Project Management Institute

Will we become dinosaurs of an enabled age?

by Peter Goldsbury

THE EXPONENTIAL GROWTH of the Project Management Institute is testimony to the rapid change that is going on in society and business. Words like communication, international competition, customer focus, technology, deregulation, decentralization, workplace reform, authority, accountability, individual responsibility, teamwork and empowerment all signify this change.

As more and more organizations around the world recognize that it is projects that take them from where they are to where they want to be, so individuals have recognized that managing these projects is a career opportunity. The project manager has thus evolved to be the person to whom the organization assigns responsibility and accountability for the completion (or otherwise) of a project. Will B. Struggles’ excellent article “The Project Hero” (PM Network, February 1996) illustrates the substantial challenges this role presents.

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Unlike the dinosaur that could not cope with rapid physical environmental change, people and organizations involved with projects today can choose to be “learning animals” who read the signs to evolve quickly and successfully through the rapid social, political, economic and organizational change of our time. What are the trends and signs that we should heed?

Organizations are Turning Upside Down and Flattening. The models for our organizations are rooted in the traditions of the church and military where an authoritative leader commands respect, decides on courses and directs action through a rigid and mechanistic departmental command structure. These models have defined tasks and boundaries to work within. But this is changing. Organizations are increasingly becoming customer-driven. The old command structures are being broken down and replaced with new corporate goals and strategies that require teamwork and empowered people for their achievement. Common aims, shared information and self-managed teams are enabling much larger spans of control and much more proactive organizations.

Projects Cross All Boundaries and Compete for Limited Resources. In the traditional hierarchical organization, a project was often a piece of paper (e.g., a work order) that was sequentially passed from department to department. Each added their content in their own time, using local information and resources which were jealously guarded. Nothing short of direct management intervention, bribes or threats could speed the project path.

Herald the dedicated cross-functional project team: an attempt to overcome these limitations. A project manager (our hero, who has driven this sort of thing before) was appointed to manage an implementation team, requiring expert resources from many parts of the organization. People found themselves torn between two masters as conflicts between departmental and project managers occurred. The easy solution was to import consultants and contractors, then blinker the project team in a room with the instruction that they “Don't come out until it's done.” This extreme measure may have resulted in an apparently more timely solution, but often an introverted one, uncomfortably short of customer and budget expectations.

We have learned that projects cross all boundaries and that the commitment and participation of customers, the project team and suppliers is a prerequisite for success. (Here the TQM and BPR exponents nod.) Each project must compete for limited cash, people and physical resources that are often shared by many other projects. Leadership at all levels is required to help resolve the conflicts of competing projects in this matrix management environment. The article by Rudof Boznak “Management of Projects: A Giant Step Beyond Project Management” (PM Network, January 1996) admirably outlines some implications of this trend. This is a new process that most of us learn to manage.

The Journey Beyond Project Management—Organizational Capability. Research performed by the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University in the United States, has resulted in the five-level Capability Maturity Model (document sei/93/tr/24, Capability Maturity Model for Software version 1.1, by M.C. Paulk, B. Curtis, M.B. Crissis, C.V Weber). Exhibit 1, with a little license, traces the CMM's improvement path that software development organizations typically take as their capability matures. This model, which is largely unknown outside the software industry, has value for most project-oriented organizations.

Traditional project management is only the fitst step according to the Capability Maturity Model, developed by the Software Engineering Institute. The CMM traces the improvement path that organizations take as their capability matures. When assessed using the tool, most organizations are still on Level 1

Exhibit 1. Traditional project management is only the fitst step according to the Capability Maturity Model, developed by the Software Engineering Institute. The CMM traces the improvement path that organizations take as their capability matures. When assessed using the tool, most organizations are still on Level 1.

Measuring Our Total Management Processes. Traditional project management largely focuses on narrow project deliverables, using very simplistic criteria to measure performance:

Project: Was the specified deliverable made, on time and within budget?

It is unlikely that we will be really successful at evaluating, selecting, planning or implementing projects if we have not considered the whole picture. This requires measures at more levels:

Customer: What is the impact of our deliveries on our customers business?

Organization: How do we compare with what other leading organizations are doing?

Process: Do we understand our delivery process? Is it followed? Is it optional?

Workgroups: What is our capability, capacity, productivity, defect rate, response time?

People: Are we motivated, enabled, trained, innovating, working as a team?

These are the things we need to measure and act upon in order to achieve higher levels of capability.

Every Project Starts With Customer Needs and Ideas for Solutions. How many projects start with a specification, a target timescale and a cost written on the “back of an envelope” and assigned to an “aspiring career” project manager to implement. All those involved know that the target is unachievable, leaving a massive credibility gap.

The project lifecycle/management process starts with the first perceived need and finishes when another solution is in place to satisfy that need, or a revised need. The process goes like this:

Identify customer needs, against which ideas for solutions are proposed and planned, then evaluated on a cost vs. benefit vs. risk basis, to determine which needs and ideas will receive resources, so that the project implementation can be planned, and a team can be put together to make it happen, in a way that allows progress to be clearly monitored, in case the need or its solution changes, so that we can re-evaluate the customer benefits, to ensure that we are still doing the right thing, and if so deliver a solution, that provides customer value over its whole lifetime, until the environment changes and something better comes to retire it, which signals the start of a whole new project.

Commitment to Project Objectives, Not Just Instructions. In projects that span organizational structures and long timescales, many more people need to be aligned with project objectives and voluntarily contribute effort and resources to it, namely:

Customers whose needs the project must satisfy, often assumed to be represented by a sponsor or project board who will champion, approve and fund the project, with stakeholders who have a stake in its outcome and can often influence or control suppliers who provide resources for the project, either materials and equipment, or individuals who themselves choose whether to contribute their skills to the project team that needs to work together to make it happen, with leadership to ensure that the team is really “enabled.”

By identifying these potential contributors and ensuring that their individual concerns and aspirations are addressed, we can create win-win partnerships. The age of dictators is passing.

New Research on Building Winning Teams. We have all experienced teams that worked well and others that have been dismal failures. Research by Belbin Associates in Cambridge, UK, has resulted in a team role model and assessment tools that help us understand how each member best contributes in a team (Team Roles at Work by Meredith Belbin, Butterworth Heinemann Ltd., Oxford). The nine Belbin team roles assessed are:

Planner—creative, imaginative, unorthodox, solves difficult problems…

Resource Investigator—extrovert, enthusiastic, communicative, explores opportunities…

Coordinator—mature, confident, promotes decision-making, delegates well…

Shaper—challenging, dynamic, has drive/ courage to overcome obstacles…

Monitor Evaluator—sober, strategic and discerning, judges accurately…

Teamworker—cooperative, mild, perceptive and diplomatic, averts friction…

Implementer—disciplined, reliable, efficient, turns ideas into practical actions…

Completer—painstaking, conscientious, searches out errors, delivers on time…

Specialist—single-minded, provides knowledge and skills in a narrow area…

The model helps team members to understand each other's strengths and accept their weaknesses. It does not encourage cloning, but rather builds on the diversity of individuals to build a team that is stronger than the sum of its parts. This is a big step from the days of selecting members largely for the technical skills they can contribute, or because they fit “our” culture.

Our traditional upbringing and education (particularly for males of European origin) is one that encourages competition and aggressiveness; skills that may not necessarily be conducive to establishing effective teamwork in the future. Our education systems have conditioned us to believe that 50 percent must fail in order that 50 percent succeed. In effective team projects, all can celebrate success. Have you noticed more and more women are leading major change projects?

There are a number of team development models that show the stages members go through. Understanding this process can help a team quickly reach maturity and optimum effectiveness.

The Changing Role of Leadership During the Project. What skills are required for effective project leadership: certainly the ability to see the big picture, strong communication skills, excellent team development and the ability to motivate. In the past, project managers may have been appointed to lead teams based on their technical skills, past track record or position in the hierarchy, rather than their ability to provide the leadership that the team demanded of them for success.

A project team must have leadership, but that does not mean that it necessarily must have a defined leader. The Belbin team role model suggests that the different leadership roles may be required at each stage of a project. It is unlikely that any one person will be best equipped to satisfy all. If we can put aside the hierarchical title of project manager, we may open the opportunity for different members to contribute to the leadership role when required.

SOME ORGANIZATIONS remaining on Level 1 will continue to provide a haven for traditional project managers. Many more will be looking for people who can operate and lead in team-based environments. It will be up to individuals to prepare themselves for the new millennium, with the help of industry, their professional associations and educational institutions.

Perhaps we can all gain some inspiration from a saying that has been passed down among the Tuhoe people, who are part of the indigenous Maori of New Zealand: E mua kai kai (Those who journey at the front get time to eat well), e muri kai huare (while those at the rear must survive on their own saliva). ■

Peter Goldsbury heads Strategic Expertise Ltd. His Project Management Skills development workshops, piloted at The Auckland Institute of Technology are now delivered by other training institutions in New Zealand. See WWW information page at iconz.co.nz/~stratex.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

PM Network • February 1997

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