Everything's a project!
This paper examines the project form from an ordinary Scandinavian perspective. It provides explanations as to how to achieve maneuverability in a project and ultimately offers a number of tips and advice to project managers of smaller projects and assignments within various organizations where today, the majority of work is carried out in project form.
Previously in Scandinavia, 15–40 years ago, the project form was utilized for more comprehensive changes. The projects were new complicated or complex systems, new products such as cars and electronic equipment, and the development of military materials, etc. (in addition to traditional construction and installation projects). Today, the project concept has become somewhat inflated; everything is considered to be a project. In Sweden, the move toward project orientation has been almost explosive during the last decade. The most common form, from an organizational viewpoint, is people work within a project matrix. This means that a project organization is created based on the resources available in the line organization and are complemented with external or its project-employed workers. This places great demands on the organization being able to manage the project operations. In most organizations, both large and small as well as in the business and public sectors, project methodology is being applied to almost everything being developed, changed, or produced. This can be both a boon and a bane.
The “bane” is that we risk diluting the project concept. Project management as a profession may be watered-down, devalued, we risk being overly bureaucratic and it is becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate between normal ongoing operative work and project work. Project managers and members of staff may lose focus, and leading stakeholders are finding it more difficult to find and maintain their project roles as, e.g., as sponsors or steering committee members.
The “boon” is that we may achieve a greater degree of awareness for project work throughout the organization. More effort is carried out in a more effective manner with better use of resources. Many smaller assignments and activities, if managed according to project concepts, can increase the degree of goal-achievement. We may benefit from increased focus and coordination of the organization's “portfolio,” more commitment between members of staff, and we can maybe even enjoy doing our jobs more.
Larger projects are often carried out in a traditional manner, sometimes, but not always, using good project methodology and tools for support. But when all changes and all development are to be carried out in project form, both large and small assignments, this places increased demands on the organization and especially the project manager and decision-maker. This is what we at Wenell Management refer to as projectivity, which is the organization's ability to achieve the operation's business and social goals through the project form. This expression was coined in 1984 by Torbjörn Wenell, who is somewhat of a pioneer and project guru in Scandinavia and who is the founder of my company, Wenell Management AB. In order to achieve high projectivity and to carry out all change work in the project form, it is required that the fundamental criteria be managed in an acceptable way. In those organizations that choose the project format as the steering mechanism of choice for the whole business, or for its operations, heavy demands are made of their employees’ awareness, commitment and holistic understanding. These fundamental criteria are:
• A common view of projects throughout the entire organization
• A flexible organization and highly responsive organization with high maneuverability (maneuverability will be explained separately)
• A creative working environment
• A well-functioning, model, and situation adapted style of leadership
• Alternative career paths
• A balanced project portfolio
• An accepted and functioning project methodology.
These criteria are explained in accordance with what follows.
All those involved in the project operation must have an understanding and insight as to how people work in a project. This concerns everyone, from top management to individual workers. Of course the methodology must be adapted to the operation and the size of the organization. It is vitally important that those people within the management's line function, who have ongoing work tasks, differentiate these tasks from the roles they have in the project organization.
A Flexible Organization and Highly Responsive Organization With High Maneuverability
There must be both the time and the possibility for workers to be included in various project constellations. This may seem quite obvious, but in the majority of today's organizations in Sweden, where project participation is combined with ongoing line function work, the individual's available time is often not fully optimized. This is one major reason why many projects are not able to adhere to their time plans. Another common trap is that individuals are also locked into their specialist roles, or that vital key resources have to be involved in almost every project. Maneuverability is described separately below and concerns the entire company/organization as well as the individual project.
Exhibit 1. A Common View of Projects Throughout the Entire Organization
A Creative Working Environment
The organization should ensure that people participating in a project should have the possibility of a creatively stimulating work environment, both physically and mentally and that synergy effects are created through the group work. Creativity cannot be stifled by “punishment” when a mistake is made (the first time) as project work often means that people are in uncharted and unfamiliar territories. A remedy should be reprimands and when mistakes are made and rewards for work that is well done, even if expected. Project members should also have access to relevant and up-to-date tools in order to carry out their work tasks in an efficient manner. The work premises should also be suitable to the project work. The right environment for project meetings with good equipment is needed. A whiteboard and flipchart is essential and all rooms should have a window. In certain projects there may be an advantage to having an office layout that provides close contact between workers, and in other projects, working areas and office spaces that provide isolation for reflection and concentration for the individual workers, is required.
A Well-Functioning, Model and Situational Adapted Style of Leadership
To be a role model, to lead by example, and to have the right manager in the right position is most likely the goal of every leader. This does not always mean doing the right things, but rather, trying to do things right. Another common trap is that people advance in the hierarchy and rise to their level of incompetence, in other words, someone is promoted to the position of manager or project manager because he or she has been a competent and able specialist, yet they do not have the leadership qualities that are required. As a leader, it is vital that you send out the right signals to your co-work-ers. You cannot say one thing and then act in a completely different way. This can be compared to parents who forbid their teenagers to drink and smoke because of how harmful it is to their health when the parents themselves drink and smoke.
A Balanced Project Portfolio
Portfolio management is essential if an organization is to achieve high projectivity. To be able to prioritize different projects and at the same time prioritize resources between the ongoing work in the line organization is absolutely necessary. Many organizations initiate too many projects. There should be only three priority levels for a project. Instead, in many cases there are five or even more levels. In certain organizations all projects are actually thought to be priority 1, without assessing what is really most important. The three levels should be, must be carried out (with consideration given to conditions), very important and important. Changes with a lower degree of importance should not be started as a project but as ongoing change work in the line organization without a set completion date. In an organization with high projectivity it is also important to differentiate between projects and assignments. Projects with, in relation to the company, large organizations, a time frame of at least six months and complicated changes, should be carried out with a formal and relevant project organization. Smaller assignments can be carried out as regular assignments without all the formal requirements and with short decision-making channels. Leaders for these assignments should not be supervised by project managers, actual or supposed as there is a risk that this will evolve into a watered-down project management role. Internal departmental changes should rarely be carried out as a project. One important thing in connection with this is also to differentiate between order projects and internal projects and to have a clear line of delineation between these. To handle different projects, through prioritizing and resource allocation, there should be a project coordinator (project director) within the organization that has the same status in the organization as the other departmental managers. This person could be a part of the steering groups for the most important projects and at the same time function as a link between the project and the line operation. The project coordinator can also have responsibility for developing project methodology, training within the project areas and portfolio management.
An Accepted and Functioning Project Methodology
It is essential that an organization that strives for high projectivity have a practical project methodology to follow. It is important that the model be of a general character and that it applies for all types of projects and is not interwoven with a quality assurance system, product development model, systems development model or other development models. The model should be used as a tool for respective projects and not be a provision that creates “increased bureaucracy” and excessive formal management.
To achieve high projectivity within an organization, interaction between competence, methodology, proficiency and desire is required.
The concept of maneuverability was developed in Sweden in the late 1970s and early 1980s by Torbjörn Wenell and S. G. Larsson, both pioneers in the project field in Scandinavia. They based this concept on the factors that affected the entire organization's way (not individual projects) of guiding operations toward long-term goals and visions. My own experience has shown that these factors still apply today and will most likely apply for a very long time, though with adjustments in relation to the external changes that constantly occur. It is also possible to implement the six maneuverability factors into individual projects, both large and small. In many cases this is more important in smaller projects that do not get a lot of attention, or where great demands for formality are not placed on project managers and workers. The six maneuverability factors are:
• Organizational Structure
• Human Resources
• Management Style
• Shared Values.
Below follows an explanation of the six maneuverability factors and what should be taken into consideration. The factors are not described in any particular order of importance.
A vision is the ideal condition that we strive to achieve, often closely associated with an organization's mission. In many projects, this may not actually be the primary goal since it lies further away, time-wise, than the end of the project. In a successful project, the partial goal must be fulfilled during the actual project duration. Here, vision is comparable to the sum of all the effects that you want to achieve, the end effects. It is very important that all those contribute to the project's expected success are aware of the vision and the benefits that an individual contributes to the mission. The mission should be expressed in such a way that everyone clearly sees what their role is, and what they contribute, to the whole.
The project organization should be adapted to conditions. This may sound completely self evident, but this is often not the case for several reasons. One could be that a project organization is created based on tradition, “this is how we usually do it” or based on what is generally expressed in a model. It is important to “foresee” the future, especially for longer projects. What will the line organization look like in one or two years? Are key resources obtainable? Is there sufficient flexibility for changing project members? A common trap is an overly static project organization that does not adapt to external conditions.
Access to relevant facts is of vital importance when unforeseen events occur during a project. This means that it is possible to continuously read what condition the project is in. This concerns the financial and time frame status as well as the quality status. The weekly work follow-up may feel excessive, and may be excessive, when the majority of things go according to plan, but they are beneficial in critical situations. There ought not be any backlog in the follow-up activities or the financial situation. Time reporting is not a verification of the current situation, but is good for financial follow-ups and future planning or replanning. A warning should also be directed toward “flashy” overhead slides, diagrams and project-plans that do not reflect reality. It is not what we want to happen that is to be conveyed but the actual status.
One question that project managers should ask themselves is— am I utilizing my personnel in the right way? In the early stages of a project the project manager must find out about each individual's previous experience, personal interests, expectations, etc., not only specialist skills and training within the particular subject area. This is of vital importance during the project when things may happen where the group's collective competence needs to be utilized, or in order to delegate work tasks that are outside any single individual's specialist area. In connection with this it is also important how a project manager develops, encourages and creates promotion opportunities for his associates. In certain organizations there is a “competence bank,” which describes the individual's skills and experiences. In regard to the project, this type of bank is mostly used for recruiting and does not exclude the use of the personal conversations the project manager should have with each respective project group member. In Scandinavia this is often treated lightly since the long-term responsibility for employees lies with their regular line managers.
Leadership style must be adapted to conditions. Many times a project manager is chosen because that particular person is a capable specialist. The person who is offered the assignment of project manager should think through the conditions thoroughly before he or she accepts the job. In a project, you have to take on various roles in different situations, so-called situational adapted leadership. What is important in connection with this is, however, that you never “play” a role. In all leadership, in accordance with “Scandinavian Management,” it is vitally important that you have leadership that rewards and not leadership that punishes. A successful leader also handles feedback in the right way, which is an art in itself. In addition to being themselves, openness, honesty and humility are three catchwords that should be self-evident for all leaders. Role models can be great but in the long term it doesn't work to “play” the role of something you're not.
Shared values are found in all groups to which individuals belong. This can apply to the company where a person is an employee, a department or a project group. Naturally, we also have shared values in all those social groups of which we are a part of outside our work such as the family, associations, our circle of friends, etc. Promoting shared values in a project is the obligation of every project manager. These must be continuously cultivated so that they do not become too weak or too strong. If the shared values are too weak, the group members have no sense of belonging in the project organization/project group. If they are too strong there is a risk that people begin to “put up walls.” The sense of belonging becomes so strong that it is impossible to change project members or to allow new members to come into the group. What is important in regard to shared values is that the “norms” and values are discussed. “The bar” should be at the right level so that everyone can accept the work and social relations together. Working on a project means working in groups. If anyone does not accept the rules agreed upon, that individual should not be in the project group but should, if his or her competence is important, deliver those results to the project. With shared values, it is also important to have a project identity. This will be discussed below.
Exhibit 2. Virtual Intelligent System for Engineering
Tips to Project Managers in Organizations Where “Everything's a Project”
Even if you have high projectivity in the organization it might be difficult to run small projects or tasks in project work form. From experience we have found out that it is not so much problems in the strategic big projects, but more how to:
• Manage this when the project is not in top of the priority list?
• Manage this when you have to fight for resources?
• Manage this if few people in your organization are interested even if the project is important and you have an eager sponsor?
• Manage this when you want to call for reference group meetings?
• Manage this when …
Below are several tips concerning how to get attention, and to create motivation and commitment, even in those projects that do not have large budgets or do not have the importance of more strategic projects.
Create a Good Project Identity
In larger, more important projects, the need for having a good project name, logotype, motto, etc., is quite obvious. My experience is that in matrix organizations with many ongoing smaller projects or project-like assignments this is neglected, even if it is more important to be able to give the project visibility.
Project identity creates solidarity for those people involved in the project. As a project member there is a differentiation between the ongoing work that is done in the line organization and the efforts that are made for the success of the project.
One thing that is essential for all projects is that you have a good project name. The name, like the project, can be only temporary and does not have to be the same as the end result you are trying to achieve, although it is an advantage if the name can be associated with the result (preferably not a product/system name). The name should be somewhat “clever or humorous,” preferably a metaphor or a combination of letters that is funny or a little “hip.” Avoid numbers in the project name such as, P35, mod2002, etc. Create the project's logotype so that it has something to do with the project name or the goal you hope to achieve. The logotype should be easy to apply to various things, everything from letters to give-aways and T-shirts. Find a good motto or slogan for the project. The motto should have a more serious tone while the slogan can be more “funny” and can be used more internally within the project.
Create a Website for the Project on the Organization's Intranet
An advanced website is not needed for this, but it will provide the opportunity to illustrate objectives and to provide ongoing progress reports. Remember that this is not a communication resource between project members or a source of information to those involved in the project (of course this can be done with this technology in the project office or similar area), but is rather to inform the line organization and “show what you've accomplished.”
Take a Hostage
Try to get a top line manager in the organization to take on the role of “figurehead” for the project. Find a person with authority that people will listen to and who can convey how important “your little project” is, even though it is not of the same size or complexity of a strategic project or order project.
Make sure that you have an expense budget for ongoing costs (in addition to investments and personnel resources). That way you will avoid having to “run” to the line manager to get authorization for expenses or planned events in order to celebrate achieved results or to reward project workers.
Make sure that when you submit status reports, that they will not be reviewed and discussed without your involvement. Distribute reports and make them accessible several days before a steering group meeting and state the issues that need to be decided upon so that the decision makers are prepared at the meeting and they don't have to postpone or delay the decision.
It is not uncommon that you as a project manager will be given more responsibility than authority. Agree with the client about your authority within the project, in other words, those who are outside your ordinary line/specialist function in the ongoing work in the line organization or within your unit.
You may be given smaller projects or project-like assignments based on the fact that you are a capable specialist within a certain area. Even so, try not to get too involved in the details and lose sight of the entire project. Ensure that the project members also take on responsibility for the entire project and not just for their own result. An excellent way to achieve this is through good delegation, which is an art in itself.
Be a Role Model
Naturally, this applies to all types of projects and leadership but is extremely important when the focus is not on your project management role. Be committed and enthusiastic; it's contagious. This is especially important when project members divide their work time in the project with their ordinary work in the line organization with departmental affiliations and a superior manager. Make yourself available. Go around, ask questions and give feedback and have informal conversations with the workers. Verbally convey your message instead of using email as the only way you distribute information, especially if the person is “right across the hall.” Also try to be a role model in regard to discipline at meetings. Others will follow your example.
And last but not least—be yourself and practice what you preach!
Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium
October 3–10, 2002 • San Antonio, Texas, USA