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Last week, Americans woke one morning to learn that there had been a shooting on a ball field where Congressional Republicans were practicing for a baseball game. Suddenly, the process of governing this Country took a backseat to the process of caring for colleagues. The unity that Speaker Ryan and Congresswoman Pelosi showed was in contrast to the divisiveness that continued on social media.

People are one of our greatest assets. Yet, stories abound about families, communities, companies, and nations that mistreat their people.

Elon Musk may care about his people enough to sleep on the factory floor but reports of large numbers of stress related injuries clearly paint a picture of a culture driven by aggressive manufacturing efforts.

The recent decision to charge Flint, Michigan officials of involuntary manslaughter in the tainted water crisis evidences a tragedy that occurred because leaders failed in their responsibility to care about the people in their community.

The protests in Minneapolis and London speak volumes. The macro problems may stem from corporate greed, long-held racial biases, or a massive quest for power. I suspect fear is at the root of all of these: fear of change, running out of money, dying at the hands of the police, job safety…. The list is long.

In a corporate world that values speed, and a ‘winner takes all’ philosophy, can we realistically move our society, our organizations, and our project teams into a place that does value people over processes? It’s one of the principles of the Agile Manifesto: “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.”

When I first began thinking about building Smart Projex it was partially due to my frustration with the heavy focus on schedules over people. I kept asking myself if there was a better way to do projects, and Smart Projex was slowly born.

As the creator of a project management tool, one might conclude that I believe tools are important. And they are. But it’s far more important to value people over processes, and that includes the automation of those processes. Here are three reasons why we should keep our focus on the people behind our projects.

Our brains are hard-wired for community.

Increasingly, we read of research that supports the notion that we are hard-wired for sociability, for living and working in community. Even introverts need friends.

According to UCLA professor Matthew Lieberman, in his book, Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect, humans have a basic need to connect socially. It is as vital as food and shelter.

Robert Epstein, senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology writes, “We are, without doubt, built to make social connections.”

Perhaps we should re-think the way we manage our projects in order to maximize the social connections. In other words, we need to pay more attention to people than schedules. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t meet the important deadlines. I’m simply saying that, on many projects, there is a lot of schedule stuff that we can forget.

The key is to identify and meet the critical deadlines. You don’t have to meet every deadline, as long as you know which ones are important.

If you can build teams that are accountable to each other, and ensure that those teams continue to make sufficient progress every day or week, the social bonds should improve. That will go a long way towards helping your teams navigate challenges.

Projects are done by people.

Despite all of the talk about artificial intelligence, we haven’t yet reached the point that humans are obsolete. And so, there will be a lot of humans doing project work for the foreseeable future.

When you’re working on a team project, you rely on a team of people to get the work done. The team could range from a small group of three or four to a much larger group. When you have hundreds of people working on a project – like a major event – you’ve got to figure out how to delegate, communicate, and motivate.

Healthy communities place a high value on healthy people. As you think about ways to value your people, try to avoid an excessive amount of unhealthy behaviors. It’s one thing to splurge on a trip to the bar for special occasions. It’s another thing to make it a regular occurrence.

People work better when they feel valued.

This means that we need to engage in active listening. Most of us don’t have to get our way all of the time. We just want to feel like we’ve been heard.

If your team is having a hard time listening, try using a talking stick. During meetings, the only person allowed to speak is the person with the stick. Insist that the stick be returned to its place in between speakers. This will slow the conversation down and give people time to process what they’ve heard.

Emails is another area when people can feel undervalued and unheard. We need to respond appropriately to emails and other conversations. I am rather amazed at the people who just don’t respond to emails from their colleagues. I understand that some emails don’t require a response and that communications have to stop at some point, but when a colleague has sent you a report, what’s wrong with sending a quick response to let them know you’ve received it?

We need to remember what we learned in kindergarten. Please, thank you, play nicely, be kind, and I’m sorry go a long way in helping to build constructive social bonds. 

What does it look like when a group learns how to value people over processes? I’m pretty sure it’s reflected in how people talk to one another. Colleagues show empathy and respect. When they argue, and they do, they really listen instead of talking over others.

When I watch healthy organizations, younger people are seeking out older colleagues to figure out the wiser course of action, or what years of experience might suggest they do. Older people are talking with the younger generations to better understand the technological implications of this rapidly changing world. When they look for solutions, they search out options that benefit people.

How does your organization value people over processes? Let me know in the comments.