Staffing Solutions And Project Management

Staffing solutions is a major part of project management. Staff include internal staff, low-cost staff augmentation, consulting project teams, embedded consultants, employees other duties as assigned, employee working groups, employee standing teams, and consulting advisors. All these staffing solutions help address gaps in individual skill sets by bringing in the strength of others on the team. This blog addresses the importance of such a subject, through a very unique viewpoint: a look back into medieval times.

The reactions and solutions in our blog post  “Handling delays on Internal Projects due to skill gaps” help address the need to bring in consultants who focus on the timing being right-sized with very clear objectives. This practice actually goes back a long ways, to the initial western world’s village-sized projects in fact. Now, urban center feats are well-documented and large enterprise projects were done typically with a fair-amount of dictatorship. But agrarian or travel towns did not have such authority, resources as urban centers. Smaller kingdoms completely relied on advancing barracks, granaries, resource production, city walls, and maintaining people in the kingdom to advance the interests of the monarchy and provide security for the city.

A Look Back Into Medieval Times

There are actually several books on “Medieval Project Management” (i.e. here) that describe how kingdom projects were managed, both fair and beloved kingdoms as well as ruthless or poor kingdoms. Below is an example, which illustrates one thing:  That not much has changed in projects concerning staff management.

The Story

A well-liked king has the goal to build a moat and bigger drawbridge to allow both larger carts to come in and out of the town, while allowing for protection against marauders. The townspeople have never built this before and certainly not to this complexity. The king knows of another town where it has been done before and suggests to bring in help from this town.

The townspeople say “we can do it”. The king knows loyalty is a prime asset, and completing a project with his townspeople will create just that. So, he allows the townspeople to complete the project. Unfortunately the townspeople struggle with designing to the new scale and spend more budget and time than anticipated. Consequently, they have nothing designed nor built for their efforts.

The king, recalling loyalty is key, doubles-down, but attempts to buy back risk by saying he will bring an advisor in.  The townspeople once again say “we can do it ourselves”. The king takes this risk and approves the project without delay. Delays continue, and once again time and money from the coffers pass.  The king notes the townspeople are very far behind.

Seeing that other towns now have competing sized bridges and moats, he now says “lets bring in an advisor and a designer who recently finished these projects, but you can still be proud by building the bridge”. The townspeople say “we can do it, we just need more time, we almost have it figured out, we need more townspeople”. The king is now irritated, but still knows loyalty is a major asset. So, he once again reluctantly delays the project as now half the town is involved in the project.

Things Don’t Improve…

Unfortunately, a year has gone by without a new bridge. The marketplace is stagnant, other towns are growing, and jobs in the town are now stagnant. The king knows he can wait no longer. Now, the townspeople are angry and overworked as they have to work more to make enough to live off of.  The king finally says “I have paid others to take over the project, we cannot wait any longer.” The king could resort to heavy penalties, but with half the town buried deep in the project knows that any swift hard actions could result in revolt. Instead, the king issues a stern decree, citing the failure of the townspeople, and turns the project over to others.  

Unfortunately, the costs have now quadrupled as original costs doubled by failure. There was a double-cost rush order from outsiders. Now, the king must provide extra protection and oversight for the outsiders to just get started. The townspeople did not say “well, he gave us a chance” and “we were gainfully employed”. The townspeople were not thankful for the work on an incomplete job. Instead, the idea of a new marketplace is at an all-time low.  They have no new marketplace, yet all other towns are flourishing with the new marketplace. The townspeople spread rumors of any sign of delays, weakness, or possible conspiracy or even sabotage. The king must spend time mending the townspeople’s now unruly position.

A Victory That Feels Like Anything But…

The project is finished with quadruple the costs and double the timeline, and unfortunately an economical shift has occurred. The townspeople decide to uproot and go to the next town, as they have heard about another marketplace that is bustling with new jobs and goods.  The other townspeople were able to complete the new wider drawbridge that this king could not, and as a consequence the kingdom goes into dark times trying to recover.

The Lesson Learned

Not much has changed from medieval times in corporate cultures. Balancing the culture health of the company is a big deal. The perception that happy employees produce 1.5-5x as much as unhappy employs is slightly true. But it is not just about happiness. Note the story talks about the townspeople wanting to accomplish a big project for the sake of pride. Also, the kingdom would expand, and townspeople would be loyal and thankful. Happiness was not in there.

But, the townspeople also had a lack of vision. The king gave a major contract to an untrained, demanding union with a sales pitch of the low price of loyalty, and technically we have done it before. Without a measuring device to objectively allow pulling the contract back, the contract modifications continued, and the king was now all-in.  The king can take the risk on such a contract award – The king did not ask for an initial task to prove their merit. The king did not treat the award of the project to his own people like the award of a performance-based contract to outsiders.


Any project you budget for, award it and set the measures for success. That goes for whether it is done by your staff or outsider consulting team contract.

All projects require milestones (another medieval term continued from Roman times), clear objectives to guide quality levels and deliverables for scope and some semblance of budget and resource management (whether it is time and materials with a not to exceed, or fixed-time, fixed-price phases).

The similarities are the same. The project failure was not the townspeople. Just like the project success is on the king, the decisions on project staffing are on the executive. Take that measured initial risk. However, if metrics are showing clear, you need to adjust. Use the agreed measure failure as the guidance to approve the switch.