".

Soft skills are the hardest skills

Ever greater levels of detail in a plan, tracking of actual time, setting of constraints, defining deliverables like a Hayes Manual is not appropriate where there is Socio Political complexity. What is required are a different set of skills. There are the terms ‘soft skills’ and ‘hard skills’. It is the soft skills that are the hardest skills to develop. They require emotional maturity, tolerance, an open mind, mental strength, and a willingness to listen.

What to do?

In the RICS publication Stakeholder Engagement there are ten key principles each with suggestions on actions to take. Three are listed here as a start point to consider.

  • Principle 1: Communicate. Investigate people’s preferred method of communication … and then adopt these accordingly.
  • Principle 2: Consult Early and Often. Ask questions about who the stakeholders are and once these have been defined, identify their objectives, success criteria, constraints …
  • Principle 3: Remember they’re only human. It is important to operate with an awareness of human feelings and these feelings … will usually determine the success or failure of the initiative.


"Treat people … as unique human beings, irrational at times, emotional, forgetful, with their own agendas, power, and fears. These are people with whom you can, and sometimes should, have conversations with, who may pleasantly surprise you with their responses and ideas" .

Once you have communicated with them, listened, considered, and thought about how this works in the context of the project, then it is time to start planning.

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John Chapman

Written by:

John Chapman

Programme Director