Blind Spot

Project Managers Plan Seemingly Every Aspect of Their Products—Except Culture; That Should Change

By Karen Smits, PhD


Project managers I talk with all agree: Culture is important in project management. It influences the quality of work, the communication with stakeholders, the results of teamwork and so much more. Yet when I ask project managers whether they have a culture plan, they turn silent.

How can it be that they plan for deliverables, scope, budget, quality management, risk management and procurement management—but not for culture? Developing a people-first plan that builds and sustains a strong project culture rarely happens. And that needs to change.

A culture plan is, in essence, a list of initiatives throughout the year focused on building a team of people who are committed to the project, who trust each other and who come together to achieve things beyond what's expected. Those activities are connected directly to onboarding, retention and optimization of the project employees. The plan helps you create conditions that make people truly feel part of the project.


I recommend taking the following steps to design a project culture plan:

Create a description of the target culture. This is basically a blueprint detailing the desired behaviors, values and beliefs you want to bring to life in the project organization. Make sure this connects to the project goal and strategy.

List activities that will promote and grow the project culture. Think about rituals such as daily huddles and weekly wins. Identify communication tools such as storytelling and feedback frames. Establish annual learning and development plans, and team-building events.

Define who is accountable and responsible. Who will implement each activity so the plan is under control at any point in time?

Constantly remind team members that culture is a priority. Everyone is part of building the project culture. And everyone will benefit from a well-developed project culture.

Ask for feedback. Review with the team what worked well—and what did not. Drop ineffective initiatives and develop new ones that meet the blueprint and are aligned with the current project strategy.

Just as you would when implementing the project plan, be sure to celebrate small and big achievements. This is a great way to sustain momentum and enthusiasm. As your project tribe unites around a common culture, you'll realize benefits in terms of increased engagement, improved employee retention and enhanced performance. PM

img Karen Smits, PhD, is an organizational anthropologist working at Practical Thinking Group in Singapore. She can be reached at [email protected].



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