Social networks and project management performance
how do social networks contribute to project management performance?
The aim of the study is to evaluate the impact of social networks on project management performance. In particular, the study examines the four most significant social network structures, as found in the literature, and uncovers their specific network contents.
A qualitative analysis was conducted by interviewing a sample of project managers in the consulting engineering industry. The study first ascertained their general perspectives of the four network structures. Thereafter, it determined their perspectives of how these network structures contributed to their most and least successful projects. The results highlighted the project managers’ perceived impact of each of the network structures on project management performance.
Results suggest that first, out-degree centrality is perceived to have a significant contribution to project management performance. Second, betweenness centrality is perceived to have a reasonable contribution to project management performance but is dependent on project size and project manager capability. Third, team member structural holes are perceived to have a reasonable contribution to project management performance but are dependent on team member competency and project size. Fourth, boundary spanning, only if via the project manager, is perceived to contribute significantly to project management performance.
Results show that the specific network contents do contribute positively but can also negatively impact project management performance. Therefore, the project manager should consider the project dependencies of project size, team competency, and project manager capability. Moreover, a social networks content model presented may facilitate the project management approach decision. Thus, the project manager can manage social networks to improve project management performance.
This research study focuses on project management performance in the consulting engineering industry. It aims to demonstrate the impact of social networks on project management performance. The study proposes to assess the project manager's management of external social network structures. It focuses on the resultant contributions of these social networks to project management performance as perceived by the project manager. This study is guided by the following primary research question:
Question: How do Social Networks Contribute to Project Management Performance?
The study will uncover the literature's four most significant social network structures based on their impact on project success, both benefits and drawbacks (network contents). It will then ascertain the project manager's perspective of each social network structure, together with his or her specific network contents for a case study of successful projects. Finally, the study will present social network content models comparing the literature and the project manager's perceived network contents.
This study adds to the existing knowledge by focusing on gaps as identified in the literature. Chung and Hossain (2009) and Newhart (2008) highlight the requirement for examination of network structure relationship to knowledge-intensive project workgroups. Furthermore, a call for papers by Hossain (2009) reveals the neglect of social network research on complex project coordination.
This study sample will be the consulting engineering industry. This study comprises a boundary-less network, which ensures the inclusion of all potential external project networks. For example, reference to Choi (2002) reveals the dearth of literature on a group's external networks in contrast to its internal dynamics and performance. However, much of the research on group networks is based on defined group boundaries. Nevertheless, Mead (2001) makes clear that network boundaries are ever expanding and so should not be defined.
This section discusses the two major parts of the research question from a theoretical perspective; namely, project management performance and social networks. The first part reviews project management performance. The second part provides an introduction to social networks in relation to projects. The subsequent four parts examine specific social network structures. The last part offers a conceptual model of social networks in relation to project management performance.
Project Management Performance
Baccarini (1999) claims that project management success along with product success are the two components of project success. First, project management success relates to the project process. Its three criteria are: (1) to meet time, cost, and quality objectives; (2) the project management process quality; and (3) the satisfaction of the project owner and team. Second, product success relates to the project's final product. A project may be a project management failure, but still be perceived a project success, if the product success is achieved. Baccarini concludes that good project management is unlikely to prevent product failure but can contribute towards product success. Baccarini indicates there is a positive relationship between project management success and product success. This construes that the project manager must continuously monitor the project management performance. Pinto and Kharbanda (1996) propose twelve factors that contribute to the failure of project management. They suggest that the best way to achieve project management failure is to manage it without consideration of the project's external environment, including stakeholders. They state that it is foolhardy to ignore the power of the stakeholder. They recognise that the project manager's role is “almost always highly visible,” whereas for the majority of failed projects the project manager was essentially invisible.
A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) (Project Management Institute [PMI], 2004) stresses the importance of stakeholder management for the project management team. Additionally, Kingston (2007) highlights the importance of the project team's interaction with stakeholders, including their internal and external networks. He stresses that this is an often overlooked subject. He highlights the importance in dealing with other team members and external stakeholders for successful project execution.
A social network is categorised as the relational links between two or more actors (Storberg-Walker & Gubbins, 2007). Lin, Ensel, and Vaughn (1981) define social network contents as the resources obtained from the social network, which are of use to an actor and the social network structure as the network of actors. Lin et al. suggest that greater network contents are attained from higher network structure positions. Furthermore, Wolff and Moser (2009) found that networking is the behaviour performed to gain (network contents) benefits by building, maintaining, and using informal relationships.
The basis of the conceptual model is illustrated in Figure 1: As a consequence of social networks, these network structures present network contents. It is these network contents that impact project management performance.
Figure 1: Social networks interrelationship diagram.
The four social network structures as found in the literature are centrality, structural holes, boundary management, and tie strength. Their individual sub-structures are displayed in Figure 2:.
Figure 2: Social network sub-structures.
The sub-structures, which this study focuses on in particular, are those four most significant that have the greatest contribution to project management performance and are out-degree centrality, betweenness centrality, team member structural holes, and boundary spanning. The study now presents its high level conceptual model in Figure 3.
Figure 3: High level conceptual model.
A review of the four network structures in particular these sub-structures, is detailed in the following sections. The network contents are therein explored for the sub-structures identified.
This section examines the impact of centrality on projects. A study by Freeman (1977) highlights that centrality comprises four network structures, as illustrated in Figure 4. Freeman's study was based on two significant classical works of centrality and performance; namely, the Bavelas-Leavitt MIT experiment (Leavitt, 1951) and Guetzkow and Simon's (1955) extension of this finding.
Figure 4: Centrality network structures.
Freeman (1977) observes that closeness centrality may be structurally measured by the extent to which an actor is close to all others in the network. Granovetter (1983) claims that closeness is the most important characteristic of helpful intimate relationships; however, Freeman (1978) and Chung and Hossain (2009) dismiss closeness centrality as being an influence on performance.
Two directions of degree centrality are present, in-degree and out-degree centrality. In-degree centrality is the frequency an actor is brought into an interaction (e.g., by requests for information and advice). (Bertolotti & Tagliaventi, 2007) Conversely, Bertolotti and Tagliaventi (2007) define out-degree as the number of times an actor initiates an interaction (e.g., communication of information and advice).
Freeman (1977) showed that degree centrality does influence performance (Chung & Hossain, 2009). In particular, research by Hossain and Wu (2009) found that out-centrality (out-degree plus out-closeness) is a greater requirement for coordination than in-centrality (in-degree plus in-closeness). The network contents for inclusion in the out-degree centrality detailed conceptual model are therefore now assessed.
Parkin (1996) argues that the project manager would be the most central actor in the network of communication flows and decision-making. Accordingly, he or she would increase his or her power through the use of his or her communicative and negotiation skills. Consequently, he or she would attain control and monitoring of the actor-network. Sparrowe, Liden, Wayne, and Kraimer (2001) maintain that top management support may be obtained by reciprocation of resources. In a study of Monge and Eisenberg (1987), Ahuja, Galletta, and Carley (2003) suggest that informal sources of influence arise from an actor's position in the actual patterns of interaction (such as out-degree centrality). In addition to influence, Hossain and Wu's (2009) study of out-centrality, also provides a measurement for the expansiveness of the actor.
Research by Rogers and Kincaid (1981) infers that social networks facilitate the communication of social norms and expectations (behaviours). Based on communication theory, centrality increases awareness of these norms and expectations; strong out-degree centrality would allow for them to be moulded according to one's abilities and interests.
Nevertheless, inappropriate (out-degree) communications may give rise to interference. Sparrowe et al. (2001) report that hindrance networks (interference) are negatively related to individual and group performance. Turner and Müller (2004, 2005) make clear that continuous communication, trust, and information sharing with the client are essential for project performance. Turner and Müller (2004) note that trust generally existed in the buyer-seller relationship and was built on the use of “more frequent, but less formal communication.” Müller and Turner (2005) conclude that frequent sharing of information is a major factor for high project performance; however, they (2004) did show a pragmatic view by conceding that expensive agency costs existed in fulfilling the reciprocal requirements of both the client's information needs and the manager's bonding needs.
Figure 5 depicts the detailed conceptual model for out-degree centrality. It illustrates thirteen network contents; eleven positive network contents and two negative.
Figure 5: Out-degree centrality detailed conceptual model.
The first sub-question of this study will therefore evaluate this model in terms of its impact on project management performance as perceived by the project manager:
Q1. How does out-degree centrality contribute to project success as perceived by the project manager?
Freeman (1977) defines betweenness centrality as the extent to which an actor lies in the shortest communication path to all others in the network. The network contents for inclusion in the betweenness centrality detailed conceptual model are now assessed.
Hossain and Wu (2009) found that an actor's structural position of betweenness is the most powerful independent predictor for the effects of centrality and coordination ability. Freeman (1977) notes that betweenness provides the potential to control and influence, for example, by withholding or biasing information (Freeman 1977; Hossain & Wu 2009). Moreover, this actor would most likely emerge as group leader and would participate more in task solutions.
Reagans and McEvily (2003) demonstrated that the ability to transfer complex knowledge increases following the broadening of one's networks. Similarly, Cross and Cummings (2004) identify that awareness of others’ expertise (meta-knowledge) increases the likelihood of obtaining required information. Resulting from these workers social relationships, Jehn and Shah (1997) found that opportunities are acquired.
Additionally, the benefit of a colleague's experiences and perceptions can be gained by individuals in structurally central positions (Ahuja et al., 2003).
Adverse risks, however, may become prevalent. Cross, Parker, Prusak, and Borgatti (2001) suggest that individuals may become bottlenecks by hoarding information and knowledge and may not participate in knowledge sharing (negative development). Consequently, project teams may become over-reliant on centralised individuals with specialist expertise; thus, these individuals may become overloaded or unavailable to the project.
Sparrowe et al.'s (2001) study of Molm (1994) deduced that the reduced interdependence from centralised networks instigates reduced cooperation. Moreso, Chung, and Hossain (2009) acknowledge that the flow of information (poor knowledge transfer) in rigid structural forms is inefficient for complex tasks such as those under study in the engineering industry (Chung & Hossain 2009).
Figure 6 depicts the detailed conceptual model for betweenness centrality. It illustrates sixteen network contents; ten positive and six negative contents.
Figure 6: Betweenness centrality detailed conceptual model.
The second sub-question of this study will therefore evaluate this model in terms of its impact on project management performance as perceived by the project manager:
Q2. How does betweenness centrality contribute to project success as perceived by the project manager?
This section examines the impact of structural holes on projects. Burt's (1995) structural holes theory proposes that an actor's network structure position provides brokering advantages between independent groups of social networks. A study by Cummings and Cross (2003) found a number of network structures in which structural holes are realisable. These structures are illustrated in Figure 7 and are now examined.
Figure 7: Structural holes network structures.
The hierarchy structure is illustrated in Figure 8, in which team members communicate vertically upwards only. Cummings and Cross (2003) found that performance is inferior in these hierarchical structures. They point out that, for task interdependence, coordination among work groups is an essential element in complex tasks.
Figure 8: Hierarchy structure.
Leader Structural Holes
The team leader (manager) with structural holes is illustrated in Figure 9, in which the leader creates and maintains his or her own structural holes. Cummings and Cross (2003) found that group performance was negatively related to the structural holes of the leader. For complex tasks, the bypassing of information brokers (intermediaries) may be more efficient.
Figure 9: Team leader's structural holes.
The core-periphery structure is illustrated in Figure 10, with a dense, cohesive core but its periphery is sparse and unconnected. Cummings and Cross (2003) point out that performance is partially inferior in this structure but suggest that the more integrative core-periphery structure is better than the previous two structures for performance in complex projects.
Figure 10: Core periphery structure.
Team Member's Structural Holes
Figure 11 illustrates a team member's structural holes arrangement. Cross and Cummings (2004) proposed that further research be performed on this project structure, where “informal organisations have no constraints from formal hierarchy.” Therefore, this study proposes a team member's structural holes arrangement. This is a progression of the core-periphery except that, for clarity, a project manager is now included.
Figure 11: Team member's structural holes.
The work of Cummings and Cross (2003) suggests that the promotion of lateral connectivity of collective intellect may be more effective, which results in the prevention of over-reliance on one member. They conclude that this may be facilitated by the creation of sufficient ties among members. The network contents for inclusion in the team member's structural holes detailed conceptual model are now assessed.
Actors with many structural holes gain power and influence in their social networks through the obtaining, control, and brokering of information (Burt, 1995). For information searches, Cross and Cummings (2004) argue that performance in complex work should be improved when structural holes are used. This is due to more relevant expertise being sought for problem formulation and solutions. In addition, Burt (2000) observes that creativity (innovation) and learning (development) are the major benefits of actors who bridge structural holes. Apart from this, Reagans and McEvily (2003) claim that ties to different knowledge pools increase one's ability to transfer complex knowledge. However, Brookes et al. (2006) indicate that extended social networks insinuate an increase of information through informal non-validated routes. This represents additional processing and filtering, thereby increasing decision-making time; however, in cases of radical innovation this may not be problematic.
The study now presents the detailed conceptual model in Figure 12 for team member structural holes alone; it illustrates eleven network contents, ten positive contents, and one negative content.
Figure 12: Team member's holes detailed conceptual model.
The third sub-question of this study will evaluate this model in terms of its impact on project management performance as perceived by the project manager:
Q4. How do project team member's structural holes contribute to project success as perceived by the project manager?
This section examines the impact of boundary management on projects. Weinkauf and Hoegl (2002) define boundary management as the leadership activity that establishes strategies for the team's interaction with its external environment. A study by Cross, Yan, and Louis (2000) found that boundary management comprises a number of network structures, as illustrated in Figure 13, which are now examined.
Figure 13: Boundary management network structures.
Cross et al. (2000) show that buffering is the concealment of knowledge from oneself or a group. Buffering is generally prevalent for two dependencies, when resources are scarce and if team boundaries are clearly defined. However, Choi (2002) indicates that team composition changes over time, in particular regarding core/peripheral members. Consequently, because the second dependency is generally not met, buffering will not be considered as having a significant impact on project management performance.
Bringing up Boundaries
Cross et al. (2000) observe that bringing up boundaries is a method of motivation. Consequently, because motivation is an extensive topic in its own right, bringing up boundaries is therefore excluded from the scope of this study.
Gladstein (1984) (cited by Weinkauf & Hoegl 2002) observed that boundary spanning addresses “the management of relationships of groups or individuals who supply inputs or receive outputs.” Additionally, Cross et al. (2000) argue that boundary spanning is utilised as a necessary condition for interacting with the environment. Overall, Hastings (1995) emphasises that project management skills should include networking and boundary spanning. Of the three boundary management network structures, the literature recognises boundary spanning as having the greatest impact on project management performance for this study's scope. Therefore, the network contents for inclusion in the boundary spanning detailed conceptual model are now assessed.
Choi (2002) identifies three external networking activities: ambassador, coordination, and scout activities. First, ambassador activities attempt to gain support and resources from top management. Second, coordination activities focus on task processes of cross-functional work-flows. Third, scout activities are the information search and transfer process from the external environment.
Staber (2004) suggests that new skills (development) and opportunities should be undertaken by employees through the management of their boundary-spanning activities. Staber (2004) claims that boundary spanning will create a learning and innovative environment by developing an inter-departmental knowledge base (knowledge utilisation). It may motivate employees to conduct external knowledge searches through newly explored networks. Huang and Newell (2003) agree with creating a common cross-functional knowledge (utilisation) for use across all future projects.
Hansen (1999) asserts that continuous communication across team and organizational boundaries contributes to project effectiveness due to the timely (timely access) integration of knowledge. Mohrman, Cohen, and Mohrman (1995) agree that time efficiency can be achieved through “synchronisation of efforts across interdependent units.” In contrast, Ancona and Caldwell (1992) found that time-consuming scouting activities negatively affect performance.
This study now presents the detailed conceptual model in Figure 14 for boundary spanning alone. It illustrates thirteen network contents. Interestingly, twelve are positive contents with one also having a negative impact.
Figure 14: Boundary spanning detailed conceptual model.
The fourth sub-question of this study will evaluate this model in terms of its impact on project management performance as perceived by the project manager:
Q4. How does a project team member's boundary spanning contribute to project success as perceived by the project manager?
Gubbins and MacCurtain (2008) define tie strength as “the combination of the amount of time, the emotional intensity, the intimacy, and the reciprocal services that characterize the tie.” Tie strength comprises both weak ties and strong ties. The literature review for tie strength reveals that the positive and negative network contents have been cancelled out by one another. Although, there are many benefits found for tie strength, the amount of negative impacts is just as compelling. Their net effect would have a neutral impact on project management performance; therefore, this study eliminates tie strength as a network structure upon which to perform data analysis. For completeness, a tie strength conceptual model is included in Figure 15.
Figure 15: Tie strength detailed conceptual model.
Social Networks Detailed Conceptual Model
The study now integrates the four sub-structures into one combined overall social networks detailed conceptual model, which is displayed in Figure 16.
Figure 16For completeness, general project network contents are now assessed for inclusion also.
Cross, Borgatti, and Parker (2001) infer that social networks provide five social relations informational benefits and these are: solutions, meta-knowledge, problem reformulation, validation, and legitimation. Kratzer, Gemünden, and Lettl (2008) raise the negative network content of distraction. Team member distraction due to the presence of others is stated as being disruptive to performance. “Distraction can cause attention overload, which may lead to a restriction in cognitive focusing and may cause cognitive shortcuts.”
Figure 16: Detailed conceptual model of social networks.
The detailed conceptual model shows that there are many more positive network contents than negative. In addition, the positive network contents are common throughout many of the network sub-structures. The subsequent research undertaken references back to these detailed conceptual models.
Research Design and Methodology
This section describes the research design and methodology adapted for this study, which undertakes exploratory research. Social networks are found to be under researched in a project context; therefore, this exploratory research will attempt to develop a better understanding of the topic. The study will associate its findings back to the literature review's detailed conceptual model.
To investigate the research question, the study employed a qualitative research method. The author acknowledges that differing methodologies may be exercised for this data collection on social networks. In fact, Hossain (2009b) acknowledges the difficulty in developing adequate measurement techniques to collect social network data. Actually, previous research has used quantitative electronic datasets and surveys, observational techniques, and qualitative research methods, which are now explored.
The time and cost for adequate quantitative research are outside the scope and resources of this study. Social network management infers that the network boundaries should be ever expanding and so should not be defined. In spite of this, Mead (2001) asserts that the boundaries of a network be established prior to conducting data collection. However, in a study by Kochen (1989), Mead found that the average person has individual connections with 1500 other people; accordingly, a thorough research and data collection can be expensive and time consuming.
Observational techniques require continuous inter-organisational monitoring of tangible project networks, generally over a number of months. These constraints are outside the scope and resources of this study.
Qualitative research is employed for this study, because the literature proposes many benefits. Admittedly, the literature does not offer an optimal research methodology. Despite this, Burke (2008), explains that qualitative research may enable the author's “how” question to be investigated in more depth. The following qualitative studies illustrate a number of its method's benefits. Blackburn (2002) based her research on the in-depth analysis of interviews only, which allowed focusing on project network based success. Smith-Doerr, Manev, and Rizova (2004) conducted open-ended interviews, which allowed examination of the organisational advice for networks. Huang and Newell (2003) performed semi-structured interviews followed by triangulation, which provided a means of exploring the complexity of knowledge integration in cross-functional project teams. Additionally, Hossain and Wu (2009) state that the network content of coordination is primarily measured using qualitative methods. These examples illustrate that a more in-depth analysis was achievable by qualitative analysis. This study endeavours to explore in-depth perceptions, which are made possible by qualitative analysis.
This study's population is project managers in the consultant engineering industry in Ireland. The population is refined so as to attain a context-specific study. An extended population of dissimilar, extreme, or deviant subjects would be a major limitation because it would be less reliable. The sample chosen is from my organisation, which is a multidiscipline engineering consultancy in Ireland. The research is based on a sample of twenty project managers. More specifically, the interview data of this sample were continuously analysed in order to ascertain the required sample size.
A truly informed consent form was issued to the interviewees and is included in the appendices. Participation of interviewees was directly solicited, rather than via management, and this eliminated the perspective of an indirect order.
In-depth, semi-structured interviews were performed, on average, in one-hour durations. Easterby-Smith, Thorpe, and Jackson (2008) found that they allow the researcher to “probe deeply to uncover new clues, open up new dimensions of a problem, and to secure vivid, accurate inclusive accounts that are based on personal experience.”
The project managers were requested to choose two projects on which to act as case studies for the interview. These projects were what the project managers personally considered as both their own most successful and least successful projects (hereafter classified as the two project categories). The projects were based on their own perceived success criteria. The four main topics for the interview were the four sub-structures (sub-questions). The complete list of semi-structured questions is included in the appendices.
Data Gathering Technique
A matrix formed the heart of the data gathering process, as suggested by Easterby-Smith et al. (2008). Separate matrices are compiled for each network structure; thereafter, this is performed for each of the interviewees. An element of quantification is introduced from this matrix by calculating percentages as a means of comparison.
Content analysis is employed for interrogating the qualitative data. This is supported by reference to the literature review's detailed conceptual model. This model includes constructs and ideas, which are decided on in advance. The natural language content analysis allows for the interrogation of data for themes, which have already been found (Easterby-Smith et al., 2008). In addition, this content analysis also includes many of the grounded analysis steps as described by Easterby-Smith et al. (2008). This data processing leads into the results as presented in the next section.
Presentation of Results
This section provides the results of the data collection and analysis as described earlier. For this study, results triangulation is provided by analysing the results by two separate appraisal methods; namely, the explicit perspective method and the network contents method. First, the project manager's explicit perspective classification directly defines the impact on project success as positive, negative, or neutral. Second, the project manager's network contents classification is the unearthing of the specific reasons for the project manager's perspective and these have been noted as having either a positive or negative impact on project success.
The first question asked of the interviewees (project managers) was their definition of project success, because the projects were based on their own perceived success criteria. The definitions are graphed in Figure 17.
Figure 17: Project success definitions.
The definitions suggest that the project managers considered the relationship-oriented approach to project management in contrast to simply the task-oriented approach of time, budget, and performance (scope and quality) as suggested by Dvir, Sadeh, and Malach-Pines (2006), because client satisfaction is perceived by the project managers as similarly important.
Figure 18 illustrates the project manager's general perspective of out-degree centrality (frequent initiations) in relation to its impact on project success.
Figure 18: Out-degree centrality general perspective.
Both the explicit perspectives appraisal and the network content references show a perceived positive impact on project success:
“I am a firm believer in initiation. I specifically initiate involvement with team members and liaise with the grass roots.” (Project Manager-3)
Figure 19 illustrates the impact of the frequent initiation of communication on the two project categories. This identifies that all of the project managers viewed frequent initiations as having a positive impact on their most successful projects:
“It improved access to a difficult client.” (Project Manager-11)
Figure 19: Out-degree centrality explicit perspectives impact.
The 60% of least successful projects with infrequent initiations were all perceived to have a negative impact on project success:
“The project manager for some reason did not interact. Probably due to the high ambient temperatures, he was not inclined to see for himself the situation on the ground.” (Project Manager-4)
The study now presents a results model of out-degree centrality in relation to project success in Figure 20. This model contains the greatest network content impacts as perceived by the project managers for the projects, where frequent initiation was displayed, to guarantee the focus remains on the impact of initiation of interactions rather than its absence.
Figure 20: Out-degree centrality results model.
It is evident from the out-degree centrality results model that there are many more perceived positive impacts than negatives. Interestingly, two contents in particular provide both positive and negative impacts.
There is considerable disagreement on the project manager's optimal betweenness centrality position strategy as depicted in Figure 21. For example, the project manager in the centre (PMPrimary Point) is only the second most preferred strategy (at 45%):
“Our own project managers are closer to the core than to the periphery. This comes from a background of being the project manager plus the project engineer in smaller projects.” (Project Manager-20)
Figure 21: Betweenness centrality general perspective strategies.
Actually, technical discipline team leaders reporting to the project manager (55%) is slightly favoured:
“Project managers and technical department leaders are best, as the project manager may be in charge of several projects.” (Project Manager-10)
Interestingly, the totally contrasting style of the project manager being on the periphery (Not all through the project manager) is only marginally less preferable at 35%.
Figure 22 illustrates the general perspective of betweenness centrality in relation to its impact on project success. Both the explicit perspectives and the network contents reinforce the project manager's perception of there being no optimal centrality strategy:
“Clients are keen on single points of contact, some of them insist on it.” (Project Manager-20)
“The project manager in the centre is not workable; he cannot make all the decisions.” (Project Manager-1)
Figure 22: Betweenness centrality general perspective.
Actually, the majority of project managers emphasized that their recommended project manager position was extremely dependent on a number of factors, as presented in Figure 23. Project size is the overwhelming dependency:
“If you are running a really large project, you cannot be given all the information.” (Project Manager-6)
The experience of the project manager and the capability of the team are the subsequent factors.
Figure 23: Betweenness centrality dependencies.
The impact of the two opposing (and most common) project manager positions on the two project categories is now examined in Figure 24. It identifies that only positive impacts were perceived for all of the most successful projects, regardless of strategy.
“The project manager being on the periphery was a disaster before I took over. I took a central position straight away.” (Project Manager-17)
Figure 24: Betweenness centrality explicit perspectives impact.
The project manager position adapted had a negative impact on 75% of the least successful projects, with only slightly more negatives perceived for the project manager periphery position (40%) than the project manager central position (35%):
“I was the point of contact; the external guys had very little contact. That could well have been part of the problem.” (Project Manager-12)
“Project manager was not centrally focussed so a lack of quality resulted.” (Project Manager-10)
The study now presents a results model of betweenness centrality in relation to project success in Figure 25. This model contains the greatest network content impacts as perceived by the project managers for the projects in which project manager centrality was displayed.
Figure 25: Betweenness centrality results model.
It is evident from the results model that there are slightly more positive impacts than negative ones; however, the negatives do seem to have a large impact.
Team Member Holes
Figure 26 illustrates the general perspective of team member holes (contact delegation) in relation to its impact on project success.
Figure 26: Team member holes — Project manager's general perspective.
Both the explicit perspectives appraisal and the network content references show a perceived reasonably positive impact on project success:
“The project managers should share contacts, but his direct project manager contact cannot be delegated.” (Project Manager-17)
The majority of project managers emphasized that contact delegation was dependent primarily on team competency and project size, as presented in Figure 27.
“The project manager must choose to who and what to delegate.” (Project Manager-8)
“It depends on how big and complex the project is.” (Project Manager-11)
Figure 27: Team member holes dependencies.
Figure 28 illustrates the project manager's explicit perspectives impact of contact delegation on the two project categories. It shows that contact delegation had a greater perceived positive impact:
“It turned out to be vital in getting resources.” (Project Manager-6)
Figure 28: Team member holes explicit perspective impact.
Interestingly, however, there is a similar relative amount of perceived negative impacts, regardless of strategy.
“The delegated person did not have adequate management skills.” (Project Manager-14)
It must be stated also that the sources for the majority of impartial project managers (neutral) were the non-contact delegation projects:
“It wasn't applicable as it was a tight little team.” (Project Manager-11)
The study now presents a results model of team member holes in relation to project success in Figure 29. This model contains the greatest network content impacts as perceived by the project managers for the projects in which contact delegation was present.
Figure 29: Team member holes results model.
It is evident from the model that there are many more positive impacts than negative ones. Intriguingly, information is gained through the use of contacts. Nevertheless, the inadequate communication of this information represents a negative impact on project success.
Figure 30 illustrates the general perspective of boundary spanning (external interfacing) in relation to its impact on project success.
Figure 30: Boundary spanning project manager's general perspective.
Only just over half of the project managers view team member boundary spanning as having a perceived positive impact on project success;
“You will find that things go a lot smoother if everybody is given free rein to communicate and get information.” (Project Manager-13)
“That (external interfacing) can be a risky one.” (Project Manager-19)
Figure 31 demonstrates that the majority of project managers would either encourage external interfacing or only via the project manager:
“If this decision does not have a cost impact, then there is no need to bother the project manager.” (Project Manager-1)
“I wouldn ‘t have an issue as long as I know what they are up to.” (Project Manager-6)
Figure 31: Boundary spanning general perspective strategies.
The majority of project managers emphasized that external interfacing was dependent on a number of factors, as presented in Figure 32, most notably team competency;
“You're relying on a very good, very clever team that can operate efficiently without control.” (Project Manager-17)
Figure 32: Boundary spanning dependencies.
Figure 33 illustrates the project manager's explicit perspectives impact of external interfacing on the two project categories. This identifies that the only negative impacts perceived were for the least successful projects. Interestingly, though, both the interfacing and non-interfacing strategies had similar relative negative impacts:
“The lack of project manager site involvement led to a lack of control, which was disadvantageous.” (Project Manager-17)
Figure 33: Boundary spanning explicit perspectives.
The project managers perceived primarily positive impacts from all most successful project strategies. Similar perceived relative positive impacts are illustrated for both interfacing and interfacing via the project manager:
“It's key, it has to be done. Unless all designers are talking, you have a problem.” (Project Manager-8)
Notably, no negatives are perceived on interfacing via the project manager.
“The interface management was positive, it was essential to manage them, as it was key to the project progressing.” (Project Manager-20)
The study now presents a results model of boundary spanning in relation to project success in Figure 34. This model contains the greatest network content impacts as perceived by the project managers for the projects where contact delegation was present.
Figure 34: Boundary spanning results model.
It is evident from the model that there are a similar number of positive network contents to negatives, although the positives have a greater impact.
Discussion of Results
Social Networks Comparative Model
This chapter discusses the study findings with reference to the empirical and theoretical literature. The overall social networks comparison model in Figure 35 combines all four social network structure findings under study, which are directly associated with the four study sub-questions. This model compares the results models with the detailed conceptual models generated from the literature.
Figure 35: Social Networks Comparative Model
The literature review considers seven positive network contents, which are the most significant as depicted in the model. Of those, the project managers assuredly concur with three; namely, solutions, knowledge transfer, and control. The project managers moderately concur with information/knowledge search and opportunities. In contrast, the project managers perceive the remaining two network contents of power and influence as negatively impacting project management performance.
Studies revealed an additional eight considerable positive network contents. Of those, the project managers assuredly concur with two network contents, being information communication and coordination. Apart from this, they moderately concur with resources, development and innovation and, to a lesser extent, with meta-knowledge and problem reformulation. Finally, top management support gets only a modest reference.
Many significant positive network contents were exposed from the interviews, which were not uncovered in the literature. These were decision-making time, quality, objectives alignment, and progress reporting. Admittedly, the project managers perceived each of these network contents as potentially becoming negative in some cases.
The literature review posits that there are ten negative network contents. Of those, the project managers assuredly concur with six network contents, being interference, over-reliance, overloading, bottlenecks, cost, and time efficiency.
Many more negative network contents were exposed from the interviews, in addition to those ten literature findings. Misunderstanding is the greatest virtually unconditional negative network content discovered.
Many primarily positive network contents also exhibit negative aspects. Interestingly, four of the greatest project managers’ perceived positive network contents also exhibit four of the greatest negative network contents. These four network contents are control, time efficiency, coordination, and information communications. This may be partly explained via the four sub-structures under study. First, two sub-structures are direct actions of the project manager; namely, out-degree and betweenness centrality. These two sub-structures facilitate control, coordination, and information communication. However, they also create time inefficiency. Second, the other two sub-structures are only being managed by the project manager; namely, team member structural holes and boundary spanning. These sub-structures engender time efficiency; however, they cause reductions in control, coordination, and information communication. These trade-offs are discussed in more detail in the following sub-structure sections.
As the results suggest, out-degree centrality was perceived by project managers to have a strong connection to project success. Specifically, the presence and absence of out-degree centrality in the most and least successful projects had a positive and negative impact, respectively, on those projects. The result is in agreement with previous studies, such that degree centrality influences performance (Freeman, 1978), out-centrality influences coordination (Hossain & Wu, 2009), and centrality and coordination facilitate effectiveness (Leavitt, 1951).
The study now produces the comparative model for out-degree centrality in Figure 36.
Figure 36: Out-degree centrality comparative model.
The project manager's highest perceived network contents of information communication, and coordination were consistent with previous studies. Particularly, Turner and Müller (2004, 2005) reported that continuous communication, trust, and information sharing with the client, are essential for project performance.
“The biggest thing is that everybody knows what's going on and knows the project intentions (information communications).” (Project Manager-1)
The results model shows trust and control as having both positive and negative impacts in contrast to previous studies, because trust (Project Manager-2) and control (Project Manager-1) may be lost through over-frequent inconsistent directions.
Accordingly, interference and cost were the only negative literature impacts agreed on by the project managers.
“Communication is needed. But you can have too much. There does come a point when it is more of an obstacle in responding to emails and queries and it becomes too overbearing.” (Project Manager-9)
The lack of out-degree centrality research may provide an explanation for the perceived network contents additional to the literature.
Results show that the project manager position seems extremely dependent on project size and project manager competency. Thus, there is no perceived optimal strategy of project manager position for all projects. Both dependencies, though not specifically for social networks, have been determined by Patanakul, Milosevic, and Anderson (2007) to assist in assigning of projects to project managers. Patanakul and Milosevic (2008) conclude that project managers currently seek an effective approach to multiple-project management.
Although numerous project managers would not recommend the project manager being in the centre, it was in fact the most common strategy for both project categories. The results of the interviews revealed that betweenness centrality has a positive impact on all the most successful projects as well as a degree of the least successful projects as perceived by project managers.
Many more project managers perceive the opposing project management periphery strategy (non-betweenness) as having a negative impact for the least successful projects. This result is in accordance with a study by Freeman (1977).
The study now produces the comparative model for betweenness centrality in Figure 37.
Figure 37: Betweenness centrality comparative model.
The project managers perceived control and coordination as the greatest positive impacts of betweenness centrality on project management performance, which is in concurrence with Freeman (1977) and Hossain and Wu (2009).
The study discovered that seven alternative positive network contents were applicable. These may contribute to Hossain's (2009b) proposed requirement for an evaluation of project performance regarding its relationship with social network structures and position.
A number of network contents had both positive and negative impacts. First, the project managers agreed with Freeman (1978) that betweenness may facilitate control and information communication but illustrate that “Communication was not managed and so the project was let go out of control.” (Project Manager-6) Second, the project managers do not present Reagans and McEvily's (2003) theory that knowledge transfer ability is increased with broadening perspectives but do concur with Guetzkow and Simon (1955) that centralisation is inefficient for knowledge transfer in complex tasks. Third, the project managers partly agreed with Molm's (1994, p.165) reduced cooperation philosophy but do also perceive betweenness as enhancing cooperation.
Team Member Holes
Structural holes are perceived to have a reasonably positive impact on project success from a project manager's general perspective. Moreover, structural holes led to a strongly perceived positive impact on the majority of most successful projects and also some of the least successful projects. This positive result was consistent with Burt's (2000) argument that project teams are more likely to be recognized as successful when comprised of members with structural holes.
Notably, though, there were considerable amounts of project manager-perceived negative impacts. These impacts were similar regardless of contact delegation strategy. Control of these negative impacts may be possible with the management of the significant project manager perceived dependencies of team competency and project size. The literature seems to neglect these dependencies, because Cummings and Cross (2003) reported that little structural hole research had been performed on work groups.
The study now produces the comparative model for team member structural holes in Figure 38.
Figure 38: Team member holes comparative model.
The project managers assuredly consent with Burt (2000) and Reagans and McEvily (2003) on the benefits of solutions and knowledge transfer, respectively:
“Because he had a natural linkage through the foreign language, we got a lot of information that we would only have gotten months later.” (Project Manager-12)
The project managers also highlighted five positive network contents in addition to previous studies. Surprisingly, improved decision-making time is perceived by project managers as positive. This is due to technical specialist's decision-making in contrast to Brookes et al.'s (2006) processing time for non-validated information. Similarly, the benefit of information (Burt, 1992) is agreed on but its inadequate communication can be a downfall:
“That has to be a good level of trust in the people who both give and take the message that the message doesn't break down.” (Project Manager-18)
The project managers warn of five additional negative network contents to the literature, such as lack of coordination and misunderstandings:
“The information was never communicated down the line and the equipment was not installed. Again, it comes down to communication and coordination.” (Project Manager-19)
However, the combination of the project manager's positive network contents, along with those from previous studies, enhances the significance of team member structural holes.
Just over half of the project managers perceive team member boundary spanning as having a positive impact on project success. In addition, the project managers perceived greater positive impacts on their most successful projects. Conversely, though, project managers generally viewed external interfacing as having a substantial, negative network content impact and seen as negatively oriented for the least successful projects. Despite this, a similar amount of negative impacts become apparent for the opposing interfacing strategies.
Constructively, though, the project managers perceive elimination of all potential negative impacts possible by interfacing externally via the project manager. Additionally, this strategy would facilitate the management of the featured significant team competency dependency. This proposed strategy and dependency may contribute to the gap exposed in the literature by Marrone's (2010) boundary spanning research proposals.
The project managers were in agreement with the majority of literature positive network contents as illustrated in the boundary spanning comparative model in Error! Reference source not found. 39.
Figure 39: Team member holes comparative model.
Solutions and validation are the greatest positive impacts:
“We had to obtain assistance to make sure what we provided was correct, and it stood the test.” (Project Manager-6)
The project managers unearthed a substantial number of additional network contents, both positive and negative. The extensive negative network contents are an important finding because they highlight the potential negative implications to team members interfacing externally:
“There is the risk that all discussions are not communicated back to the project manager and the team is not aware of these decisions.” (Project Manager-19)
This emphasises that the project manager's strategy should be based on the team competency dependency. Nevertheless, the project manager's seven additional positive network contents, plus those found in the literature, do enhance the benefits of boundary spanning and again may contribute to Marrone's (2010) requirement for detailed research on boundary spanning impacts beyond that of team performance.
Finally, time efficiency is improved through the use of boundary spanning, such as synchronisation of efforts (Mohrman et al., 1995) but intriguingly, the inappropriate use of these interfaces represents a negative impact on project success, such as redundant information (Project Manager-2).
The four sub-question topics (sub-structures) showed that social networks have a perceived positive relationship to project management performance. First, the project managers perceived out-degree centrality to have a strong connection to project management performance. Second, the project managers perceived project management betweenness centrality to have a positive impact on project management performance, although it is considerably dependent on project size and project manager capability. Third, the project managers perceived team member holes to have a reasonably positive impact on project management performance. However, there are considerable perceived negative impacts, which prompt significant dependencies of team competency and project size. Fourth, the project managers perceived boundary spanning as being significantly dependent on team competency. Nevertheless, the project managers perceived boundary spanning via the project manager as eliminating all potential negative impacts, thereby contributing positively to project management performance.
The sub-structures comparative models illustrate that a balancing of their positive and negative network contents may be necessary. This study depicts that by considering the project dependencies of project size, team competency, and project manager capability, social networks can be managed to improve project management performance.
Future researchers may be able to make use of the network contents comparative model. The contrasting network content impacts require further verification in future research. The study's population is project managers from one consultant engineering organisation in Ireland alone. It may be difficult to generalise these results to the entire project management population; therefore, a broader range of organisations may prove worthwhile. The recommended project management centrality adapted may be explored in relation to project size and project manager capability. The strategic transition between the alternative strategies may be examined (primary point of contact, deputy, technical leaders, project management team, and project manager on the periphery). The dependency variables of project size and team competency may be explored for team member structural holes. The recommended strategy for boundary spanning may be explored in relation to team competency and clear roles and responsibilities.
The question raised by the study was how social networks contribute to project management performance. The literature revealed the four most influential social network sub-structures on which the field study focused. Results showed that the four sub-structures have a perceived positive impact on project management performance; however, these impacts have significant dependencies on project size, project manager competency, and team competency. Furthermore, the study depicts comparative models of social network contents. Accordingly, the project manager can consult these models to ascertain the specific contribution of social networks in general and its network sub-structures, in particular, to project management performance. The subsequent implications for both research and practice further develop on these findings and their significance. Indeed, the limitations and future research directions highlight the expansiveness of the social networks concept. The study emphasises that the project manager has increasing considerations in his or her effort to enhance project management performance.
Appendix A: Interview schedule.
Appendix B: Literature review detailed conceptual model matrix.
Appendix C: Results model data.
Appendix D: Social networks comparative model data.
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