Factors that affect the performance of project managers in the Brazilian context

Abstract

The objective of this article is to survey the key attributes that affect the performance of project managers in Brazilian organizations. The work in organizations in the forms of projects is a recent phenomenon and has grown significantly in recent years. Based on a review of the literature, field research was carried out in two steps, which included in-depth interviews with 25 project managers. The findings of the survey are presented in four parts: the management structures of projects, manager relationships, manager roles, and manager competencies. The results of this analysis yielded an initial list of 90 parameters, of which 21 were selected as the most significant with regard to the performance of the project manager. Based on these results, a survey was constructed, which was answered by 688 professionals working on projects; of these, just over 80% were project managers. The analysis enabled the identification of 15 factors that affect performance: support of the PMO; communication and commitment in distributed teams; stakeholder management; structural complexity; identity of the project manager in hybrid projects; internal relationships; strategic relationships; risks, difficulties and uncertainties; project manager ethics; management of risks and shared resources; autonomy of the project manager in staffing the team; valuation of competencies by the company; technical and behavioral competencies; professional certifications; and value of the project. It is hoped that the findings can serve as a contribution to knowledge regarding the performance of project managers in the Brazilian context, thereby generating additional ideas and questions as to the management of projects in Brazil. A research agenda was presented, with validation of the attributes via a survey, as well as the survey of project managers grouped according to a selection of the categorical data to be defined. Relevant findings as to the technical and behavioral competencies of the project manager and their relationships to project success were also manifest.

Keywords: project manager; manager performance; manager roles; management challenges

Introduction

Projects have become the dominant format for work in contemporary organizations. Technological advances, increased competition, mergers, acquisitions, privatizations, and expansions in global markets: these are among the numerous drivers for the emergence of new projects (Bredillet, 2007a; Giammalvo, 2007; Cicmil & Hodgson, 2006; Grabher, 2002).

Within the field of organizational studies, the area of project management is young, still forming, and characterized by a plurality of constructs and approaches. In the past, significant emphasis was placed on building techniques, tools, best practices, and project management methodologies, and several authors (Beets & Lansley, 1995; Cicmil et al, 2006; Jaafari 2003; Meredith & Mantel, 2003) point out that this emphasis persists in much of the theoretical work surrounding the subject.

The growth of project management in contemporary society can be confirmed through professional associations dedicated to the subject and an increased demand for formal education on the subject, as witnessed by the number of undergraduate and graduate courses in project management. On the other hand, the spread of best practices and, notably, the increase of the degree of influence of professional associations have been recasting project management as a normative set of turnkey solutions, standardized and imported, available and applicable to all types of projects in any organization. (Starkweather & Stevenson, 2011)

For many years, the area of project management was regarded as of little or no academic importance (Bredillet, 2005, 2007a; Jugdev, 2004; Leybourne, 2007); however, in recent years, the research on project management has been growing.

In this new model of project management, one particular role is of fundamental importance: the project manager. The project manager must drive the work, from initial design to completion, through the delivery of products to clients. Project managers, in turn, occupy the middle strata of formal structures and their role in organizations has grown in terms of complexity, scope, and power in recent years (Inkson, Heising, & Rousseau, 2001).

Given this scenario, we seek to better understand the project manager, not only as a link between senior management and project teams, but as a central element in relationships with stakeholders: suppliers, competitors, legislation, clients, and the project team itself, among others. Despite all the published studies linked to project human resources management (Söderlund, Borg & Bredin, 2010; Grabher, 2002; Chapman, 2001) and also in relation to manager competencies (Davis, 2011; Pollack, 2007; Starkweather & Stevenson, 2011), there remains a gap in the body of research on the factors that affect the performance of project managers.

From these initial considerations, we can present the guiding question of this paper: “What are the factors that, in the perception of project managers, best characterize their performance?”

Project Managers: Who They Are and What They Do

Project managers are ultimately accountable for the attainment of project objectives (Meredith & Mantell, 2003). In the line of research that considers projects as temporary organizations (Turner, 2003), the project manager is the chief executive of this organization. The project is seen as a production cell, as an agency to allocate change management resources within a functional organization, and as an agency for the management of uncertainty, even though it is not the project managers who make the decisions regarding starting or ending projects in organizations. Müller and Turner (2005) term the owner or client of the project the individual who prepared the business case, checked the alignment of the project with company strategy, and assumes responsibility for the success of the project for the business. However, responsibility for driving the project forward rests with the project manager, who may be from the same company or be outsourced. This delegation establishes a principal–agent relationship, in which the principal (i.e., the client) depends on the agent (i.e., the project manager). According to Müller and Turner (2005), during the execution of the project, the client does not have access to the same information as the manager and has no way of knowing if the project manager is effectively making the best decisions for the project. This asymmetry of information is a potential source of disputes and constitutes agency conflict.

Another research question related to project managers emerged in the 1990s: “What is happening to middle management?” (Thomas & Linstead, 2002, p. 71), because the roles and identities of middle managers have changed substantially. Two lines of thought were formed, the first with a pessimistic view on the subject, according to which job insecurity, the redefinition of roles, and the redundancy of much of the work done by middle managers moved toward the inevitable disappearance of this layer of the organizational structure. On the other hand, according to the optimist view, there would be a transformation of roles, and the new manager would have a strategic focus, be more enterprising, and reflect a more personal involvement and intrinsic motivation (op. cit., 2002, p. 72). One of the approaches to middle management is one that views them as “interim managers.” According to Inkson, Heising, and Rousseau (2001, p. 260), the interim manager is usually contracted for a short-term issue or to conduct a pre-defined project.

According to Chapman (2001), the new forms are more flexible, characterized by fluid arrangements of people, and exhibit at least four characteristics. The first refers to structuring, which occurs preferentially from the bottom up. Based on an understanding of the problem, teams are formed in a manner analogous to the creation of autonomous businesses or simple structures. The second characteristic is expressed in the connections between the units (i.e., each cell identifies its strengths and seeks complementarities in its universe of business. The third characteristic is linked to culture, with strong support for initiative, autonomy, and creativity. The latter feature is the value given to knowledge and information, which become more important than fixed assets.

The project manager is the core element of a large set of internal and external relationships. The project manager interfaces with the client, project team, top strategic management of the business leading the project, suppliers, competitors, employees, other project managers, other sectors of the company, regulatory bodies, and other stakeholders.

Another element who has an important relationship with the project manager is the project sponsor. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) (PMI, 2008) emphasizes the need for each project to have a sponsor (i.e., someone with the power to defend the project over time. Kloppenborg et al. (2006) studied the different roles of the sponsor in the project initiation phase. In the majority of real situations, the sponsor is the senior executive, that is, the owner of the project, who is considered to be responsible for ensuring its success. It is the sponsor who proposes the project and whose business unit will benefit from successfully completed projects.

Studies related to the performance of the project manager have followed a logic of thought related to the sets of competencies required for the performance of tasks: hard/soft skills (Crawford & Pollack, 2004; Pollack, 2007) and emotional intelligence (Davis, 2011). Muzio et al. (2007) studied and quantified soft skills in project management and concluded that the importance of soft skills for project managers has been garnering increasing recognition. Aspects such as leadership, teamwork, conflict management, and communication exemplify such skills; however, according to Crawford and Pollack (2004), the terms soft/hard have been used in the literature on project management in a way that is inconsistent and often ambiguous. Hard skills are those related to planning and control tools; soft skills, in contrast, include the tools, methods, and skills deployed by the project manager in driving the project over time.

Project Management as a Career

Traditional forms of departmentalization do not customarily contemplate the project manager, because this is an ad hoc and occasional function. Furthermore, it was a typical function of middle management (Milosevic & Srivannaboon, 2006). In parallel with the growing popularity of projects as an organizational form, project managers have gained increasing importance in the formal structure of organizations.

Rapid technological change, along with the increasing complexity of projects and market pressures, has led project management to a more strategic positioning, closer to senior management, and with this change, project managers have seen their own responsibilities expand. Although corporate governance is a stressful occupation, stress levels experienced by project managers are recognized to be even greater due to the existence of conflicts vis-à-vis completing the project on time, within budget, with quality, and with client satisfaction (Richmond & Skitmore, 2006).

Professional project management associations, formed in the 1960s and 1970s, initially aimed to bring together project managers and discuss the profession. According to Morris et al. (2006), over time all of them have undertaken significant efforts to develop and apply standards, methods, and best practices for use in implementing projects. These documents, normative in essence, are the basis of content for personal certification programs in project management offered by trade associations. Today, a certification industry exists, both on the personal and the organizational levels: project managers, maturity models, quality standards and programs, security, software development, and financial markets are just some of the sectors of the economy that maintain their own certification programs.

The Methodological Path

The article describes an exploratory study, conducted in three phases, on the perceptions of project managers with respect to their own work. The main intention of the study is to generate a list of factors that, in the perceptions of project managers, affect the performance of their work. In the first phase, in-depth interviews with 25 project managers were carried out. Senior managers with extensive experience and expertise in various sectors of industry (finance, IT, oil and gas, consulting services, pharmaceutical, defense, government, R&D, and engineering) were selected. Approximately 60% of the sample had taken specialized courses or professional certifications. At this stage, data processing was done primarily through content analysis. The texts generated from 25 interviews comprised the mass of initial data for analysis, which was performed both manually (via reading, text mark-ups, and construction of dialogical maps) and with the aid of Atlas.ti software. In the initial reading of the contents of the interviews, 90 attributes or concepts (quotes) were identified for the problem under study. Further analysis indicated that some 15 to 25 of these attributes would have validity for the study, but thus far, cutoff criteria had still not been defined. Multi-selection criteria were chosen based on three measures, two objectives, and one subjective and are described as follows:

The first measure refers to the number of portions selected out of the entire mass of data. Attributes were selected with a minimum of 10 sections (i.e., at least ten mentions). The second measure refers to the number of respondents who cited the concepts. At least four respondents were required for the selection of the attribute. The third measure, qualitative, was based on the classification criteria of Giammalvo (2007), whereby attributes are classified as significant, important, indeterminate, interesting, conflicting, or not relevant.

In the second phase, a survey was conducted, comparing the 21 attributes identified through statements measured via five-point Likert scales. The survey was conducted through the survey site, Qualtrics, with support for dissemination from the thirteen local PMI chapters in Brazil, with approximately 11,000 members, as well as the social network of the authors and project management discussion groups. Having obtained the matrix of data and having removed the outliers and those who were not project managers, 656 respondents remained.

The third and final phase of the research consisted of performing an exploratory factor analysis of the results in order to obtain a set of factors that affect project manager performance.

Field Results

The results are detailed in four sets: project management structures, project manager relationships, role of the project manager, and project manager competencies. For each of these elements, attributes were identified, which, according to the perception of project managers, most affected their performance.

Project Management Structures

The first attribute surveyed is the structure of management. An understanding of how to deepen the analysis of the different organizational architectures used in project management is fundamental to understanding the logic of action of the project manager. In the description of the structural forms used, matrix structure stood out and was mentioned by the majority of the respondents. Commonplace, too, is working with expatriate staff, and in some cases, treated as a specific career. It turned out that the structure of management involves a matrix design, people working on multiple projects concurrently, the presence of suppliers of outsourced labor, as well as some companies with specific expatriate staffing.

The second attribute was the measure of maturity in project management. The methodologies for measuring project management maturity were familiar to approximately 80% of the sample. Some managers were familiar with such methodologies, but believe that the analysis of maturity only serves for the company to know where it stands (i.e., the measurement of maturity would be just another assessment tool).

The third attribute is the staffing of hybrid teams. According to Grabher (2002), in the 1990s researchers started to focus on hybrid teams as structural arrangements geared to the needs of the market. A hybrid team is one composed of individuals from different sectors of one company or several companies, with the aim of carrying out a single project. Upon completion of the project, the team is dissolved, representing, therefore, an ad hoc organizational arrangement. The running of hybrid teams is an additional challenge for project managers, who must exercise their functions and command personnel from companies with different cultures. Throughout the conversations, a recurring theme was the staffing of hybrid teams, which was considered as one of the major challenges of project managers in the current context. Respondents highlighted how, because they see their power as greatly diminished, it is difficult to form teams with partner companies, which neither hire, promote, fire, nor assess. In addition, the hybrid team is saddled with communication problems throughout the project, given that some participant companies filter and do not provide all the information to the teams.

The fourth attribute is project communication, which was the code that generated the second highest number of mentions (30) in the analysis using Atlas.ti, with the word “communication” receiving the most mentions by the set of all respondents. Most of them said that their organizations have specific procedures for communication. Only one manager said his or her organization had no communications plan. Also highlighted were the difficulties of working with expatriates; moreover, those with geographically dispersed projects emphasized the issue of the language of the project. There was great emphasis on the parts of respondents with regard to the importance of communication, which was cited as “The biggest challenge to the project manager.” Another manager, when asked about the importance of the communications plan, was even more emphatic:

“On a scale of one to ten: eleven! Communicating is even more important than executing—you can include that it in the interview. Communicating is even more important than executing! What I mean is that if you execute but fail to communicate, nothing is accomplished! Communication is everything. It's more important than the project per se, without a doubt.”

The fifth attribute mentioned was the identity of the project manager, which appeared both by virtue of its existence in some sectors and firms and by virtue of its absence in another part of the sample. Although some managers claim to have an identity, a significant portion resents the lack of understanding of the work of the project manager, even among themselves. In other words, project management is a career, or a profession in formation. Yet, today, there are those who manage projects but still do not perceive themselves as “project managers” as such. Some managers, on being invited for the interview, argued that they would not be the best choice because they were unfamiliar with Project Management Institute (PMI) and the PMBOK® Guide, or had not participated in the activities, symposia, and other industry events—as if only those who practiced the logic of PMI were “authentic” project managers.

A sixth attribute mentioned pertained to project stakeholders, considered essential by virtually all managers; however, fewer than half of the respondents undertook a formal stakeholder analysis, as prescribed in PMBOK® Guide.

The last attribute related to the management structure is PMO (project management office) support, a relatively recent parameter in the field of project management, given that in the last ten years many organizations have begun to implement PMOs. The majority of respondents have the support of the company PMO, albeit at different levels.

Project Manager Relationships

The client emerged as the first attribute related to the relationships of the project manager. Most respondents considered the client as the main stakeholder of the project and their relationship as a key factor for the performance of the activities of the manager; the following discourse reflects this finding:

“The client is very strong, my main stakeholder, because ... when I'm selling a proposal, not always does the client know exactly what he or she is buying. I try to do as much as possible to educate him or her before closing the deal—so as to be able to manage his or her expectations—so he or she doesn't wind up thinking he or she is buying the wrong thing. Because if he or she does, he or she will end up demanding something from me that I cannot provide.”

The second attribute mentioned was the manager's relationship with the project team. Once again, there appears to be a concept aligned with communication in which building a good relationship strongly depends on internal communication, as the following excerpt illustrates:

“They can see in the project manager someone who's there not only with a different type of badge, but someone who has a reason and a justification to be in that role and they try to seek support from the manager.”

Some managers mentioned their own relationships as barriers to dealing with teams; others mentioned the difficulties that the project manager experiences in matrix organizational designs:

“When this project manager works according to the matrix form of organization, new conflicts arise, usually with the view of the functional manager prevailing. So, what I've seen in weak matrix organizations, for example, is that the project manager has a hard life and usually falls back on that original vision, that of a single consignor of projects. In reality, he or she becomes the boss's informant.”

The third attribute identified was the perception of senior management. A subgroup of respondents simply believes that the project managers are unknown: “Project management is still a discipline that is somewhat unfamiliar to top management.” Others pointed out that senior management cares about results: “Good executives in general are concerned with the outcome: they want results without problems.” A second group currently sees a process of increasing valuation of the project manager; this process is driven by the growth of the area, the penetration of PMI logic as well as functional progressions (i.e., senior executives are beginning to be replaced by a generation that has already experienced project management at the operational and tactical levels of organizations).

Another attribute was the influence of regulatory groups. The reality of contemporary projects includes a strong presence of regulatory bodies in activities. The sample selected consisted of managers from different sectors of activities. Legislation may also act as a strategic factor for obtaining new projects, as highlighted by the following excerpt, in which the organization works primarily with research projects on oil pipelines:

“This industry is highly regulated. In some cases, regulation is extremely favorable: there is a regulation of the regulatory agency that requires companies that have oil production to invest 1% of revenue in research and development.”

The last attribute identified in this subgroup is the influence of the sponsor. The majority confirmed that the sponsor exists and is identified early in the project. The sponsor is often asked to intervene at times when problems arise, and sometimes represents the company's core business.

“[...] there is always the sponsor who is held responsible when there is any deviation or need beyond the responsibility of the project manager; the sponsor is the guy who has to be a support resource, to put things back on track again.”

Project Manager Roles

The first attribute surveyed about the role of project manager was called senior management/client conflict. This code arose from the discussion of the project manager's dilemmas. The dilemma most mentioned refers to the conflict of interest that the manager lives, between maximizing the return to the client or for his or her own company. This type of situation occurs when a client organization awards a project to a project firm. The project firm assigns a project manager, who governed under a contract, performs the services for the client. Over the course of implementation new needs arise often, some from a more detailed reading of the contract and in the scope statement, others not. In these situations, managers find themselves with a dilemma: whether to maximize company revenues, thereby meeting the expectations of senior management; or, to meet the demands of the client organization, thereby cutting into the project's financial return for their own company. The following excerpt highlights this conflict:

“In my specific case, there is the dilemma of the service provider. You have to meet the needs of each of these stakeholders that are within the client, but then you also have to meet the needs of the company to which you belong. Sometimes this is a dilemma, you know: where do I go? Do I take the technical side or the side that affords the best income? Do I take the side that exposes myself the least? It's not so simple.”

A second attribute encountered in the survey was called project management ethics, based on a question presented about possible project manager ethics. The discourses in which the ethics of projects came up were well differentiated: nearly every respondent saw a different aspect of the topic. For two of the interviewees, the ethics of the project manager start with his or her own team: project managers must defend their teams and provide the means to carry out the activities to create the project. These are the managers who feel responsible for the performance of their team and defend their team within the jungle of the organization:

“And ethics serves to respect limitations, giving the necessary support, protecting those involved. This is cool because, in a way, when you are creating you're taking risks; if you're a guy who knows how to protect those who are doing the creating, the creation tends to turn out that much better.”

The interviewees expressed a concern with the ethical image of their projects, even though, as some recalled, the minor lies and half truths are frequent, as expressed by a manager: “In a small project you assume a few fibs, those that are socially accepted like, ‘already finished,’ when in fact you have not finished.”

The third attribute identified was the conflict between sectors. All respondents agreed that such conflict exists, yet with different interpretations. Respondents mentioned the following: disputes over human resources; understanding of the speed of the project; the struggle to “be first” in terms of the bottom line; different rules between the sectors; conflicts of interest; the use of standards and regulations to collect/improve the bottom line; understanding of the scope; conflict of roles; conflicts inherent in the structural matrix; manager's lack of firmness; and the most cited, conflict with the marketing department.

The fourth attribute was team staffing, cited as a challenge to be overcome, because companies currently have an extremely lean workforce and it is common for people to have many concurrent activities in progress. In other words, no longer are there teams dedicated exclusively to a single project, which was confirmed unanimously by the respondents. In the absence of a particular profile, the solutions are different. Some organizations avoid hiring subcontractors, opting for individual hires.

The last attribute identified in this category was called manager risk, because project managers are aware of the high risks of their profession. For some, completing the project is not enough—they must achieve success, and only then do the manager's risks subside, as expressed by an interviewee:

“My risk is failing to generate satisfaction; for me, that's the greatest risk; it's winding up a project and there is no success; success is what drives me.”

Project Manager Competencies

The first attribute related to competencies was named professional certifications. Currently, there is a growing appreciation of professional certification, both organizational and individual.

“Everything there is PMI, and based on the precepts of PMI. So, then they (the company) conduct an OPM3® maturity analysis—they are already thinking about implementing a program manager. There are dinosaurs there older than me taking PMP certification exams.”

However, part of the sample was comprised of uncertified managers, who would somehow try to “justify” their status of not having Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification:

“If the market really starts to demand that of professionals working in the area, I may be forced to do it; otherwise, I have no personal motivation.”

“So, I'd rather face a team leader who's gray haired and balding, than a guy with umpteen qualifications... PMP®, PMA, PMU, PMO, get it?”

The second attribute was named technical competency. The practice of project management presupposes a set of skills, that is, the set of capabilities and skills required for the management of projects. The main technical competence cited was the ability to build the work breakdown structure (WBS) document. Risk analysis, cost estimates, project networks, value-added analysis, baseline project, progress reports, resource leveling, integrated change control, and final project report were also cited.

Some managers, especially the group not belonging to “PMI logic,” use different terminology and are unaware of certain tools. It was also noted that managers know the competencies, but do not always know the hard/soft classifications.

The third attribute of this class was called behavioral competencies. As already mentioned, the study and valuation of behavioral competencies in the project environment is a recent issue. Based on the records of the codes and mentions in Atlas.ti, the most oft-mentioned behavioral competence was “communication” and communication skills, as expressed in the discourse passage below, in which the respondent includes communication and projects as collateral burdens and as outside the main of scope of work of the individual. In other words, people—already burdened with activities related to their respective competencies—are tasked with leading projects in other areas, and from there on, problems ensue.

Respondents also compared technical competencies with behavioral competencies, as the following excerpt illustrates:

“The project manager who takes a very technical approach to his or her work usually overlooks issues that are not technical, which in reality are behavioral, political—issues that the technical manager fails to grasp. Personally. I'd far rather work with someone who has this vision, albeit not the best, than work with someone who is technically excellent, but who does not have this perception that there is much more than our vain philosophy is capable of providing.”

Over the course of the interviews, it became clear that the issue was hard to define and created a certain discomfort in some of the interviewees, as if, at some point, the managers had to assume a type of competence that they did not even know how to describe. One manager summed it up like this: “Some call it art, but the correct name for it is ‘emotional intelligence.'”

The last attribute was project value. One of the survey questions inquired about the difficulties of the project manager. Even with the first respondent, the importance was clear of assigning the real project value for the business. Throughout the interviews, this vision was repeated several times in different parts of the interviews and generated more than 15 mentions in textual analysis, thus justifying its inclusion in the final analysis. The concern with understanding the value of the project is one of the five directions of research in project management, according to Winter et al. (2006, p. 653), because, according to the authors, “project value” has multiple meanings, both for organizations and for people.

Managers need to integrate different views into a common goal. The views of senior management, the client, and other departments of the firm need to converge on the idea that the project will add value to the company's business, or, as one manager put it: “every successfully completed project represents a stage won in strategic planning.”

Therefore, in the views of the interviewees, one of the manager's biggest challenges is to push the actual project value forward to the organization's business. For this, they will have to overcome some major obstacles, such as orientation for (1) public company procedures, (2) other sectors that simply dump proposals for new projects without assessing their viability or adherence to company strategies, and (3) the constant need to convince senior management.

Factors Affecting the Performance of the Project Manager

To determine the factors that affect performance, factor analysis was performed based on 33 questions posed in the survey. Verification of the reliability of the test sample is obtained with Cronbach's alpha (Hair, 2005), with condense results shown in Table 1. A Cronbach's alpha measurement above 0.7 is considered acceptable and as low as 0.6 may be accepted in exploratory research. In this case, we obtained a measure of reliability of 77.1%, which ensures suitability and allows one to move to the next step.

  N %
Valid Cases 656 100.0
  excluded 0 .0
  Total 656 100.0
Cronbach's
alpha
Cronbach's Alpha Based
on standard items
# Items
.771 .802 33

Table 1: Cronbach's alpha test.

Project Management Structures

The first set of variables consists of 13 statements. Using factor analysis with Varimax rotation, five factors were defined with factor loadings greater than (0.5); Figure 1 shows the eigenvalues and resulting factors. To satisfy the conditions for factor analysis, Bartlett's test of sphericity must be performed. The correlation matrix was evaluated for equivalence to the identity matrix, admitting the absence of linear associations between the characteristics studied (i.e., the correlations between the variables are tested). (McClave, 2006) The test statistic is expressed by Ho: P = I, where P = population correlation matrix and I = identity matrix. When matrix Ho is rejected, the variables present significant correlations, indicating the continuity of the factor analysis procedure. Table 2 presents the results of the statistical test for the first set of variables. This test was repeated in three subsequent analyses, always with the rejection of Ho.

Adequacy measurement of the Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin sample. .754
Bartlett test of Sphericity Approximate chi-square 1233.352
d.f. 78
Sig. .000

Table 2: KMO and Bartlett tests for project management structure.

Eigenvalues and structure factors for project management

Figure 1: Eigenvalues and structure factors for project management

The five factors generated were named as follows:

STR1 – Project office support

STR2 – Communication and commitment in distributed teams

STR3 – Stakeholder management

STR4 – Structural complexity

STR5 – Identity of the project manager in hybrid projects

The first factor was named “project office support,” and consists of five variables, which express the degree of maturity with which the company treats project management. It was decided to name the factor “maturity,” because the two statements relating to the measures of maturity are present in the factorial composition. However, given the results of the previous phase of the study, the measure of the level of maturity is more useful as a tool for assessing the positioning of the company vis-à-vis management of projects. Organizations that work closer to the methodologies, best practices, and standards set by PMI will attribute a greater weighting to this factor. The following are the component variables of this first factor:

  • In my company, there is pressure for a higher project management maturity level. (V18)
  • The PMO effectively supports and advises the project manager. (V23)
  • The company values maturity models. (V43)
  • The company values stakeholder analysis. (V46)
  • The company values the PMO. (V48)

The second factor identified comprises three variables related to the communication and commitment of geographically distributed teams, and was named communication and commitment in distributed teams; i.e., it identifies as important for the performance of the project manager, the following variables:

  • Obtaining the commitment of people from different companies is a challenge for the project manager. (V19)
  • Having an efficient communication structure is very important for the success of the project. (V20)
  • Obtaining the commitment of people from different areas of the business is a challenge for the project manager. (V25)

The third factor was called stakeholder analysis, because it is formed exclusively by the variable of the same name:

  • The stakeholder analysis conducted at the beginning of my project was well done. (V22)

The fourth factor identifies the structural complexity of the companies involved in the project and considers two variables, the second one with negative factor loading:

  • My current project is characterized by a complex structure with multiple companies involved. (V16)
  • In my company, I manage internal projects only. (V17)

The fifth and final factor, called the project manager identity in hybrid projects, comprises two variables:

  • In my company, project managers are a group of people with common characteristics who define an identity. (V21)
  • The geographical dispersion of the project team does not compromise the performance of the project manager. (V24)

This last factor is the less “obvious” definition because it integrates two apparently distinct statements. The load factor of the second (“geographical dispersion”) is greater than the load of the first statement. This result may suggest that, in organizations in which project management is now more widespread and internalized in practice and culture, geographically dispersed projects can be implemented, involving multiple companies and locations, which can be seen as a hybrid project structure. In other words, the implementation of geographically distributed projects has a better chance of success when managed by companies acting according to “project logic,” with more maturity and a defined project manager identity.

Also recommended is clarification as to the concepts “distributed teams,” “project with complex structure” and “hybrid projects.” Distributed teams presuppose a physical separation of people on the project, whether in relation to companies or in relation to physical space. Projects with complex structures are projects formed in partnerships, in which the full scope of the project is carried out by different sectors or companies, with even the client company performing part of the project. Finally, hybrid projects are characterized by the formation of a structure that will end with the final project: a hybrid structure has no continuity; it does not preserve itself for other projects and is extinguished at the end of the work. Table 3 presents the rotated factor matrix for the project management structure.

  Component
STR1 STR2 STR3 STR4 STR5
SMEAN(V16)       .746  
SMEAN(V17)       -.780  
SMEAN(V18) .660        
SMEAN(V19)   .774      
SMEAN(V20)   .563      
SMEAN(V21)         .575
SMEAN(V22)     .761    
SMEAN(V23) .600        
SMEAN(V24)         .859
SMEAN(V25)   .683      
SMEAN(V43) .797        
SMEAN(V46) .503        
SMEAN(V48) .820        
Extraction method: Analysis of main components.
Rotation Method: Varimax with Kaiser normalization.
(a) Rotation converged in 6 iterations.

Table 3: Matrix of rotated components for structure.

Project Manager Relationships

The first set of variables consists of five statements. Factor analysis with Varimax rotation defined two factors with factor loadings greater than (0.5); Figure 2 shows the resulting eigenvalues and factors and Table 4 shows the rotated factorial matrix.

Eigenvalues and factors for project manager relationships

Figure 2: Eigenvalues and factors for project manager relationships.

Names of the factors generated:

REL1 - Relationships internal to the project

REL2 - Strategic relationships

The first factor was called “internal relationships” and is composed of two variables, which express the relationships of the manager with his or her own team and with the client. It can be argued that the client is not always an element internal to the organization executing the project. Here a system is assumed, which is composed of the project team and the client, the two acting as a joint universe for development and approval. The project manager must “get” the broader view and define the system, which will not always have a clearly defined physical or organizational existence. The following are the component variables of this first factor:

  • Having a good relationship with the client is very important for project success. (V26)
  • Having a good relationship with the project team is very important for project success. (V27)

The second factor identified comprises three variables linked to relationships outside the project environment, and was called strategic relationships, because it links the project manager relationships with three stakeholder´s categories.

  • Having a good relationship with the company's senior strategic management is very important for project success. (V28)
  • Fulfilling legal requirements and the requirements of external regulatory groups is very important for project success. (V29)
  • Having an identified and active sponsor is very important for project success. (V30)
  Component
  REL1 REL2
SMEAN(V26) .872  
SMEAN(V27) .818  
SMEAN(V28)   .510
SMEAN(V29)   .675
SMEAN(V30)   .869
Extraction method: Analysis of main components.
Rotation Method: Varimax with Kaiser normalization.
(a) Rotation converged in six iterations.

Table 4: Rotated factorial matrix—project manager relationships.

Project Manager Roles

Four factors were identified, based on eight statements. Figure 3 shows the eigenvalues and factors, and Table 5 shows the rotated factorial matrix .

Eigenvalues and factors for project manager roles

Figure 3: Eigenvalues and factors for project manager roles.

Name of the factors generated:

RLS1 – Risks, difficulties and uncertainties

RLS2 – Project manager ethics

RLS3 – Management of risks and shared resources

RLS4 – Autonomy of the project manager in staffing the team

The first factor defined here is risks, both project risks and manager risks, and was called risks, difficulties, and uncertainties. Following are the two variables that were reduced:

  • Performing a detailed risk analysis is very important for project success. (V36)
  • Knowing how to deal with risks, difficulties, and uncertainties is very important for the success of the project manager. (V37)

The second factor is called the project manager ethics, and is formed by combining the two statements related to the subject. The second statement had a negative factor loading, which strongly indicates that many organizations do not have a formal codes of ethics. In some cases, a code of ethics exists, but is not released by the company. Following are the variables that form the factor:

  • The result of the project is much more important for my company and the clients than the means used for its execution. (V32)
  • The code of ethics of my organization is important for the performance of the tasks of project manager. (V33)

The third factor identified includes two variables of correlation seemingly low because they concern conflicts and risks; the first variable is calculated with negative factor loading. Analysis of the data analysis shows that managers in organizations in which project risk analysis is performed well and valued tend to exhibit a lower intensity of conflict over time with other sectors of the organization. Properly conducted risk analysis should lead to projects with fewer “surprises” during their execution, thereby affecting the relationships of the project manager with other sectors of the company to a lesser degree. This situation can be exemplified in the allocation of internal resources: projects carried out without risk analysis may require more staff during the execution and this increase can engender discomfort—both for the manager who “asks” for more resources—as well as for other sectors, who may feel pressured to provide their own staff to “save” the projects of others, even though they are company projects. In view of this rationale, this factor was named management of risks and shared resources and formed by the following variables:

  • In my current project, there is a high-intensity conflict between the project and other parts of my organization. (V34)
  • The company values analysis of project risk. (V47)

The last factor in this category comprises two positive factor loading variables: agency conflict and team staffing, having been called project manager autonomy in team staffing. Following are the constituent variables of the factor:

  • “Fulfilling the client's wishes versus fulfilling the desires of my company” is an important dilemma for me as a project manager. (V31)
  • Choosing the best people to staff my project team is a major challenge for the project manager. (V35)

When looking at the second statement, it is clear that a higher level of adherence indicates staffing the team is more challenging; in other words, the greater the difficulties, the lower the autonomy of the manager in staffing the team. Associated with the other statement, one can conclude that the lower the autonomy in staffing the team, the greater the concerns of the manager to ensure that they will serve both the client and his or her company with the same quality, without favoring one over the other.

  Component
RLS1 RLS2 RLS3 RLS4
SMEAN(V31)       .901
SMEAN(V32)   .886    
SMEAN(V33)   -,507    
SMEAN(V34)     -,602  
SMEAN(V35)       .565
SMEAN(V36) .806      
SMEAN(V37) .829      
SMEAN(V47)     .807  
Extraction method: Analysis of main components.
Rotation Method: Varimax with Kaiser normalization.
(a) Rotation converged in 5 iterations.

Table 5: Matrix of rotated components—role.

Project Manager Competencies

Four factors were identified from seven statements. Figure 4 shows the eigenvalues and factors, and Table 5 shows the rotated factorial matrix .

Eigenvalues and factors for project manager competencies

Figure 4: Eigenvalues and factors for project manager competencies.

  Component
CPT1 CPT2 CPT3 CPT4
SMEAN(V38)     .763  
SMEAN(V39)   .863    
SMEAN(V40)   .708    
SMEAN(V41)       .961
SMEAN(V42)     .793  
SMEAN(V44) .848      
SMEAN(V45) .874      
Extraction method: Analysis of main components.
Rotation Method: Varimax with Kaiser normalization.
(a) Rotation converged in 6 iterations.

Table 6: Matrix of rotated components—competencies.

Names of factors:

CPT1 – Valuation of competencies by the company

CPT2 – Technical and behavioral competencies

CPT3 – Professional certifications

CPT4 – Project value

The first factor, named valuation of competencies by the company, measures the value that the company attributes to the technical and behavioral skills of the project manager and consists of two variables with positive factor loading:

  • My company values the technical competencies of the project manager (hard skills). (V44)
  • My company values the behavioral skills of project management (soft skills). (V45)

The second factor, called technical and behavioral competencies, measures individual perception of the project manager's technical and behavioral skills.

  • It is very important that I know and master the technical competencies (hard skills) of the project manager. (V39)
  • It is very important that I know and master the behavioral skills (soft skills) of the project manager. (V40)

The third factor, professional certifications, is linked to certifications in their two dimensions: valuation by the company and extent of use in the project environment.

  • It is important that my company values the professionals who have individual project management certifications (e.g., PMP). (V38)
  • My company values individual professional certifications for project managers (e.g., PMP). (V42)

The fourth and final factor is called project value and measures how effective the project manager is in convincing the team and the rest of the company as to the real value of the project.

  • Convincing the team and the rest of the company as to the real value of the project to the business is very important for project success. (V41)

Conclusions

The proposition being defended in this study is that project managers perform multiple roles and live sets of dilemmas and challenges as a result of ongoing changes in organizations, which are moving away from organizational architectures based on repetitive activities in favor of a project-based logic.

From this basic assumption with regard to project managers in the Brazilian context, we sought to conduct an exploratory study that portrayed the “reality” of project managers, a developing category of professionals in the structures of today's organizations.

The study confirmed that the project manager performs multiple roles; however, one finding that stands out is that “project manager” is an “accidental profession” in which people simply become project managers with no specific training or qualifications. Communication skills are critical in projects. The manager must provide a communication structure, a fact that becomes even more important in geographically dispersed and hybrid projects. The project manager must also take advantage of the company's project management office (PMO). Of all the services provided by the PMO, stakeholder analysis stands out as a priority. In organizations that do not have corporate project offices, stakeholder analysis is the responsibility of the project manager. Finally, it is also the purview of the manager to maintain good relationships with key project stakeholders: the client, the team, senior strategic management, regulatory groups, and the project sponsor.

The project manager has a number of challenges, both to stay in the profession and to satisfy the various stakeholders: Pressure by maturity; management of hybrid teams; resolving conflicts between sectors; limitations in staffing teams; pursuit of professional certifications, and balancing of technical and behavioral skills.

The consequences and implications of this study are relevant to academia, organizations, and those who work on projects. Regarding academia, researchers must seek to understand better the reality of individuals—not just project managers, but all those involved in conducting projects. With respect to companies, there is a need for a better understanding of the challenges faced by the project manager, including the understanding that many projects are outlined with politically driven deadlines and budgets, which may not be realistically achieved given the human and material resources made available to project managers. People who work on projects live close to the edge; they go all out to meet unrealistic deadlines. Thus, it is hoped that the project manager can be seen in a more sympathetic light, and that businesses can formulate organizational policies and practices that are conducive to improving the quality of life, working conditions, and dignity of individuals working on projects. It is also hoped that workers in project environments can come to understand the difficulties and challenges of project management and can see themselves as agents of change, as individuals responsible for innovation, growth, the evolution of business, and their products and services.

Based on the results of this study, several lines of research can be identified. The first is expressed in an attempt to engender clusters of project managers. A second line of research, which is unfolding, involves the skills of the project manager. It is suggested to work from lists of classifications of technical and behavioral competencies and to check, in the field, their levels of use and influence on the performance of the project manager and on the project results themselves.

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