Project Management Institute

New buzzwords swarm the executive suite

corporate organizational change: Where is it going?


        Paul C. Dinsmore
         Feature Editor


Project management has long been proposed as a tool for managing organization change. Yet organizations are often changed without the overt use of project management techniques. Approaches commonly used vary from intuitive inspirations of upper management to structured methodologies being proposed by academics and consultants. This column contains a summary of organization buzz words presently circulating about corporate executive suites.

Paul C. Dinsmore, PMP, Dinsmore Associates, Rio de Janero, Brazil

New organization labels are popping up as companies search for fresh approaches towards gaining competitive advantage in the marketplace. Many of these terms have been coined by present or former academics in their search for innovative solutions. Here are some of the organizational concepts that are buzzing about the executive suite:

REENGINEERING. This approach involves the massive redesign of work—going back to “square one” and designing based on a new premise. The new assumption states that work should be organized around process as opposed to the traditional way of grouping by disciplines or specialties. Mike Hammer, formerly a MIT computer science professor, has applied his REENGINEERING approach to major companies across different industries.

Time-Based Competition. This term is used by George Stalk, Jr. of Boston Consulting Group to get across the idea of organizing for speed. It's based on the old saw that “time is money,” and that time is also the equivalent of productivity, quality and innovation. The ability to manage time is perceived as the primary source of competitive advantage.

The Learning Organization. Another academic, Peter Senge, who heads up MIT's Systems Thinking and Organizational Learning Program, professes that an organization's success depends a great deal on its ability to learn. People are encouraged to learn through the use of games and exercises that show other sides of business problems.

Core Competencies. This approach calls for centering the organization's energies around what it does best. As opposed to using products or marketing as the basis for organization, University of Michigan Professor C.K. Prahalad proposes that companies concentrate on their own competencies and expand beyond their present resources by using licensing agreements, alliances and partnering relationships.

Organizational Architecture. David Nadler, founder of Delta Consulting Company, professes that optimal organizations can be formed through developing “high performance work systems” and “autonomous work teams.” This approach includes the concept of thinking about organizations in broader terms, to understand how work, people, and formal and informal structures fit together.


Futurologist Alvin Toffler proposes that the organization of the future should resemble the art form called the “mobile,” consisting of various shapes interconnected by strings and hung from the ceiling. The mobile organization is to move and adjust itself to the changes in external environment just as the mobile art form adjusts to the breeze. He discussed this and other future trends in his book Powershift.

“Down with the organization” is still being preached by Tom Peters who first came into the spotlight when he co-authored In Search of Excellence with Robert Waterman. He contends that organizations should create cultures in which employees will “learn to love change.” Ad hoc teams, pulled together to accomplish specific tasks are suggested as an organizational solution.

PMI's David Cleland of the University of Pittsburgh talks in his seminars of “cobweb” organizations consisting of loosely-connected networks. Although the cobweb structure is admittedly frail and subject to periodic breakdown (just as the spider's web may tear), this approach contains “fixers,” who, like the spiders, scurry to the trouble spots and quickly mend things.

Other proponents of new organizational philosophies include Harvard Professor Shoshanna Zuboff who wrote In the Age of the Smart Machine; London Business School's Charles Handy, author of The Age of Unreason; Edward E. Lawler III of the University of Southern California, who proposes something beyond empowerment called “high-performance involvement”; Harvard's John Kotter, who affirms that most U.S. companies are overmanaged and underled; and Gerald Ross of Change Lab, who submits that new molecular-like organizations will revolve around markets, and not products or functions.


With all these new (or re-packaged) concepts being touted as the solutions to organizations' troubles, how can staid-and-steady project management make a contribution? If these views have all the polish and glitter of fresh-off-the-shelf newness, what can something that's been around for awhile like project management do for the cause?

Actually, there's a great mesh between the thoughts of the managerial gurus and project management concepts. Since the new views are often long on theory and short on implementation techniques, project management readily fills the gap between the conceptual vision of the thinkers and brings ideas to reality. Since project management is all about change, then many of PM's standard cornerstones (project strategy, planning, team building, coordination, follow-up and conflict management) are just the order to make organizational dreams come true.

Here's a project management process that applies to bring about change in organizations.

  1. The Vision. Identify and label the initial new vision of the organization. This macro view—which maybe a thought from the executive ranks or the current managerial concept in vogue—is subject to adjustment, but it's what gets the project under way.
  2. Survey. Develop a detailed situation survey. Here both the internally perceived needs and the external market demands are studied and analyzed. Once this information is processed, the initial vision is revisited. In some cases, the survey precedes the fixing of the initial vision.
  3. Objectives. Set the objectives and goals needed to make the vision become real; do this in a participative mode. Here the vision is to be expressed in such a way that people can understand it and help make it happen,
  4. Game Plan. Plan the strategy for making the vision come to fruition. Identify the players and the principal stakeholders. Make sure the roles of the sponsors and change agents are understood and there is a procedure for guaranteeing involvement.
  5. Activities. Identify the activities and put them in a logical sequence. See that each task is fully understood and that there is a “buy in” by all involved parties.
  6. Resources. Ensure that adequate resources are available and assigned to the right tasks. Also make sure budgeting concerns are covered.
  7. Timing. Determine the durations and fix calendar dates for each activity to be started and completed. Because behavioral issues are at stake, re-scheduling may be called for. Special care is required to avoid rushing activities which have a behavioral maturity time.

Once this procedure has been thought through, then review and reiteration are needed to smooth out the inconsistencies of the plan's first version and to “free tune” an approach that will guarantee the transformation of an organizational vision into reality.


Even though the marketplace now abounds with theoties on organization change, there is room for project management in the implementation of those ideas. The new concepts fill the pressing need for a revitalized vision of how people should work together to accomplish goals in complex organizations, and in some cases, offer thoughts on how that implementation should be carried out. Project management constitutes a powerful tool, which can be coupled with these fresh organizational approaches to ensure that they are put into effect with maximum effectiveness.


Management's New Gurus. Business Week Magazine. August 31, 1992.

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.

NOVEMBER 1992 pm network



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