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Don’t Build a Team Out of Resources

group of people fist bumping over a desk

You can probably tell where I’m going with this piece just by the title: people are so much more than “resources”. Much ink has been spilled and uncounted column inches have been written both advocating this view and objecting to it.

As IBM i is evolving, so is the need for IBM i skillsets over time. What exactly are resources?

The word “resource” as applied to people infuses the practice of project management, usually with some explanation along the lines that projects need resources, and these resources can be abstracted to include people.

Here are some of my thoughts on this:

People are not interchangeable. Raw materials (like drywall, or construction steel) can be assessed according to quantifiable metrics and therefore deemed equivalent (or not). Not so with people: software developers with the same apparent skills of x, y, and z can have very different impacts on a project.

IBM i infographic

I’ve heard the objection that this is “just semantics”. But semantics is about meaning, the very heart of the matter. Not only does our language shape our own world view, it also tells others how you view the world. Which is to say, language matters: words convey meaning and have connotations. The more you use the term “resource” to refer to people, the more you think of them as cogs in the machine and the more others see you as someone who thinks that way.

When someone responds to the question “what do you do?”, they often refer to their job. That’s because a lot of people hold their profession as some important part of their identity. I’ve never met or heard of a person responding to that question with “I’m a resource”.

Can you imagine how someone would feel about being introduced to the CEO with “I’d like you to meet Jane, she’s a resource on the product team”? Calling someone a “resource” is just rude. And taking it behind closed doors to only use the term when speaking to other managers is no solution: see my point above about language.

I consider myself fortunate that I work with a great group of people. It is this, more than anything else, that I enjoy about my work. I trust the people I work with, and I hope they trust me. Trust is a hard-won gift, something that is earned and granted to people. So when I think about building our team, I think about people, not resources. I bring the same way of thinking when I talk to our IBM i clients about their software projects or staffing needs. I never say “we have an IBM i resource with 10 years of experience”, it’s always “Jane is available, she has 10 years of experience”.

There are many things companies and leaders can do to change the lens through which team members are viewed. So it was with some gratification that I read an article about Fresche Solutions (full disclosure, my employer), explicitly recognizing that people are at the heart of our business. And Project Managers, as the ones who are in direct contact with the team, also need to think this way. We need to walk this talk. Years ago, an employee noted in his quarterly review that he didn’t like being referred to as a resource. I took that to heart, and have never done it since.

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