A Balance of Soft + Hard Skills = Project Success!

There’s something to be learned from unsuccessful projects, especially if you can relate the failure to either a ‘soft’ or a ‘hard’ skill. 

Improve Project Success by Balancing Soft and Hard Skills

The ability to successfully deliver a project is an increasingly important skill. However, many project managers are not able to successfully deliver projects because they lack hard skills. Soft skills describe a person’s ability to interact with other people in a positive and cooperative manner, while hard skills involve the creation of a deliverable using a method and a tool.

For projects to be successful they need a balance of soft and hard skills. While a focus on one or the other skill does not preclude project success on its own, in our experience there will always be a higher chance of project success if both skills exist.

Defining Soft and Hard Skills

Soft Skills

  • More intangible and less visible.
  • Relate to interpersonal skills and their challenges.
  • Typically employed with the use of methods, tools or templates.

Hard Skills

  • More tangible and visible.
  • Relate to technical skills and their solution.
  • Typically employed with the use of methods, tools and templates.

Commonly referred to as ‘soft skills’, interpersonal skills include traits such as leadership, communication, negotiation, expectations management, influencing, problem-solving and decision-making. Soft skills are largely intangible, not associated with a deliverable and are generally employed without the use of methods, tools or templates.

On the other hand, ‘hard skills’ relate to the technical aspect of a project managers role and involves the creation of a tangible deliverable such as a work breakdown structure, critical path diagram, project estimates, project schedule, Monte Carlo simulations and earned value reports, each of which involves the use of methods, tools and templates.

Comparing Soft and Hard Skills

Soft Skills

  • Managing expectations.
  • Resolving conflicts.
  • Decision making.
  • Problem solving.
  • Communicating.
  • Negotiations.
  • Influencing.
  • Motivating.
  • Leading.

Hard Skills

  • Work breakdown structures.
  • Critical path analysis.
  • Risk management.
  • Variance analysis.
  • Earned value.
  • Dashboards.
  • Schedules.
  • Budgets.
  • Metrics.

Generally, project managers feel more comfortable with one skill or the other. Some by their very nature are effective leaders and communicators, however maybe less adept at creating plans, schedules and assessing risk. Others may thrive creating project deliverables such as schedules, critical path analysis, risk management and variance analysis, however may lack the abilities to effectively lead resources on their teams, or to appropriately communicate project deliverables and their status to an audience.

Assessing Soft and Hard Skills

Pause for a moment and perform a quick self-assessment. Is your organisation, team or yourself more comfortable leading, making decisions and resolving conflicts than developing high-quality schedules, assessing variance and reporting project status? Similarly, are you equally adept at negotiating with vendors as you are with developing effort, duration and cost estimates for resources?

Summarising Soft and Hard Skills

Projects very often fail. They are late, over-budget and/or they fail to deliver the outcome they were designed to produce. Project failure relates to a deficiency in soft and/or hard skills. Recognising most project professionals have strong soft skills, pminsight improves your projects chance of success by focusing solely on the hard skills of project scheduling, risk assessment and variance analysis.

These are just a few of the soft or hard skills that cause project failure. Do you have any others to add? Let us know in the comments. Alternatively, if any of your project failures are attributable to a lack of hard skills, then please contact us for an obligation free consultation.

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