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I'm a software developer. One thing I learned about this a long time ago is that no two developers are the same (experience, skills, etc.). What I learned about project management is that it's ultimately about managing people.

But all PM activities revolve around an uniform term of "resource". I'm a resource, my colleague is a resource, that hardware down the hall is a resource, etc.

I might see project management as an alternative career path, so I'm willing to learn. I want to start with understanding the rational behind dehumanizing people (with all of their different human characteristics and abilities) and calling them just plain "resources".

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    I'm not sure this is truly a question about a pragmatic project management question you face. Nor am I convinced that it dehumanizes people. If you don't like the term, don't use it; if you're right, your resources will exhibit gratitude based increases in productivity & quality behaviors. <grin> – Mark C. Wallace Oct 15 '13 at 12:27
  • I second Mark's opinion, the question may tend to raise more debate than a proper answer... – Tiago Cardoso Oct 15 '13 at 12:46
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    For the same reason that HR stands for "Human Resources." – Todd A. Jacobs Oct 15 '13 at 14:22
  • @CodeGnome: good point :) – Bug Oct 15 '13 at 19:45
  • I've cleaned your question up a bit to remove things that might get your post closed as a rant, or that make it look like a polling question. Hopefully, I've managed to keep the spirit of your original question intact. If not, please go ahead and continue to improve it! – Todd A. Jacobs Oct 15 '13 at 22:54
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Managing your resources--making tough decisions on how to deploy your financial, tools, materials, and humans--to minimize the threat of failure and maximize the likelihood of success AND treating people kindly, humanly, and with respect are two different things.

It is YOUR definition that makes a resource a thing. Dictionary.com defines it as: a source of supply, support, or aid, especially one that can be readily drawn upon when needed.

That certainly can apply to humans.

The bottom line is, however, that managing is about the deployment of resources and behind many of those decisions are ones that can be quite inhumane. We are all different with different strengths and weaknesses, our collective performance varies, our individual performance varies, we are the least reliable resource of all resources, all of us can be replaced, and no project or company exists so that a human can have a job; it exists to make a product or service to make money or some other goal. We are simply one of the many enablers to achieve that goal.

It is cold and callous and we all want more loyalty and love from a company, but that only exists in HR literature designed to attract talent. It ends when you sign your contract.

EDIT: When you are managing a performance capability, your goal is to have repeatable, sustainable, and predictable performance. This means all of the enablers you use, the machines and tools, the availability of funds, infrastructure, environment, AND people, need to be replaceable, not unlike a tire. If a cog craps out, you reach into the drawer, grab another, screw it in, and turn the machine back on. Indeed with minimal variances, you can pretty much predict the same level of performance you had with the other cog. If John Smith craps out--quits, dies, gets arrested and convicted--you need to reach in the drawer....

Of course, it is much harder than that, but that's the mentality IF you want repeatable, sustainable, and predictable performance.

If you understand the performance curve, whether you think it is normally distributed or positively skewed, most of your human performance that you will likely get will be severely average. That is what the curve means. We, however, like to kid ourselves that we found superstars, and our hiring selection process continues to find superstars, despite it being statistically unlikely. But if you think about, superstars are the antithesis of repeatable, sustainable, and predictable results. That is because, if your superstar leaves (assuming you really had one), then the likelihood of replacing said superstar is quite low, leaving your performance capability suffering.

All this sounds like I dehumanize. Maybe it is. But again, I do not operate a project so that people have a place to work. If one does not perform, they get replaced just like a cog. And I turn the machine back on. If I happen to get a superstar, icing on the cake, but I do not rely on him/her. Because he/she will leave, die, get sick, get arrested, disappear.

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    I agree with what you posted but you didn't exactly answer my questions. OK, it's me who associated it with "a thing", that's fine, but my question still stands. Why dehumanized? I get we are resources but we should be treated as a different kind of resources. Take the definition you posted: ...that can be readily drawn upon when needed. I guess that if you have a car with a flat tire you replace the tire and you are good to go. With human resources is not as simple because it involves resources with knowledge. I'm interested if this generalization cause any issues down the road? – Bug Oct 15 '13 at 10:56
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    I think your last two paragraphs are perfect, especially when you are planning a project. Just about every company has the superstars at some particular aspect, but you can't count on having them on our project. Every PM and lead wants those people, but they can't work on everything. During planning, dehumanizing helps to not plan based on having the superstar. – Thomas Owens Oct 15 '13 at 14:26
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    And even with non-human resources, there aren't always exact replacements. A cog craps out and you're out and they don't make those anymore. You're a project manager: do you manufacture a replacement, replace the entire machine? What's the best for the project success in the short and long term? Same with people -- they sometimes do need to be replaced and how do you keep the project best on track during that replacement process? It's not that people are considered things, but that all of those are resources needed by the project. – thursdaysgeek Oct 15 '13 at 16:41
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Formal Definition

Wikipedia defines a resource as follows:

A resource is a source or supply from which benefit is produced. Typically resources are materials, money, services, staff, or other assets that are transformed to produce benefit and in the process may be consumed or made unavailable.

Why People are "Resources"

People are the source of creativity and human labor on a project. They supply minds, hands, and man-hours to the project, which (theoretically speaking) is what creates value.

They are also finite resources. If someone is 100% committed to Project Foo for eight hours a day, that person is generally unavailable to work on Project Bar—except in organizations that indulge in wishful thinking, of course. While working on embiggening a thingamabob for Project Foo, they are unlikely to be truly available to stomp grapes, support Project Bar's widgets, or any other time-sucking outside activity; individual utilization is a zero-sum game.

Emotional Freighting

While not part of the formal definition, the word "resources" does carry a connotation that people are viewed as fungible assets. This is largely due to the fact that many organizations treat people this way, rather than because human resources are truly interchangeable.

Teams and individuals are resources for the project—and valuable ones, at that. The Agile Manifesto tries to bring teams, individuals, and interactions to the forefront to combat the notion that people are interchangeable cogs manufactured to precise tolerances.

At the end of the day, though, the negative freighting of "human resources" is a result of an organization's poor people management, or a person's past experience with some other company's poor treatment of its people. The negative connotation isn't really intrinsic to the term as it's used within the project management profession.

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It's just a word. The real test is in how the PMs treat you. I prefer to say "team members" myself, so I understand where you're coming from. However, I don't know a single PM that doesn't think of their team members as real people. It's generally when you're just a line item on some executive report that you're thought of as a dehumanized resource and in that case we're not talking about personal interaction, so I don't think it matters much.

  • So, if a resource would refer to his/her PM as a "monkey" I suppose this is also just a word and doesn't matter much. – cherouvim Jul 17 '14 at 13:46

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