an essential element of organizational project management maturity

Warren Opfer, MBA, PMP, CCP – COO,
The Dayton Group, Inc.

Fred Abrams, MS, PMP, CPL – President/CEO,
The Dayton Group, Inc.

Proceedings of the PMI Research Conference 11-14 July 2004 – London, UK

Leadership and the “people side” of project management have a definite influence on creativity, the building of high-performing teams, the maturity of project management organizations, and ultimately project success in achieving organizational strategies. Our research is exploring leadership factors that have a positive effect on organizational maturity, creativity, and ultimately project success. We are examining measures of project success beyond the elements of cost and schedule, such as achieving strategies through projects, organizational and cultural maturity considerations for successful leadership, and the way in which leadership style and the project environment affect creativity. The following addresses these “big picture issues” and some predictions on the way that leadership and project management are evolving.


The material presented in this paper represents the results of research currently being conducted by the authors and many others. The authors are conducting literature searches in conjunction with their Ph.D. research and have worked in support of the Project Management Institute OPM3 and other projects. The literature search has included documents including books, periodicals, scholarly papers, theses and dissertations. Many of these works met the following stringent definition of project management research (Kloppenborg and Opfer, 2000). Project management research includes published works that: 1) are based upon data, 2) make generalizable conclusions drawn from the data, and 3) contain data and conclusions that focus on either the project management context or the management activities (as opposed to the technical activities) needed to complete a project successfully. The research definition used is the current definition accepted by the Project Management Institute. Our research focuses on the leadership and creativity aspects of project management and organizational maturity and on project success factors.

As practitioners, we have observed that some individuals are natural leaders and are predictably successful. We have also observed that some organizations do much better in fostering creativity and effective project execution than others, and display a higher degree of organizational maturity. This has led us to the hypothesis that certain factors may be predictors for project success. One conclusion drawn from discussions at a 2002 practitioner workshop on Project Management and Leadership is that lack of leadership is considered a primary cause of project failure (Tesch and Kloppenborg, 2002, 2003). This was reinforced in the findings of a Project Risk Workshop conducted by the same authors in 2003.


Larson and LaFasto concluded that three consistent characteristics of effective leaders are: 1) they establish a vision, 2) they create change, and 3) they unleash talent (Larson and LaFasto, 1989).

Leadership requires the setting of a clear direction, so that project teams can make decisions consistent with that direction (Mohrman and Mohrman, 1997). Leaders must also be adept at dealing with adversity and conflict, and must excel in their ability to “broker” change, compromises, and solutions. Since change is a significant source of conflict, the ability to manage change and conflict is vital. Many have researched leadership styles and their effect on project management. Thamhain and Wilemon worked to develop new insights into possible differences in the effectiveness of leadership styles depending on various task complexities or organizational climates. They suggest that there is a continuum of possibilities that must be considered in selecting a leadership style, and that the leader has a strong influence over the organizational climate (Thamhain and Wilemon, 1976). Lewis, Welsh, Dehler, and Green present a case that tensions exist between contrasting leadership styles (emergent and planned) asserting that an “emergent style involves facilitating team members’ creativity, flexibility, and improvisation, and a planned style provides managerial discipline and direction.” (Lewis et al., 2002, p. 547). Three elements have been identified as contributing to the overall project team success – environmental elements affecting the project management team, the leadership style of the project manager, and the motivation of team members. A fourth element is likely the inherent attributes of the team members (competence and cognitive processes). The key is in the matching of the project manager's traits with the team member needs, abilities, and the project situation. This also suggests that the project manager must select the appropriate leadership style from among many possible styles for the situation so that project success will be realized rather than just hypothesized (Martin and Wysocki, 1990). It is obvious from the research literature that a single style and approach to fit all situations does not exist and that leaders need to be adaptive and prepared to act situationally.

Jeff Pinto identified two distinct forms of leadership – transformational and transactional (Pinto, Thoms, Trailer, Palmer, and Govekar, 1998). Transformational leaders set out to make their mark on an organization and do. They are great, forward-thinking, articulate, and often charismatic visionaries and doers.. They are also the most effective leaders. They know how to get things done with a team of people, have fun with it, and make people feel good about what they are doing. Transactional leaders in contrast are focused on the tasks-at-hand and view the work as a set of discrete transactions between them and their subordinates. They are task-driven and not likely to empower team members or to encourage out-of-the-box thinking. They see problems as just that – problems; worse, problems are seen as threats. Leaders must choose which of these they intend to emulate (Kloppenborg and Opfer, 2002). The following table, Exhibit 1, highlights some attributes of leadership and provides a comparison of transformational versus transactional characteristics (DuBrin, 1995).

Transformational versus Transactional Leadership

Exhibit 1: Transformational versus Transactional Leadership

Effective leadership demands that the individual be competent in a wide variety of skills and abilities. The following list of interpersonal, leadership, technical, and administrative skills and abilities were associated with effective project leadership (Thamhain, 1991).

  1. Clear direction and guidance
  2. Ability to plan and elicit commitments
  3. Communication skills
  4. Assistance in problem solving
  5. Dealing effectively with managers and support personnel across functional lines, often with little or no formal authority
  6. Information-processing skills – the ability to collect and filter relevant data valid for decision-making in a dynamic environment
  7. Ability to integrate individual demands, requirements, and limitations into decisions that benefit the overall project
  8. Ability to resolve inter-group conflicts
  9. Ability to build multifunctional teams

Leadership is a key element in the effectiveness of teams (Kloppenborg and Opfer, 2002). OPM3 directly recognizes the importance of teams in achieving organizational project management maturity. The leader is the key to fostering the maturation actions necessary to ensure project success. As OPM3 points out; the organization must be guided through a process of standardizing, measuring, controlling, and--finally--continuously improving. Leadership is needed throughout the project life cycle for a project to be successful. The competency and commitment of the leader and the whole project team are major determinants of success.

Maxwell stated that the influence of a true leader continues to increase over time (Maxwell, 2000). Future projects will benefit from leadership that is more effective, as well as a more effective leadership environment. Understanding, employing, and internalizing the key leadership factors, characteristics, and behaviors will lead to more projects that are successful.

The following table, Exhibit 2, identifies a list of leadership traits, characteristics, and behaviors. This list, compiled over several years, reflects influences from many researchers and continues to grow. These map well to OPM3 Best Practices and support the inclusion of creativity in project management.

16 Effective Leadership Traits, Characteristics, & Behaviors

Exhibit 2: 16 Effective Leadership Traits, Characteristics, & Behaviors

Leadership and OPM3

The Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3), published by PMI in December 2003 (PMI, 2003) represents a major step forward in defining the way that the project management community views project management maturity. The term “Organizational Project Management,” according to the new standard, means the “systematic management of projects, programs and portfolios to achieve an organization’s strategic goals.” (OPM3, 2003, p. 5) This is a significant expansion in the view provided by A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), which focuses on effective project management. The development of OPM3 was an international effort involving volunteers from over 37 countries and hence represents views representative of multiple cultures and very diverse experiences. At the heart of OPM3 is a set of 586 Best Practices and thousands of capabilities that comprise those best practices. The organization of OPM3, with each Best Practice comprised of multiple capabilities and with each capability having one or more measurable outcomes, results in an integrated approach to assessing maturity and planning for maturity improvement. The focus on the domains of project, program, and portfolio management and the ties to strategy represents a step well beyond any of the 27 maturity models examined in the development of OPM3.

While much of the OPM3 content is focused on process models of project, program and portfolio management built upon the thirty-nine processes described in the PMBOK Guide project model, it contains much more. The OPM3 model is based on the premise that an organization must first standardize its processes and, only after standardization has occurred can effective measurement of process performance occur. The model also contends that only after measurement has been implemented can processes be effectively controlled and only after processes are being controlled can they enter a state of continuous improvement. There are a number of OPM3 Best Practices and associated Capabilities/Outcomes that cross from the management of process standardization, measurement, control, and improvement into the territory of leadership. An examination of the OPM3 Best Practices (BP) suggests that the leadership aspects can be summarized into the following broad categories:

  1. Leader support of project management and project managers to include the development of competent personnel.

    a. BP 1420 “Establish the Role of the Project Manager” has leadership setting clear expectations of the project manager’s role and performance and actively supporting that role in the organization.

    b. BP 5190 “Facilitate Project Manager Development” seeks to ensure that organizations recognize the need for, and take action in, developing project managers. The focus is on the leader role in personal development. Leaders are expected to assure that personal development plans are continuously improved.

  2. Leader creation of a project management culture, climate, environment, and community that encourage and support the conduct of project management.

    a. BP 3510 “Optimize Project Results through Organizational Structure” calls for a continually improving and responsive organization and project team structure that supports project integration.

    b. BP 5230 “Manage Project Management Community” seeks to assure that leaders develop the organization into an appropriately skilled community of project managers at the portfolio level.

    c. BP 5240 “Establish Internal Project Management Communities” seeks to assure there are pockets of consensus around areas of special interest and that the organization has intelligence on important issues in the project management community. The bottom line outcome is an organization of active project management communities.

    d. BP 5510 “Adopt Project Management Processes” promotes executive enlistment and visible support of “early adopters” and extolling the “virtues of project management.” Among the capabilities is “The Organization’s executives and management proactively lead the use of project management to the point where the “community accepts and adopts project management standards” where such “processes are an element of the organization’s culture.”

    e. BP 6090 “Track Organizational Effectiveness” values each project linking its process contribution to organizational results while the organization identifies the added value of each project process. The final outcome is for the organization to prioritize project process improvement activities according to organizational objectives.

  3. Leaders serving as the sponsors of project-related activity

    a. BP 1450 “Establish Strong Sponsorship” looks for evidence that project managers have confidence in the sponsor’s support and that the sponsors have a real understanding of the project vision and charter. This BP states, “The project sponsor leads specific project activities” and “…represents the interest of the project during executive level meetings…” The BP also states, “The project team sees the project sponsor as a supportive leader.”

  4. Leader ability to communicate

    a. BP 1450 “Establish Strong Sponsorship” states, “The Project Sponsor clearly and effectively communicates the project vision to the organization and can relate that vision relative to other projects.”

    b. BP 1520 “Communicate the Organization’s Direction” focuses on the communication of goals, strategies, project assignments, and work interdependencies to project teams. Among the desired outcomes of the leaders’ communication is the expectation that team members can describe the interdependencies and the organization’s overall strategic direction.

  5. Leader actions to establish organizational level strategies and goals and to assure these are aligned with project activity

    a. BP 1650 “Align Projects” focuses on the alignment of projects with organizational strategies and the ability of the organization to identify initiatives, and the relationships among initiatives, to accomplish the strategy and goals.

    b. BP 2140 “Define and Review Project Goals” focuses on the defining of project success criteria, the evaluation and modification of project goals, and the interdependencies and interactions among project goals. Among the desired outcomes is the ability of the project teams to identify the agreed-upon project success criteria and metrics for measuring them.

    c. BP 3060 “Select Projects Based on Organizational Best Interests” calls for the alignment of portfolio values, resources, and initiatives with overall organizational objectives and strategies.

    d. BP 3530 “Understand Program Strategic Alignment” calls for alignment at the Program level and commitment of resources in accordance with the organizational strategies.

    e. BP 3580 “Align Program Management and Business Strategies” is a multi-tiered set of capabilities addressing project, program, and portfolio alignment.

    f. BP 5270 “Integrate Project Management Methodology with Organizational Processes” is a portfolio view of alignment between the organizational and project management processes.

    g. BP 5520 “Collaborate on Goals” seeks to have people across the organization “collaborate to define and agree on common goals.” The outcomes sought focus on assuring that team members comprehend and can express the goals while senior managers review and signoff on them.

  6. Leader actions to set priorities and make decisions with respect to projects

    a. BP 2170 “Prioritize Projects” focuses on the link between projects and organizational goals. Among the outcomes expected is the ability to prioritize staff activities, anticipate the next active projects, and respond to changes in strategic direction.

    b. BP 3060 “Select Projects Based on Organizational Best Interests” charges leaders to take into account the best interests of customers and the organization, and to assure concurrence between the objectives of a project and the sponsor. It further requires the capability to select projects and programs that support strategic business objectives.

    c. BP 5330 “Make Decisions” calls for effective decision-making with respect to how much project work can be undertaken using consistent criteria such as priority and value for resource allocation.

  7. Leader actions to form teams and assure that teams operate effectively in an environment of trust and interdependence

    a. BP 3070 “Encourage Risk Taking” charges organizations to “empower sponsors to take calculated risks” and leaders with encouraging “project teams to take calculated risks.” It further charges leaders with assuring that the team members know how to identify, assess, and manage risks. It also addresses the leader’s risk ownership in stating that the “sponsor has accountability for risk-taking results.”

    b. BP 3080 “Supportive Team Environment” calls for the organization to create “a work environment that supports personal and professional achievement” by “bringing workers together in teams.” Among the capabilities sought by this BP is to “Create a supportive team environment through leadership” requiring the understanding of team dynamics and valuing the contributions of all members. The specific outcome for this capability is “The Project Manager is a leader whom others value and follow.” The leader is charged with creating “a supportive team environment with team member affinity.”

    c. BP 3090 “Build Trust” seeks teams that have open and truthful communications and “earn the trust of management.” Leaders are expected to establish teams where there is no “fear of reprisal” and where “team members trust one another and share information freely.” Effective communication between management and their teams is another key outcome sought.

  8. Leader actions as advocates to assure that executives understand and support project management and that the organization institutionalizes it.

    a. BP 3100 “Provide Technical Administrative Support” calls for assurance that the organization provides support to project teams though proper, competent staffing.

    b. BP 5180 “Educate Executives” involves assuring that executives understand the role and purpose of, and organizational need for, project management, and that they make informed decisions regarding project management.

    c. BP 5340 “Establish Executive Support” seeks to have leaders promote project management as a critical capability and actively sponsor implementation or institutionalization of project management processes. The outcomes sought are for the organization to understand and actively support a project management vision communicated by the executive, to induce the organization to accept the need for project management, and for executives to influence peers and customers to use project management.

    d. BP 5360 “Establish Project Management Board of Directors” seeks a board of executive decision-makers that resolves inter-project issues and defines priorities and direction to maximize strategic objectives through projects.

    e. BP 5420 “Use Organizational Project Support Office” calls for a project support team that allows leaders to delegate “decision making to lower levels of project management staff’ while providing “the capability to perform value and risk tradeoffs in a decision supportive environment.”

    f. BP 5500 “ Define Project Management Values” seeks outcomes that define “value-based behaviors and uses reward or discipline to reinforce project management values,” to establish “Project Management Leadership Competency,” and to have the organization integrate “project management values into the performance metrics.”

In summary, OPM3 envisions leadership as an essential element of mature organizational project management, from the leading of individuals, to the forming and leading of teams, to the leading of the organizational institutionalization of project management aligned with organizational strategies and goals. Leaders must establish the culture and environment necessary for project management processes to be effective and efficient, and for project managers to be treated as valued professionals supported by the entire organization.

Leadership and Creativity

For the purposes of this discussion, creativity means “coming up with something new and potentially useful.” Clearly there are many times and situations in project management where the result is better and more complete if team members have been creative. Typical examples include planning activities such as developing the WBS and identifying risks and impacts, as well as creative problem solving once the plan is being executed. Leaders play at least three essential roles with respect to assuring that creativity is applied to the management of projects. These are assembling teams, influencing the culture/environment, and making decisions that influence creative outcomes.

  1. Team Members: Just as leaders are expected under OPM3 to populate project teams with highly competent individuals, they must also assure that the project team has, or has access to, individuals who exhibit above-average creativity. There is some difference of opinion among experts on the nature and value of innate creative ability. Kaizen (Imai, 1986) teaches that all team members can be creative contributors; other writers suggest that picking diverse people for teams and properly stimulating them will achieve the desired results, while still others present personality-based evidence that some people are inherently more creative than others. The three points of view need not be mutually exclusive since the personality-based advocates do not contend that there are people who are flatly uncreative, just that there are differences. Hence following the advice of Kaizen to assume that all have creative potential, while populating teams with personnel with diverse interests and expertise and assuring that individuals thought to have greater creative potential are also assigned assures a winning result, regardless of the differences in opinion (Imai, 1986). The discussion here will focus on identifying those who are believed to have greater creative potential. The work of Gough (Gough, 1981) building upon work at the Institute for Personality Assessment and Research (IPAR) over a twenty-ear period, and acknowledged as valid by Isabel Briggs Myers (Myers, 1985), contends that using the Myers-Briggs® Type Indicator (MBTI®) can identify those who have greater creative capability. MBTI results are stated using the standard correlation research conversion of the dichotomous preference scores to continuous scales by treating the midpoint of each range as 100 and either adding or subtracting scores. This results in the following ranges:
      Sensing versus Intuitive (S versus N, 33 to 151 range)  
      Thinking versus Feeling (T versus F, 35 to 139 range)  
      Judging versus Perceiving (J versus P, 45 to 161 range)  
      Extroverted versus Introverted (E versus I, 49 to 157 range)  

    The development of an MBTI Creativity Index (MBTI-CI) takes the numerical scores assigned in each of the four continuums and applies them in the following formula:

    (MBTI-CI) = 3SN + JP –EI -.5TF

    Using the extremes in each dichotomy, this means that the MBTI-CI can run from

    a low of (3)(33) + (45) - (157) –(.5)(139) = -84.5


    a high of (3)(151) + (161) –(49) –(.5)(35) = +547.5

    Studies at IPAR concluded that males with scores above 350 show high creative potential while males with scores below 250 are less likely to show that potential. The initial studies were less conclusive for females. Essentially the data is saying that the most creative type would be a strong ENTP while the least creative type would be a strong ISFJ. The results, as it is obvious from the formula, are biased toward strong intuitives (high preference for N, the mode of perception oriented to possibilities and the future) and strong perceivers (high preference for the P attitude indicating curiosity and receptiveness). The implication for leaders in a project management environment would be to assure that teams and activities needing a high level of creativity are populated by, or have access to, MBTI types based on the “dynamic lens” approach that considers dominant and auxiliary functions. This would suggest the following MBTI types should be depended upon: ENTP, ENFP, INTP, and INFP, where intuition is in a dominant or auxiliary position with a perceptive attitude. Rolf Smith, in his book The 7 Levels of Change (Smith, 1997) offers a plot of MBTI types against those seven levels. In this plot the sixth (different--doing things no one else is doing) and seventh (impossible--doing things that can’t be done) levels characteristic of breakout and breakthrough change were associated with (in order) ENTP and INTP (the 10% of the population strongly receptive to change and acting as change agents) followed by ENFP and INFP (an additional 10% who are broadly receptive to change).

    A ten-year study (1984-1994) at Dow Chemical (United States and European operations) involving 267 new product development (NPD) projects requiring breakthrough creativity evaluated the validity of the MBTI-CI index with rigorous statistical analysis. This study by Greg Stevens presented in two parts at the 1997 and 1998 Product Development and Management Association (PDMA) Research Conferences (Stevens, 1997, 1998), cites the number one success factors at the project level as product superiority, at the company level as a high quality NPD process, and at the individual level as a combination of creativity and discipline. He analyzes the typical seven-stage-gate process and the seeming poor performance in turning new ideas into successful product launches. He contends that the personality and the creativity of key individuals are significant in successful project outcomes. He further contends that one of the root causes of failure is that key personnel lack creativity and NPD training and coaching. He defines creativity as the individual’s disposition toward originality, suggesting that creative people are described using adjectives such as innovative, imaginative, impulsive, rebellious, unconventional, clever, independent, divergent, intuitive, nonlinear, reflective, self-assertive, open to perceiving, and open to experience. He hypothesizes that there will be positive correlation for individuals between the MBTI-CI and the number of new product analyses, the number of new product idea positive recommendations, the number of original ideas that are spun off into new projects, and the cumulative profit earned. His analysis provides support for all four hypotheses using a sample of 69 individuals with MBTI-CI values across the full spectrum. His analysis concludes that highly creative individuals have a 97% accuracy rate of positive recommendations and a twenty-to-one difference in the profits that result. He also concludes that highly creative individuals seek out, enjoy and stick with NPD work while low MBTI-CI individuals tend to “burn-out” in these jobs. His suggested root cause of NPD success is placing high MBTI-CI individuals in the appropriate positions.

  2. Creating Conducive Cultures/Environments: The leader is in a position to create the environment or culture that stimulates creative activity. The importance of a culture or environment conducive to creative activity has been stressed by a number of authors and practitioners. An example is the analysis of the way that creativity can be fostered in a Six Sigma environment (Barney and McCarty, 2002). They suggest that the key to such an environment is one with intrinsic or internal motivations rather than external rewards such as money. They contend that positive and constructive feedback that is task-focused, part of a playful and experimental climate, tolerant of differences among individual team members, and accepting of risk-taking are the key elements of this environment and that management surveillance and time pressure and stress unrelated to the task are the primary detractors. The case study and observations in The Creative Priority (Hirshberg, 1998) document the efforts to establish a highly creative design bureau for Nissan-North America. Hirshberg is adamant that play is an essential element of creativity since play is a divergent activity while most work is focused on convergence. Pranks, practical jokes, and apparently nonsensical events should be a part of the culture and environment. He contends that creativity requires periodic distraction and that all work benefits from periods of un-focusing and refocusing suggesting that too much “keeping your eye on the ball” causes one to lose sight of the playing field and what lies beyond. He suggests that when attention is disengaged and focused away from the task, the mind tends to mine all new activities and see connections that give insight and new information.
  3. Decision-Making: The analyses of the above-mentioned Dow Chemical study provide evidence that the decisions made in undertakings where highly creative activity is expected are a significant factor. Those in decision-making positions pass or kill NPD ideas. The analysis already described how highly creative individuals had a 97% accuracy rate in their recommendations (versus a historical industry-wide rate of 9-11%) and also concludes that the raw number of positive recommendations made by decision-makers was 2.3 times higher in those with high MBTI-CI. Stevens also cites a study of 360 industrial firms worldwide involving 576 new products launches having a 60% success rate from launch, suggesting the above-cited 97% is even more significant (Stevens, 1998). This suggests that decision-making individuals with lower MBTI-CI are likely killing a large number of opportunities that could be brought to successful deployment. One of the most significant findings in the research and analysis was that high MBTI-CI decision-makers tend to “branch” from the ideas presented to them, finding a new, viable, related idea based on an idea presented to them and either accepted or rejected. Decision-making then becomes even more important since rejected ideas are not lost, but are the springboard for “leaps in the thought process.” The researcher concluded that NPD analysts and team leaders need to be high MBTI-CI since they would have the “highest probability of both changing course from the original idea (which may be destined to fail) and finding another related idea with greater chances of providing real ‘product superiority’ in the eyes of the customer.” (Stevens, 1998, 19). Stevens’ findings also show that decisions made by those with an “NT” temperament (middle two letters of the MBTI), resulted in 14.2 times the profit from commercialization of any other temperament. He contends that use of another index, the “MBTI-NT,” derived by subtracting the continuous “TF” score from the continuous “SN” score, offers analysis that scores within this index are the best indicator. He cites one of the prime reasons is that those with a high “MBTI-NT” are more likely to make decisions that “morph or change a negative project into a positive one by branching.”

Project Environment Tensions

Research suggests that there are a number of tensions present in the project management environment and that many of these can be directly related to the need for creative activity. This paper will discuss three of these: those involving contrasting management styles, those between the project environment and project complexity, and those associated with time pressures. These are all tensions that leaders must understand and accommodate if they are to deliver projects to cost, schedule, and performance goals while stimulating the necessary amount of creativity.

  1. Management Styles: Work by Lewis, Welsh, Dehler, and Green (2002) presents a case that tensions exist between contrasting management styles - an emergent, fluid style versus a disciplined planning style. The emergent style is held to foster creativity and improvisation while the planned style fosters project focus and progress. They stress that management style must stress creativity in an environment demanding precision and predictability. They contend that the leader must learn to blend the two styles effectively since both are appropriate in different situations. Among their conclusions are:

    a. The emergent style monitors understandings of project skills, knowledge, and focus while the planning style monitors progress against predetermined standards and goals.

    b. The emergent style evaluates by gathering information at the project boundaries and from the surrounding environment while the planning style evaluates via formal reviews in a systematic assessment by higher management.

    c. The emergent style uses participatory control with focus on team autonomy, discretion, and decision-making accountability while the planning style uses directive control with close managerial involvement in project details.

  2. Complexity: Work by John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid that appeared in the September 2001 issue of “MIT Sloan Management Review” addresses the tension between creativity and structure. The authors contend that the tension and resulting conflict must exist to spark invention while allowing transformation of the inventions into marketable products. They state that studies of the invention of semiconductors at Fairchild, the evolution of the Internet, and the development of computer graphical user interface at Xerox all point to a common effective approach: small, tight-knit collaborative groups where everyone is aware of what everyone else is exploring. The key, they contend, is that each person is particularly good at certain things, but everyone is pretty good at anything, and all are able to “play the whole game.” They point out the problems with such tight-knit groups developing their own language and culture and ending up having problems communicating and coordinating with the rest of the organization; hence the tension. The answer, they say, is company processes that permit rigor with rigidity, pointing out that processes result in structure and hierarchy while it is practice that emphasizes implicit coordination and exploration. Practice without process becomes unmanageable while process without practice results in the loss of creativity. The authors suggest that knowing when to “get serious” with process imposition on the “safe environment” of knowledge creation without imposing control forces a route (process) upon those who want to take the path of least resistance (practice) (Brown and Duguid, 2001).

    The efforts of Ali Jaafari explore the nature of a complex society and its relationship to project management. Jaafari contends that complex society exhibits the characteristics of open systems (instable and constantly changing, such as the Internet), chaos (having uncertainties beyond long-term contemplation that defy orderly planning and control), self-organization (autonomous organization based on the insights and competence of the actors), and growing interdependence (increasing the difficulty of predicting based on prior experience) (Jaafari, 2003). Jaafari cites the work of Geyer in contending that people can be classified into four types depending on their response to change (thriving, abstaining, coping, and oblivious), stating that this is the key to understanding complex society and the role of projects (Geyer, 1998). He uses this to classify project management models based on the degree of project and environmental complexity. In the realm of high project and environmental complexity, Jaafari suggests that project managers should reflect the attributes of a creative-reflective model, thrive on change, and be:

    d. open to new information and engage in a sufficient amount of self-reference to be aware of how the project management model came to be

    e. sufficiently flexible to realize that models are not eternally valid and need to be updated, responding to or seeking new information

    f. aware that management models are problem-dependent and that a realistic view of the environment requires a set of models

  3. Time Pressure: Research done by a team from the Harvard Business School and the Yale School of Management and reported upon in an article entitled Creativity Under the Gun reported in the Harvard Business Review (Amabile and Hadley, 2002) explores project working environments and the creativity that results. The study worked with 177 employees working on 22 different projects teams in seven different U.S. companies in three different industries (chemical, high technology, and consumer products). Not surprisingly, their most fundamental conclusion was that “the more time pressure people feel on a given day, the less likely they will be to think creatively.” The researchers also stated, “Surprisingly, though, people seem to be largely unaware of this phenomenon.” (Amabile and Hadley, 2002, p. 7) They did conclude that not only was creative activity less on days when time pressure was high, but that the effect lasted for several additional days before recovering. The authors cite psychological research suggesting that creativity results from the formation of a large number of associations that may be particularly interesting or useful, drawing an analogue to “the mind throwing many balls into cognitive space and juggling them until they collide in interesting ways.” (Amabile and Hadley, 2002, p. 8) They stress the importance of the “playful quality” of the process, citing Einstein’s statement that creativity was “combinatorial play.” The key is making associations among concepts that are rarely combined, leading to greater ultimate novelty. They point out that research suggests that combinatorial process depends on sufficient time to create the balls (exploring and learning things that might be useful), and devote it to the juggling. Their research found that most creative days were marked by a sense of focus and being able to work on a single activity for most of the day, usually with concerted effort to protect the work from interruptions and disturbances. When time pressure was found to be present along with creative results, there was usually limited collaboration and a perception that the time pressure was meaningful urgency. They categorized the time environment and the likelihood of creative activity into four quadrants:

    a. On Autopilot, when both time pressure and the likelihood of creativity are low: Focus is on meetings and group discussions with little encouragement from senior management and little collaboration.

    b. On a Treadmill, when time pressure is high and the likelihood of creativity is low: Focus is similar to Autopilot plus work feels more fragmented with distractions and last-minute changes that make work seem less important or productive.

    c. On an Expedition, when time pressure is low and the likelihood of creativity is high: Focus is on generating or exploring ideas rather than on identifying problems. Collaboration is usually one on one.

    d. On a Mission, when both time pressure and likelihood of creativity is high: Focus equally on new ideas and problem solving. Focus is on a single activity and the belief is that the work is important and challenging.

Limited Survey

A survey of limited scope was completed by project management practitioners (average time as project managers 11.5 years) during 2002-2003 to determine attitudes about where creativity was most important in project management, what causes creativity to occur, and the attributes of people who seem to be highly creative. A more rigorous and extensive survey is planned for 2004. Among the results obtained on this limited survey are:

  1. Creativity is felt to be most important in project management problem solving and crisis management (average of 4.5 on a 5-point scale), adapting to project people issues (average of 4.3), whenever faced with uncertainty (average of 4.2), and adapting to outside influences (average of 4.1)
  2. When asked about the most essential source of creativity (the thing that makes creativity happen in a project environment), respondents answered with leadership style and team interaction (both with an average of 4.4), followed by organizational climate and individual traits (both with an average of 4.3). When respondents were given the opportunity to provide text input, asking about the optimum leadership style for stimulating creativity, the answers focused on having clear vision, making it safe to challenge, and asking questions clearly seeking input from team members.
  3. When asked to describe highly creative individuals, the respondents' most frequent response was passion and enthusiasm (average of 4.4), followed by being curious and adventurous (both with an average of 4.2).
  4. When asked what project management activities and environments are most conducive to creativity, only one response option received a high number of hits: Continual focus on goals. By contrast, several response options were heavily rated as having a negative impact on creativity: extensive demands for formal reporting and rigorous schedule control.


There is both an art and a science to project leadership (Kloppenborg et al., 2002). Leaders drive and facilitate the decisions that result in the environmental and cultural characteristics of mature project management organizations that achieve strategies through project success. Effective leaders nurture a project team approach that balances the need for technical project management and the flexibility to creatively deal with uncertainties and change. It is through leaders that encourage the embracing of change that project management continuously improves to the highest stage of maturation. Without effective leadership, the maturation road map established by OPM3 cannot become a journey to success. OPM3 provides an effective focus for developing many of the 16 Effective Leadership Traits, Characteristics, and Behaviors described in Exhibit 2, and is consistent with the transformational leadership attributes outlined in Exhibit 1.

The implication for leaders is that convincing team members that the project will make important contributions to worthwhile goals and keeping attention on those goals is a significant and powerful leadership objective. The Best Practices cited from OPM3 in this paper provide adequate assessment of the extent to which this is being done through alignment and goal-focused activity. An improvement plan based on OPM3 will focus on achieving the right capabilities and seeking the right outcomes in this regard.

It is predicted that the greatest improvements in project management maturity resulting from increased focus on leadership will come from the following actions:

  1. A continuing increase in leader focus on alignment and assuring that team members embrace the alignment of their project work with achieving the goals of the organization.
  2. An increasing focus on balancing the apparent conflicts that produce tensions between possible management styles.
  3. Use of OPM3 to focus improvement efforts on alignment among strategies, goals, business cases, and project efforts.
  4. Use of OPM3 to develop many of the 16 Effective Leadership Traits, Characteristics, and Behaviors presented in Exhibit 2.
  5. Increasing the understanding of the importance of creativity in the project management environment and the actions that leaders can take to stimulate and nurture it.

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