Culture Is As Culture Does

The Impact of Corporate Culture on Portfolio, Program, and Project Management


Deb Banister-Hazama, Partner, Finest First

Chuck Hazama, Finest First

Portfolio, program, and project management (PPPM) is as effective as the managers’ ability to lead teams through the processes. If the company culture, strategy, and (hence) leadership are not aligned with project management concepts and general processes, even the best leaders of programs or project teams will have difficulty. If project management is not aligned with corporate culture expectations, vision, and strategy, project management will suffer organizationally. This paper explores corporate culture and its relationship to project management in general. Culturally aligning the project management organization and its processes with company culture may be a means to expedite acceptance and implementation of project management and all its benefits. Identifying symptoms of misalignment and their impact on project success will be discussed. A simple assessment and next steps for determining if-and-when alignment is needed is part of the conclusion.

Corporate Culture—What is it?

“Culture is everything.”–Lou Gerstner of IBM (2002). From the beginning of humanity, we have had to figure out what we need to survive. Ages ago, to survive on the plains, you had to be a fast runner and swift with a bow and arrow to be the hunter rather than the hunted. Today, we believe we are thriving, not just surviving, as excellent “hunters” and strategists. We are hard at work using verbal and written communication and negotiations to align us, processes and policies to guide us, and benefits and human resources to care for us (at least in corporate North America). Corporate culture has been evolving, elusive as it may be, and there are volumes that define and wrap up how to manage and address corporate culture. Yet, because corporate culture is “the personality of a company,” and a company is much like a living organism or system, each one is unique. “Every organization, every corporation has its distinct character. People make organizations work and the culture of the corporation ties the people together, giving them meaning and a set of principles and standards to live and work by” (Cleland, 1988).

Culture has been defined as: “How we do things around here in order to succeed” (Schneider, 1994, 1997); “The values people share, their collective assumptions, and their behavior … It’s the way ‘things are around here’ … It determines what must be done and what is not allowed” (OCAI, 2010-2014). In the Project Management Journal, David I. Cleland described the nature of corporate culture as “the environment of beliefs, customs, knowledge, practices and the conventional behavior of a particular social group” (1988). The grandfather of organizational culture, Geert Hofstede, defines culture as “the collective programming of the minds of group members by which one group distinguishes itself from other groups … Most organisations have clear objectives … and most activities within organizations are aimed at realizing objectives” (Waisfisz, 2012). So organizational culture can be more precisely defined than our personal or national culture. Cultural differences are defined at the deepest level in values; within an organization, values can often be defined or seen tangibly as practices. “Practices are more tangible than values, which allows for a more precise and specific definition” (Waisfisz, 2012). Culture is seen “as the way in which members of an organisation relate to each other, to their work, to the outside world, that distinguishes them from another organisation” (Waisfisz, 2012). Since people are inherently relational, the culture within the organization is relational as well.

People’s beliefs, values, and/or practices make up the company culture; the culture is initiated and driven by a common vision, strategy, and leadership. When people can align within the beliefs, values, and practices, they will survive and thrive within that culture and will, in general, assist in moving the company toward its vision and goal. People that are not able to align within the beliefs, values, and practices will stall, deter, sabotage, or just miss the company objective. Another way to say this is if the vision and goals of the company are not aligned with the beliefs, values, and practices of the people/culture within a company, success of fulfilling the vision and reaching the goal is limited. People that “relate to each other, to their work, and to the outside world” (Waisfisz, 2012) in a way that fits within the culture will enable the organization to meet its goals and objectives; further, people who do not will hinder the success of the organization. Most research agrees, as the culture goes, so does the company, or “culture is as culture does.”

Project management by definition is often a strong subculture within an existing organization’s culture. This is, in part, because of the definitive practices, ethical requirements and accountability, strong teaming capabilities and regular, transparent reporting, and communication required. Project management offices are often created to assist a company in becoming more successful and bringing in the strength of project management processes. Without knowing it sometimes, the company is asking for some of that subculture mojo to rub off on the rest of the organization.

How Do We Nail It Down? (Identify, Define, Document)

Culture has been described to be like an onion skin with multiple layers to be peeled back, understood, and incorporated; like a 2-by-2 matrix that can be plotted depending upon employee experiences and opinions; and like a living organism that grows and shrinks based on leadership, success, and people. (Waisfisz, 2012; Cameron, Quinn, 2000; Ladika, 2008; Schneider, 1999). Research says that successful companies tend to have strong corporate cultures (Ladika, 2008). These companies with strong, dynamic cultures tend to be more successful than their counterparts. So how does one know what his or her culture is, or how does a company define its culture for its employees? In defining culture, many intangibles are used, or at least things that are relatively difficult to measure, like values people share, collective assumptions, etc. Often, these values and assumptions are part of the hard-to-nail-down personality (a little like nailing down Jell-O©). Observing behaviors is a way to begin to define values: how one person greets another; how a supervisor corrects a subordinate; how a leader begins a meeting, etc. While looking at behaviors, assumptions can be flushed out if the culture allows for questioning and inquisitive communication. Communication style and behavior assessment then begins to allow an organization to define and document practices.

Research of Geert Hostede has shown that practices are more tangible than values; practices are behaviors assumed, behaviors described, and behaviors expected. Sometimes they are written down as in processes and policies; sometimes they are not (Waisfisz, 2012). Even so, in recognizing that a company’s culture is much about the innate and taught practices that we do each day, there will be some that will not be documented or should not be documented. A means in which to “nail down” the culture is to look across the company at the written processes, policies, guidelines. The written rules or guidelines will help one recognize the type of culture. In attempting to answer the question, “What does this have to do with project management?”, project management in general operates and functions because of the practices and processes that are defined and followed in the simplest of project management organizations. Project management cultural expectations are defined and documented in general.

Organizational culture dimensions from three researcher-experts

Exhibit 1: Organizational culture dimensions from three researcher-experts

Listed in Exhibit 1 are dimensions of organizational culture that several experts considered in defining the topic. Each dimension gives a hint to the considerations defining and assessing culture needed. The purpose for sharing this table is so that we can recognize the importance of the acknowledging and understanding the culture in which we work. Having a clear understanding of the culture and “how to get things done around here” will definitively impact project results.

How do we identify our company culture if we are unsure what it is? Simply stated, if you are uncertain of your culture, then the company probably has a weak culture. A simple way to review your understanding of your culture is to consider the diagram below and attempt to plot where you feel your company belongs. Which square would you feel like you are in your office at work? Other researchers and experts in cultural assessment and design look at culture through two dimensions in two by two matrices. On one dimension or axis, internal focus versus external focus is considered (Cameron, Quinn). Another researcher uses impersonal versus personal to describe the similar dimension (Schneider). On the other axis is stability and control versus flexibility and discretion (Cameron, Quinn). Similarly, actuality versus possibility is used by William Schneider.

Combined and Adapted Organizational Matrices (Cameron/Quinn, Denison, Schneider)

Exhibit 2: Combined and Adapted Organizational Matrices (Cameron/Quinn, Denison, Schneider)

There are several ways to assess corporate culture. There are qualitative and quantitative methods. Qualitative include observations and asking questions. When observing consider the dimensions listed in Exhibit 1, ask and note: What do the offices look like? How are people dressed? Where do they eat meals (lunch, breaks)? How would you characterize people as they move around the office (informal, formal, laughing, serious, open, honest, hidden, joking, fearful…)? Then, interviews or surveys that gather stories or comments will also fulfill qualitative assessment. Ask questions like: “Can you tell me the organizational creation story?”; “How do new people ‘learn the ropes’ in this organization?”; “What gets noticed? Rewarded or Punished?”; “Are some people on the ‘fast track’? If so how did they get there?”; “What are some taboos—things a person working here should ‘never’ do?”; “If a team accomplishes something great, what happens?”; “Describe the organization in three words.”; “If the organization were an animal, what would it be?” (Aiman-Smith, 2004). Qualitative assessment can be derived from listening and jotting down the stories and myths, noting the language and jargon, ceremonies and rituals (quarterly leadership meetings, project approval meetings, new employee orientation, etc.). These will all tell what kind of culture the company has. The chart in Exhibit 2 will allow you to “plot” subjectively where you think the culture is, based on what was heard.

Quantitative assessments can also be conducted to determine the type of culture and whether the culture is the type of culture that the company wants or needs. Research and consulting firms are aplenty, and most are valid and legitimate. Assessments like Organizational Cultural Assessment Instrument (OCAI) or Denison Organizational Culture Survey (DOCS) use multifaceted matrices and inventory questionnaires to gather data about employees’ opinions and facts to assess the culture current state and then propose based on survey future state. The Organizational Culture Index (OCI) also gathers data similarly and determines a condition of the culture, not necessarily the type: constructive, passive/defensive, or aggressive/defensive. Just the use of the terms “constructive,” “passive/defensive,” or “aggressive/defensive” helps in considering the culture one is currently working in. All of these quantitative assessment tools are valid and if a department or company is in a continuous state of frustration or recurring failure or false starts, the leadership should consider the investment to assess and review.

This paper’s objective is to provide current project management professionals a simple way to understand the value of corporate culture and how to utilize the current state to communicate and report project, program, or portfolio needs, status, and success parameters. As leaders over projects or departments/programs of projects, we often get stuck in the chicken-egg-chicken-egg quandary of weak matrix structure/reporting versus misaligned leadership/culture versus cultural clash versus weak corporate vision-strategy-goals. Culturally aligning the project management organization and its processes with the company culture may be a means to expedite acceptance and implementation of project management and all its benefits.

How Do You Know It’s a Good Thing?

“Leadership helps shape culture. Culture in turn shapes leadership. They both drive performance.” (Cooke, 2012) The information shared so far is to enable project management organizations and project managers to realize the importance of understanding the corporate culture they contribute to and work within. Project management is, in general, a strong subculture within a corporate culture, and determining if there is a good alignment or misalignment can be the seed for understanding the impact of the corporate culture on project management success or demise. The seed of understanding is also the beginning of improving current conditions. If culture is “How we do things around here to succeed,” “No project, no matter how good and well-intentioned, will work if it does not fit the culture.” (Suda, 2008). So part of the figuring out if the current cultural environment “is a good thing” has to do with self-assessment by the project manager and the project organization to determine if the PMO attitude is “constructive” or “passive/defensive” or “aggressive/defensive” toward the larger culture as a whole (Cooke, 2012).

Where the PPPM organizations are encouraged to look at the organization as a subculture and define it, we must do with the intent to know better the current overall culture of the company. Project management by definition is a leadership function within the company; what is often uncertain or confusing is knowing whether leadership wants or needs project management to be part of the leadership team and therefore part of culture setting, visioning, strategic planning, and therefore driving success. Oftentimes, executives can get stuck in a top-down perspective and can miss the cues coming from bottom up. Just as project managers can get caught in a bottom-up view and miss the bigger picture the executives are striving to convey. More than any other subculture or department, project management organizations are perfectly poised to strengthen culture and therefore increase success of projects overall. On the flip side, project management is also poised to plant the seeds for re-casting or re-aligning vision and culture again to therefore increase success of projects, programs, and portfolios.

So getting to know and better understand the corporate culture and how project management fits is always a good thing; determining if the culture is strong and supportive or weaker and in need of strengthening is also a good thing—there is a path that the innate leadership in project groups can create and thus lead to better project implementation and acceptance.

What Does Project Management Have to Do with Culture?

Harold Kerzner proposed that “project management is a culture, not policies and procedures” (2004, p. 366). The PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) and PMI© have entire chapters and books on project management organizations, each getting more complex as we move from projects to programs to portfolios of projects and programs. By defining culture and looking at the many dimensions by which a culture is defined, project management recognizes and aligns its subculture within the greater or parent organization culture. “Each project has a distinct culture reflecting in part a universal culture found in all projects … The culture of the project team is a powerful force to hold the team together through its lifecycle … A project team culture is a community, a pattern of social interaction arising out of shared interests, mutual obligations, cooperation, friendships and work challenges” (Cleland, 2004).

The paradox that project managers and their organizations often live within is similar to Robert A. Cooke’s statement regarding leadership. Leadership shapes culture (project management, company vision), and culture in turn shapes company and project management leadership. In many organizations, project management offices and executives are increasingly asked to align and manage significant operations of the company. Mature project management offices are housing the COE of the organization and are no longer just managing projects; subdivisions are managing projects within supply chain, sales, customer relations, etc. (Kerzner, 2007; Cleland, 1988, 2004). Depending where the company’s culture lands, the vision of the company versus the structure of the project office and maturity of the organization as it relates to project management, project management can be both the driver and the seed planter of the organization. In organizations that have project management needs and purpose, culture and project management are intrinsically linked; one needs the other if both are to be healthy and strong. Vision, policy, and processes and leadership are three key areas where the linking occurs.


The vision of a company is the foundation upon which the culture and success will be built. The vision should be highly visible, understandable, and immediately tie to the culture. Employees must be able to relate the tasks they are doing back to the vision. Ultimately, projects being planned and implemented must be tied back to the vision. If the vision is unclear or uncertain, strategic planning, goal setting, leadership, management, and project success will be limited.

Policy and Processes

Written or verbal policy and processes are “the things we do around here to succeed.” The level and effectiveness of written versus verbal “policies” will be clues into the type and health of culture in an organization. Project management is by nature highly structured and has lots of methods, processes, and procedures available to form and shape the type of project management organization and style of project leadership and management. If the organization’s culture is not as process driven as the project management culture, there will be struggles and frustration. Project management will need to utilize a balance of flexibility and accountability in aligning with cultural norms. Oftentimes, leadership will need to appoint champions to assist with accountability and follow-through.


“Leaders shape the way people think and behave—leaders are viewed by others as role models, and employees look around to see if their behavior is consistent with the organization’s espoused values and philosophy. Leaders set the agenda. Leaders influence the organization’s culture and in turn the long-term effectiveness of the organization. Leaders and managers set the context within which organizational members strive for excellence and work together to achieve organizational goals” (Cooke, 2012).

Project managers by their function and title are leaders. Program managers by their function and title are leaders. Portfolio managers by their function and title are leaders. If leaders set the tone and attitude on the foundation of the vision through policy and processes, and if leaders are all people, and if all project management leaders are part of their subculture and the larger culture, then project management can have significant roles in the strengthening of or reshaping of corporate culture.

Alignment—How Do We Know We Are or Are Not Aligned?

When working with organizations in establishing a project management office or team, the first questions asked of the company is “Why do you think you need project management?” If the answer is “because one of our executives was a project manager and thinks process and methods can help us succeed,” then much assessing needs to be done to determine if the company first needs a form of project management to manage projects AND if the current organizational structure and culture will receive a strong subculture. Most often, organizations look at project management as a panacea or a “savior” that will fix all the ailments within an already struggling organism. The new project manager or new organization can take on that persona as well and become overly intrusive or process-centric. Companies that are gifted with leadership that will take the time and consider a “both/and” approach of top/down and bottom/up review and alignment can benefit greatly.

When an organization has a weaker corporate culture than some of its subcultures, the company as a whole can become a difficult place for people to succeed. Mixed messages, double standards, lack of accountability, and mediocre behavior reinforcement are just a few of the distractions that can get a company off vision and success.

This difficulty might be, in part, what gets many project managers frustrated within companies whose corporate culture is very weak or different from the general project management subculture. Often, the halls of the office will ring the rants of “project managers have no authority here” or “our executives just don’t understand” or “they don’t even know what a sponsor is supposed to do.” Comments like these may be symptomatic of misalignment. If there is an overriding theme of “the view from the top is lovely,” leadership optimism versus “reality in the ranks is more like ___ (fill in the blank),” then the company may be suffering from weak leadership, lacking a vision and hence weak cultural identity. Ways to get a true assessment are many, as discussed above. However, an individual project manager as the leader of his or her team culture on any project can easily assess his or her team; and therefore, conduct a self-assessment as a leader in the ranks.

Employee Opinion Survey

An employee opinion survey can be very telling because it is based on the opinions of the people working in the cultural environment daily. Many larger organizations produce and request employees to participate in surveys to attempt to get a handle on company success based on employee satisfaction, cultural and vision alignment, leadership and supervisory success, etc. These can be a means for open, honest feedback based on delivery; if employees trust that their comments will be read and they can submit without retribution, employees will participate and provide good benchmark and milestone data. However, if employees do not feel input will be heard or that they will be punished if they answer honestly, they will not participate, or worse, they will provide incomplete or inaccurate information. So an individual can get a quick assessment based on requesting the number of surveys that were actually completed versus sent out; ask for the norms over past years and past leadership; and, ask for number of expected returns. The return rate of the surveys is only an indicator to the type and alignment of culture, trust-level, leadership, safe and open communication, and feedback/managing employees are a couple of the dimensions these results may shed light on.

Assessments, Observations

As discussed above, qualitative and quantitative formal assessments and observations can be acquired and conducted. Often, leadership is very willing to share some of the results from these type of formal assessments; other times not. Which is why as a project manager or leader of a project organization, conducting smaller scale or self-assessments can be a good place to start. After a quick search online during research for this paper, over a dozen free assessments were discovered—anything from career (i.e. Career Explorer) and skill assessments (i.e. Rath’s StrengthsFinder 2.0) to free organizational assessments (i.e. Rapport Leadership). As a leader and a professional, regularly conducting a self-assessment gaining feedback from peers, team members, and supervisors can provide insight into the type and alignment of the individual to the culture. Once the individual has looked in his or her mirror, assessing a team or department is clearer, more objective, and credible.

Productivity (+/-) Turnover Rate

One area that most organizations do not fully consider is a human resources component known as turnover rate: the rate at which a certain position is filled and vacated. This can be clearly aligned with productivity, depending on the position. Doing an assessment of departments with high turnover rates, positions that have reputations for being hard-to-keep-filled or always-open-positions, with the productivity (goal success) overall of those departments and their counterpart departments, will provide keen insight to culture alignment. Patterns often emerge when turnover is considered from a cultural perspective. Down time or time lost on work due to a vacancy, time lost for filling the position, cost of training the new hire or transitional employees, and work load placed on other employees all cost a company. There are difficult-to-measure losses as well as easily measurable costs. The loss or impact to morale and motivation of good employees due to work load increases; the lag in production/off-loading of projects or team activities; and loss in quality due to slowed or changed production are a few of the more difficult to measure. The cost to recruit, hire, and train is easy to get from human resources departments; we can even estimate “cost to ramp-up.” By considering turnover and productivity from the company culture perspective, and then striving to put a value to the dimensions mentioned, one will soon discover that high turnover can be cancerous and is a strong indicator of a weak and/or misaligned culture.

Human Resources and Talent Development

The human resources and talent development departments are often their own subculture and may be a good example of the company culture. Because of this, these departments can be an obvious indicator of the company culture’s perspective, health, and strength. Consider how people are recruited, hired, and oriented into the company. Consider the talent development/training vision and objectives: Is this company an advocate of continuous learning and improvement? Is training done primarily to keep qualifications and certifications in place and current? Simply observing the human resources success criteria and departmental goals will assist in determining the culture of the company and if the individual or department is aligned.

Does Company Size Matter?

Yes and no. The size of the company might indicate that the company has been around for a while and therefore has been successful and seemingly has a strong, readily identifiable culture. However, with the volume of mergers and acquisitions in business globally, many corporations are suffering from cultural clash. And like unidentified, negative, productivity, and turnover rates, cultural clash or severe misalignment can be cancerous. A strong culture with strong leadership and a vision employees can grab onto can more readily get departments aligned and set up for success during and after a merger. Cultural misalignment due to a merger can wreak havoc over once-successful departments, especially in project management organizations. So, individual assessment or team assessment could be very valuable to the success of the project, team, or individual during transition.

At the other side of the size spectrum, very small to medium organizations may not believe themselves large enough to define and assess the culture. Oftentimes in the smaller or very clan-like organizations, culture will be shaped around owner’s “culture.” The company will be shaped by the owner’s opinions and will be very “family”-oriented, in that much information and vision may be assumed. Again, individual assessment or team assessment could be very valuable to success while assimilating project management into the organization.

Bottom Line—Success or Failure

Corporate culture and project management subculture strength is important to overall company and project success. Individuals and departments not aligned or working toward alignment to company vision and culture often find themselves in frustrating positions. Productivity, teamwork, criteria success, leadership and management, vision focus, and strategic direction are all better with a strong dynamic culture as energy and resources are similarly focused. Research has shown us that successful companies have strong cultures, and companies with strong cultures are more successful than their counterparts. So, bottom line: it behooves project management at all levels and organizational structures, whether in a significant portfolio management position or just starting up a small project team, to understand and know the type of culture your company has and if your work group or department or program office is aligned with the culture for success. If there is misalignment, while confirming what was already “known” even before conducting any assessments, the misalignment is an opportunity for project leadership to practice leadership skills required for success in project management.

Go to the Light—Vision Casting/Culture Strengthening

Working in an environment that has unclear vision, weak culture, can be a little like being in a dark hallway. Even a little light gives confidence to take a step. If the hallway is completely unfamiliar, no sense of being there before, a little strengthening of culture will shed light. If the hallway is familiar and yet it’s too dark to know which direction to turn, vision casting or clarifying will be the torch bearer. Project management is often the torch bearer for project work: initiation, planning, execution, closeout, monitoring, and controlling processes provide focus, direction, approval, and success. Leadership in any company should be torch bearers for the vision and culture. When establishing or strengthening a project management office or center of excellence or program office or portfolio management, the leadership needs to be the torch bearers for their groups’ vision and culture. Even a little light in a dark, confusing, uncertain place provides exponentially increased levels of confidence, guidance, and direction.

Overall Company Goals and Objectives

Departmental business goals and objectives are derived from company business plans goals and objectives. Or at least that’s how many organizations plot out their annual plans and budgets. Some organizations conduct a top-down view to planning, others a bottom-up, and still others do both simultaneously and then merge plans as the top deems appropriate. In order to create any of these plans, an overall vision for the company must be cast. Many organizations have the objectives and goals posted in offices, on walls, on internal webpages, in monthly reports. All this is good and suits the purpose of keeping our goals and objectives front and center. And some organizations don’t. Whether the company openly posts goals or doesn’t isn’t the question, the question is, does every individual know their goals and objectives in their role? Do they know how the goals point back to the vision? Do they know how they are an integral part of reaching the vision? Often, more often than not, this is a place for culture and vision breakdown. Employees should know what they need to do each day. Are they striving to complete their tasks because they are diligent, hardworking, and focused on attaining the corporate vision, or do they just want their paycheck? For culturally aligned employees, teams projects are more fully engaged and therefore driven toward company success.

In project work, success criteria are our goals; every day we know exactly the impact to the project if schedule slides, costs change, risk triggers, and/or quality tanks. Do we know the impact of that project failing or succeeding on the corporate goals? The first and immediate step for project leaders is to learn and then convey to their team the impact of each project on the corporate goals. They shoud dust off the annual business plan, align the project work directly to the corporate goals and objectives (if not already done), and then regularly communicate to each team member the impact (large or minute) of the project(s).

Clarifying or Re-Casting the Vision

Goals in general are derived from the company vision; how we cast or clarify the vision is directly related to the health or strength of the culture. In strong corporate cultures, the vision is part of daily language, behaviors, and work practices because everything employees do points back to the vision. (Remember the vision is the foundation of the culture.) Similarly to goals review and alignment, vision review and alignment is critical to project management’s ability to communicate, lead, monitor, and control project, program, and portfolio success. From the bottom up, project by project, take the corporate vision and ask the questions: How does the vision apply to this project? How does this project move the company toward the vision? If the answers are unclear, the project management office may need to clarify its departmental vision and strategically align with the corporate vision or vice versa. Either way, if it is unclear, clarifying or re-casting vision discussions should begin. In a strong corporate culture, every day, every way, every employee, every project points to the corporate vision. Strong cultures have a clear, enticing, enchanting vision that every employee can grab onto and run with. “To business that we love we rise betimes, and go to’t with delight.”–William Shakespeare (Kawasaki, 2011)

Making Sure Project Management Provides a Path to Vision

In aligning project management with corporate culture, the simplest way to both assess and align is a litmus test of “Does this project point to the vision?” If the answer is “no,” the project, no matter how good of an idea it is, will probably struggle with success. The project management offices (project, program, or portfolio) are strong subcultures and can be strategic torch bearers for the entire culture if we ensure that the culture, vision, and projects are even minimally aligned. If a particular project does not pass the litmus test, it may indeed need to be discussed among leadership to determine how to align its success criteria or consider stopping the project. Imagine this kind of questioning during project approval meetings. Making certain project management provides a clearly lit path to vision is aligning project management with corporate culture.

Conclusions, Recommendations, Next Steps

“Culture is as culture does” is very evident in strong cultures and weak cultures. Indicators of weak culture will be repeatedly missed success criteria, disgruntled project teams, project and other departments with high turnover, a general uncertainty of “Who’s running things around here?”, as well as a lacking of clear vision and objectives. Additionally, lots of good ideas falling flat and flailing may be symptomatic of weak culture and an unclear vision for the company. One way to begin to identify the problem is conducting self-assessment by individual, project team, and department. Asking questions like: What is the company culture? What is the company vision? What is project management’s culture and vision? Do they establish a “constructive” or “defensive” relationship throughout the company? Who is (or is there) our executive management team “champion” or supporter? As a leader, am I prepared to shed light on the root cause and the roadblocks to these opportunities? What seeds can I begin planning that we can nurture to align corporate culture and project management?

Align Culture with Project Management or Project Management with Culture

Successful companies tend to have strong corporate culture; companies with strong corporate culture tend to be successful. Due to the above statement from researchers, it behooves project management to make sure there is alignment. Culturally aligning the project management organization and its processes with the company culture may be a means to expedite acceptance and implementation of project management and all of its benefits. All of its benefits include successful projects, products, employees, and customers. Determining which is out of alignment and how to strengthen both the company culture and project management is a both/and tenant: leadership top-down view and employee/project teams’ bottom-up view. “Leadership helps shape culture. Culture in turn shapes leadership. They both drive performance” (Cooke, 2012).

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Suda, L. V. (2007). The meaning and importance of culture for project success. PMI® Global Congress 2007–EMEA. Proceedings, ADV10EMEA07.pdf. Retrieved on July 15, 2014, from

Suderman, J. (2012, September). Using the organizational cultural assessment (OCAI) as a tool for new team development. Journal of Practical Consulting (4)1, 52-58.

Waisfisz, B. (2012). An organisational cultural perspective. The Hofstede Centre. Retrieved on July 20, 2014, from organisational culture perspective.pdf

© 2014, Deb Banister-Hazama
Originally published as a part of the 2014 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Phoenix, Arizona, USA



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