Project management is a discipline comprised of planning, organizing, and managing available resources, which results in meeting or exceeding project goals and objectives. Included in project management methodology are specific start and completion dates, as well as emphasis on constraints such as quality, scope, budget and time.

In Green Belt training, project management may be covered in anywhere from an hour to a week’s worth of classes. But no training is complete without mention of the most important, and often most overlooked, element of project management: the human element. Regardless of the time and energy spent in conceptualizing, planning or monitoring projects, the performance of the people involved with a project will ultimately determine whether the project is successful.

The Role of Relations

Obviously, people are highly complex and no two people are alike. When working as a team, individual attributes result in complex relationships. The strength of these relationships will directly impact the project as well as interactions among the project team members. When project teams work well together and, most important, communicate well together, the project moves forward smoothly. Few surprises arise because everyone keeps each other informed, and feedback flows between team members.

On the other side of the coin, when poor working relationships are present, every aspect of project management can feel like an uphill battle. Team members keeping information to themselves is a common root cause; however, the lack of communication resulting in a duplication of efforts or the omission of other efforts can also derail a project.

Two influential methodologies, Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and David Merrill and Roger Reid’s The Social Style Model, can be used in training for the human element of project management. By becoming familiar with these methods, Six Sigma practitioners may be better prepared for team work.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, published in 1990, has become one of the primary blueprints for personal development. Originally, there were only seven habits, but Covey has since added an eighth. His habits are:

1. Be proactive. The ability to control one’s environment, rather than have it control you, is sometimes easier said than done. This means making the right choices through self-determination and the power to decide response to conditions, stimulus and circumstances.

2. Begin with the end in mind. From a process improvement point of view, this habit is a must. What are your goals? If you do not know where you are going, how can you control getting there?

3. Put first things first. This habit falls more under the realm of personal management. It is about organizing and implementing activities to achieve the goal from Habit 2.

4. Think win-win. This habit displays a cooperative approach. People realize that there is enough to go around, versus thinking win-lose.

5. Seek first to understand and then to be understood. When a person takes the time to understand another’s point of view, they improve their communication immensely.

6. Synergize. This habit is about working in teams effectively.

7. Sharpen the saw. Covey interprets the self into four parts: the spiritual, mental, physical and the social/emotional, which all need feeding and developing.

8. Find your voice and inspire others to find theirs. This habit primarily deals with personal fulfillment and helping others to achieve fulfillment too.

The Social Style Model

The Social Style Model helps to identify patterns of social behavior. According to this model, there are four styles of behavior: analytical, driving, expressive and amiable. Everyone exhibits characteristics of all the styles, but most people also have one style that they prefer or which dominates their behavior.

The dominant style influences the way people behave, work, interact with others and communicate. One of the benefits of the Social Style Model is that it relies on observable behavior. In other words, people do not have to psychoanalyze themselves to decide what their dominant style is. Instead, they can determine it simply by examining their own behavior.

Social style is inferred from two behavioral dimensions:

  1. Assertiveness – A measure of the degree to which people tend to ask or tend to tell as they interact with others.
  2. Responsiveness – A measure of the degree to which people tend to control their behavior. In other words, it is the degree to which people keep their feelings and emotions inside of them, or conversely, outwardly display their feelings and emotions with others.

Assertiveness is a character trait that varies along a continuum of communication styles. The extremes on each end are “asking” and “telling.” In conjunction with each extreme, there are other behavioral indicators (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Assertiveness Behavioral Indicators
Figure 1: Assertiveness Behavioral Indicators

Responsiveness, however, varies along a continuum of self-expression. The extremes can be thought of as “controlling feelings” and “emoting,” which is showing or revealing feelings. Once again, in conjunction with each extreme, there are other behavioral indicators (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Responsiveness Behavioral Indicators
Figure 2: Responsiveness Behavioral Indicators

Typical process improvement junkies say that a “picture is worth a thousand words,” so the next step is to generate a four-quadrant model, as shown in Figure 3, using the four behavior styles of the Merrill-Reid model.

Figure 3: Social Style Model Assertiveness Matrix
Figure 3: Social Style Model Assertiveness Matrix

Strengths and Challenges of Social Styles

One social style is not better than another, and each style can have benefits. On the other hand, all styles have challenges. Table 1 compares challenges and strengths. 

Table 1: Strengths and Challenges of Four Behavior Styles
Analytical Driving
Strengths Challenges Strengths Challenges
Industrious Critical Strong-willed Pushy
Persistent Indecisive Determined Severe
Serious Stuffy Thorough Tough-minded
Precise Picky Decisive Domineering
Orderly Inflexible Efficient Unfeeling
Amiable Expressive
Strengths Challenges Strengths Challenges
Supportive Conforming Personable Manipulative
Respectful Retiring Stimulating Excitable
Willing Pliable Enthusiastic Undisciplined
Dependable Dependent Dramatic Unrealistic
Agreeable Awkward Friendly Egotistical

Reflex Behavior of Social Styles

Everyone experiences good days and bad. On good days, people are usually at their best. They display their predominant social style and perhaps elements of each of the other three styles. When they are faced with high levels of stress, however, their behavior changes. When faced with pressure, they revert to their dominant social style – and their most negative characteristics, the challenges, come to life. The greater the pressure and stress, the more this reflex behavior takes over. 

Table 2 lists the backup style associated with each of the four social styles. 

Table 2: Dominant and Backup Styles of the Social Style Model
Dominant Style (When things go well) Backup Style (Under pressure or stress)
Analytical Avoiding
Driving Autocratic
Amiable Acquiescing
Expressive Attacking

Differences and Interrelationships in Styles

Each quadrant of the Social Style Model represents 25 percent of the population within countries for which comparative norms have been created. This means that 75 percent of the people with whom a person interacts are likely to have a style different from their own. The implications of this are that most other people have different communication styles and preferences, they prefer to interact and relate differently, they make decisions differently, think differently about time, and have a different pace. 

The Importance of Versatility

The third element to the Social Style Model is versatility, which is a measure of the level of social endorsement accorded to an individual by others. Earning social endorsement hinges on both a person’s ability to impress others and the extent to which others see them working to make a relationship mutually productive. Elements of versatility hinge on how well a person understands their own social style as well as the social style of those they are interacting with, how well they understand the difference among the social style themes, and if they are able to effectively use the appropriate behaviors to meet the social style needs of the people they are interacting with. Surprisingly, most people do much of this adjustment unconsciously or intuitively. 

Guidelines of the Social Style Model

Remember, the Social Style Model is simply a model, and therefore it may be incomplete. Practitioners should use style data and information constructively and analyze others only to improve relationships and to work better together. They should not speak disparagingly about any social style, including their own, even when joking, or use the styles for evaluation or judgment. Also, a practitioner should not use the styles to excuse their own behavior.

With these simple guidelines in mind, the Social Style Model can be useful for understanding and predicting various patterns of behavior. It can help to improve teamwork, problem solving, communication and decision-making elements within project management. 

Think Team Work

Whichever methodology a practitioner follows, be it one of the above or another concept, it is crucial to emphasize the people side of project management. When working together on a team, team members’ individual attributes usually result in complex relationships. The strength of these relationships will directly impact the project, as well as interactions between the project team members.

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