The hidden pyramid

Andrea Caccamese, PMP, Prince2 Practitioner

ITIL® V3 Foundation

Damiano Bragantini, PMP

Agsm Distribuzione

Soft skills for the project manager have been traditionally identified as a set of cross-cutting skills that should complement the core job of establishing and maintaining reasonable tradeoffs among the elements of the traditional project management “iron triangle.” But, there is more: the project manager needs to extend its integrative role to a “hidden pyramid” where “soft factors” like motivation, socialization, and attitudes are managed into a constrained environment between themselves and with the traditional “hard factors,” like scope, time, cost, and quality. Project management can rely upon tools for dealing with “hard factors” such as, scope, time, cost, and quality, which can be quantitatively defined and measured. But, what about “soft factors?” This paper presents the result of an extended research effort aiming to identify a model for “soft factors,” including taxonomies and proxies representing their qualitative/quantitative values. This model can be put in place in any context where the integrative project management effort is extended to the “hidden pyramid.”

Background

In the last three decades, the issue of what constitutes project success has been debated and much effort has been made to provide the project manager with tools and techniques useful to pursue project management success. At the beginning, the effort was focused upon tools and techniques related to the “iron triangle,” originally focused upon scope, quality, time, and cost; and further integrated with tools and techniques focused upon uncertainty and governance issues (Atkinson, 1999; Bernroider & Ivanov, 2011; Toor & Ongulana, 2010). Some steps have been made in the direction to incorporate “soft” factors in the basis for project management success: “the project manager's leadership style influences project success” and “different leadership styles are appropriate for different types of projects” (Muller & Turner, 2006, p. 30). Recently, Serrador and Turner (2015, p. 30), in debating the relationship between project efficiency (as they redefined project management success) and project success, referred to “team satisfaction” as one of the dimensions of project success and identified “team morale,” “skill development,” “team member growth,” and “team member retention” as possible measures for it. Overall, there is a diffused tendency to complement the traditional view of project management success based upon the successful maintenance of the “iron triangle,” with a need to support, throughout the project, the growth needs of individual team members. At the end of the day, no one is happy if the project delivers according to the goals set up by the iron triangle and, as a result of this, team members suffer for low morale and may decide to leave the performing organization.

In 2012, the existence of a soft pyramid (Exhibit 1) was postulated, in which the management of “soft” factors in a constrained environment should complement the traditional effort of managing “hard” factors in a constrained environment (the “iron triangle”), and that this should be reflected upon appropriately in project management methods (Caccamese & Bragantini, 2012).

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Exhibit 1: The soft pyramid.

Exhibit 1 depicts the “spaces for soft factors” as the interconnected faces of a triangular pyramid:

  • ABV: Motivational space. This is the space available for the project to activate the context for individual motivation. For example, working conditions, job security, advancement, growth, power, affiliation, esteem, decision-making processes, and rewarding systems (Verma, 1995);
  • ACV: Social space. This is the space available for the project to activate the protocols for acceptable behavior. These are made of both task-related rules, as well as social rules, such as punctuality in task completion, agreed time to read and respond to messages, respect of consensus decisions, honesty, truth, preparation for and attendance to meetings, punctuality at meetings (Whatley, 2009);
  • BCV: Analytic/holistic space. This is the space available for the project to foster and facilitate the development of individual thinking models. The analytic model is centered upon analysis, linearity, sequentiality, reductionism, and places high value upon expansion, competition, quantity, and assertiveness. The holistic model is centered upon synthesis, non-linearity, parallelism, holism, and places high value upon preservation, cooperation, quality, and associationism (Capra, 1982).

Caccamese and Bragantini (2012) postulated that the traditional paradigm of project success must be revised, complementing the activity of integrating and balancing “hard” factors with an activity of integrating and balancing “soft” factors, and “hard” factors with “soft” factors, as well.

In this view, good project management is more than delivering in scope, time, quality, and cost; rather, it also implies the ability to manage a set of interrelated constraints, with the aim to create a project climate in which the various personalities working on the project may develop their own peculiarities in a state of internal satisfaction. The message is that effort should be given to uncover and manage a “pyramid” that is hidden in every project, as a complementary effort to the management of the tradition “iron triangle.”

The Qualitative Model

Based upon the original idea, an effort has been made to identify a taxonomy for soft factors and appropriate “proxies” for their numerical evaluation; the effort was done for the soft factors of the project (i.e., the measure of the “offering of space”) and for the soft factors of the individual team member (i.e., the measure of the “request of space”).

This led to the definition of a qualitative model (Caccamese & Bragantini, 2013) that is synthetized in Exhibit 2. It depicts the three spaces, their decomposition in subcomponents, and proxies (shown in italics) for numerically measuring their values, either in the case of the space made available by the project (“offer”), or in the case of space requested by an individual working in the project (“demand”).

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Exhibit 2: Qualitative model of soft spaces.

Motivational Space

The model decomposes the motivational space according to the following taxonomy:

  • Challenge: the drive for movement stays in the originality and hardness of the activity to be performed. This element is typically present in research and development projects;
  • Reward: the drive for movement comes from the need that individual efforts or abilities are valued by some external subject, with either tangible (economical) or intangible (personal esteem) recognition factors;
  • Satisfaction/enjoyment: the drive for movement comes from the ability to display and show individual abilities or knowledge, to enhance personal competences, and to take personal control of the activity.

In this taxonomy, challenge is mainly associated to the phenomenon of intrinsic motivation, with some elements of extrinsic motivation; reward is associated to the phenomenon of extrinsic motivation, satisfaction/enjoyment is associated to the phenomenon of intrinsic motivation.

Proxies for the three dimensions of project motivational space were identified as follows:

  • Innovation. Innovation may be defined and measured as the level at which the project environment fosters creativity and imagination for the development of new ideas based upon an existing process or product model.
  • Rewarding system. Rewarding system in the project may be defined and measured by the existence of visible and structures recognitions in the project environment, be they either tangible (incentives, bonuses) or intangibles (praise, job security, recognition).
  • Serendipity. Traditionally, serendipity discoveries are understood as accidental findings made when the discoverer is in quest for something else (Garcia, 2009)). Serendipity in the project may be defined as the level at which the project allows people to develop the attitude to discover something when looking for something else.
  • Learning. Learning in the project may be defined as the ability for the project environment to make available, opportunities for enhancing personal knowledge; for example, through the exposure to Subject Matter Experts, or to regulatory and compliance constraints.
  • Exploring. Exploring for the project may be defined as the level at which the project environment allows individuals to try and test; to look outside their boxes.

There is no need to identify proxies for the three dimensions of individual motivational space; as far as the individual is concerned, they may be identified and scored without any intermediate.

Social Space

The model decomposes the motivational space according to the following taxonomy:

  • Task space: that is the social cohesion behaviors space, concerned with project tasks execution, be they either technical tasks or management tasks.
  • Maintenance space: that is the social cohesion behaviors space, strictly related to individual socio-emotional attitudes that are integrated with project tasks execution.

Proxies for the two dimensions of project social space were identified as follows:

  • Standards. Standards represent rules that the project establishes for tasks and deliverables.
  • Work acceptance rules. Work acceptance rules represent explicit protocols, procedures, or rules governing the process of the acceptance of deliverables produced by the project.
  • Open communication channels. Open communication channels represent protocols or infrastructures that facilitate peer-to-peer communication among team members.
  • Punctuality at meetings. Punctuality at meetings represents the value that the project attributes to the need for meetings to be attended and managed in respect of established timeframes.
  • Messages feedback. Messages feedback represents the value that the project attributes to the need to close the communication loop opened by any team member.

Proxies for the two dimensions of individual social space were identified as follows:

  • Inform of not completion. Inform of not completion may be defined as the attention the individual pays to the need to keep others informed about difficulties to complete tasks in the assigned timeframe; the same holds as far as the expectation from others’ behavior in the same situation.
  • Punctuality in production. Punctuality in production may be defined as the attention the individual pays to complete tasks by the expected date.
  • Face-to-face interaction. Face-to-face interaction may be defined as the attention the individual pays to a direct and non-mediated interaction with others.
  • Trust. Trust may be defined as the attention the individual pays to presence of reliability in human and professional relationships.
  • Meeting attendance. Meeting attendance maybe defined as the attention the individual pays to the participation to meetings of diverse kinds.

Analytic/Holistic Space

The model decomposes the analytic/holistic space according to a taxonomy based upon the thinking model and priority of values:

  • Analytic/synthetic thinking mode: the attitude to apply a model of thought oriented to linearity and reductionism, versus a model of thought oriented to non-linearity, holism.
  • Expansion/conservation value priority: the level of priority attributed to introduction of new components and procedures, versus conservation and integration.
  • Quantity/quality value priority: the level of priority attributed to volumes and numerosity, versus level of detail and finishing.

Proxies for the three dimensions of project analytic/holistic space were identified as follows:

  • Amount of integration. Amount of integration may be defined as the level at which the project product or process implies integration with external “systems.”
  • Amount of reuse. Amount of reuse may be defined as the level at which the project implies the reuse of product parts, production processes, methodologies, or techniques.
  • Perceived value. Perceived value may be defined as the level at which the project values deliverables according to their volume.

There is no need for identifying proxies for the three dimensions of individual analytic/holistic space: as far as the individual is concerned, they may be identified and scored without any intermediate.

The Quantitative Model

So far, a qualitative model for soft spaces was developed, in which a taxonomy was defined to decompose each single attribute into component sub-attributes. Proxies were defined for each sub-attribute, where appropriate, to determine their numeric value. The question, at that point, was whether the component of this taxonomy was or was not equipotent. For example, “satisfaction/enjoyment” is a subcomponent attribute for motivation. Three further proxies were defined in the taxonomy, namely “serendipity,” “learning,” and “exploring.” Are they equally important in the measurement of the satisfaction/enjoyment? Rather, do different weights apply to proxies in determining the extent of satisfaction/enjoyment? And, in turn, is “satisfaction/enjoyment” equally important as “challenge” and “reward” in determining the extent of motivation?

There was clearly the need to complement the qualitative model with relative weights applicable to the diverse subcomponents and proxies, so as to transform the qualitative model into a quantitative model. Research showed no evidence of similar studies; therefore, the decision was taken to involve a selected group of subject matter experts to get their guidance and advice in determining the appropriate weights. Seven experienced project managers, all of them Italian, four males and three females, most of them Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification holders, and belonging to diverse industries, were involved in a process in which they were asked to execute, individually, a pair-wise comparison between the components and subcomponents of the qualitative model.

The individual results were collected and organized, and a full one-day workshop was executed to reach agreement among the individual evaluations. The results are shown in Exhibits 3-5.

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Exhibit 3: Weights for motivational space.

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Exhibit 4: Weights for social space (individual).

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Exhibit 5: Weights for social space (project).

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Exhibit 6: Weights for analytic/synthetic space (project).

How to Collect Data for Soft Spaces Offer and Demand

The last effort stays in determining a viable method to assign a numeric value to the offer of soft spaces on the side of the project, and to assign a numeric value to the individual demand of soft spaces on the side of the individual team member.

The decision was taken to develop questionnaires made of statements representing the position of the project as a whole, in front of the subcomponents and associated proxies. Having them available, the questionnaires can be submitted to a population of selected stakeholders of the project (for example, the sponsor, the project manager, relevant suppliers, and functional managers), who can individually express their views that, in turn, will need to be reconciled by the project manager to reach agreement. The questionnaires might be submitted for the project as a whole, or, where applicable, the analysis may be carried on for some of the relevant phases in which the project might have been structured. This might be useful to represent circumstances in which the level of soft space offers in the project may depend on diverse planned contingencies; for example, task complexity or involvement of specific suppliers.

Similarly, the decision was taken to develop questionnaires made of statements representing the position of the individual in front of the subcomponents and associated proxies. Having them available, they can be submitted to all team members planned to be involved in the project: each single team member, providing a position for the statements, will define the level of her/his demand for the specific soft space concerned. For organizations mature in project management, it would be advisable to involve a project management office (PMO) in the collection and maintenance over time of the individual characteristics of organizational resources that are very likely to be not very dynamic, since they represent the intrinsic characteristics of the individuals predicated to work in projects.

A set of 121 statements to measure the project soft space offer, and a set of 99 questions to measure the individual soft spaces demand, were preliminarily developed. The decision was taken to consult the project management community to get advice about the pertinence of each statement with the characteristic it was designed to investigate. Besides the personal and professional contacts of the authors, the collaboration of two PMI Chapters (The PMI Rome Chapter and The PMI Southern Italy Chapter) was instrumental in reaching an extended population of project managers who provided their viewpoint using a web-based survey. The survey registered a return rate of approximately 25%, an indicator of enthusiasm and cooperation from the population addressed. The survey that related to the project soft space offer was completed by 216 individuals, and the survey that related to the team member soft space demand was completed by 167 individuals. Overall, most survey respondents were in the age range of 31–50; 75% male; 90% working in Italy.

From the analysis of survey responses (applying a value of 85% consensus as a threshold value to validate the pertinence of each single statement), it was possible to build the final questionnaires that are now comprised of 63 questions to measure the project soft space offer, and of 74 questions to measure the individual team member soft space demand. Exhibit 7 displays an example set of questions for investigating the demand of “challenge” from the individual team member, a subcomponent of the motivational space demand:

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Exhibit 7: Example of questionnaire for investigating “challenge” for team member.

Exhibit 8 displays an example set of questions for investigating the offer of “innovation” from the project; that is the proxy for a subcomponent of the motivational space offer:

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Exhibit 8: Example of questionnaire for investigating “innovation” for project.

Putting it to Work

We have a model for soft spaces offer and demand, and appropriate questionnaires for collecting data to measure both the soft space demand from any team member and the soft space offer from the project. As pointed out in previous research (Caccamese & Bragantini, 2012), this is the starting point to complement the well-known and coded activities of project planning and control that are focused upon the “iron triangle,” with similar project planning and control activities focused on the “soft spaces,” to run a capacity planning and control for soft spaces in the project, so a de-facto uncovering of the “hidden pyramid.

The following are a few steps that might be put to work to execute the capacity planning and control for soft spaces:

  • Calculate the soft space offer from the project, basing upon the model, its taxonomies, proxies, and relative weights. It is very important that the viewpoint of all relevant project stakeholders is taken into consideration. The calculation could involve the project as a whole if there is no perceived difference in the characteristics of the project environment throughout its life cycle. However, it could be executed for different time frames of the project life cycle. For example, with reference to the phases in which the project is divided, when it is expected that the project context, in terms of soft space offer, changes from one phase to the other.
  • Calculate the soft space demand for each team member, basing it upon the model, its taxonomies, proxies, and relative weights These values are not expected to change during the project life cycle, since they are intrinsic of the individual and the duration of the project is short in comparison to the time needed by an individual to modify his/her individual request of soft space. Also, once the soft space demand is calculated for a specific team member, it should be stored for further usage in other projects that might involve the same individual. In this case, the collaboration of a PMO might be instrumental.
  • Having available, the scheduled presence of team members in the project, sum up the calculated soft spaces demand values for team member for periods of work.
  • Compare the offer and demand calculations to get an idea about whether the project soft space offer can accommodate the cumulated team members’ soft space demand, and in which periods of work. If there is an overload of request of demand (lack of capacity), this is a case for corrections that might involve, for example, considering to change team members. Alternatively, the project manager can increase the offer of the project for one or more soft spaces, or level resources to obtain the right demand of soft spaces. No surprise that any change made to accommodate capacity and demand of soft spaces might have an influence on an already- established baseline of hard spaces. For example, leveling resources to accommodate for soft spaces, might involve increasing the duration of the project. Note that, other than from capacity planning for “hard factors” (like cost or time), lack of capacity does not mean that the project will fail to deliver on time and on budget. Rather, the project will fail to provide team members with what they are looking for. The result of this should not be underestimated: disappointed team members are likely to be less productive, less oriented to quality, and eventually, more oriented to leave the organization.
  • Repeat the steps above at regular intervals of time or whenever contingencies of the project might require (for example, when a project phase ends and before entering the new phase, or when there is a major change in the project) to assess whether the project can still accommodate the needs of team members.

Examples

Exhibit 9 shows a project where the project team is allocated flat, either for the entire project or for a portion of the project life cycle (for example, a phase). In this example, the demand for motivation exceeds project capacity, then some intervention would be needed.

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Exhibit 9: Example of an unbalanced project with flat team allocation.

Exhibit 10 assumes that the project team is made of individuals whose allocation varies period by period; for example, inside a phase of the project. In this case, there are periods in the project schedule where the project is not able to accommodate the cumulative demand from the team members, and then some intervention would be needed.

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Exhibit 10: Example of a partially unbalanced project with variable team allocation.

Conclusions

Caccamese and Bragantini (2012) argued that the management of “soft” factors in a constrained environment (the “hidden pyramid”) should complement the traditional effort of managing “hard” factors in a constrained environment (the “iron triangle”), and that this should be reflected appropriately in project management methods and practices.

In this paper, the authors presented a complete model that was defined to quantitatively deal with soft factors and to establish some sort of “soft factors” capacity planning and control, with the aid of appropriate questionnaires to be submitted to selected stakeholders and team members.

We believe that it is definitely time to move from the classical application of “soft skills” in project management, to a more structured approach by which the project manager should be able to properly balance the project, extending his/her approach to balanced and constrained optimization of “hard factors,” to “soft factors,” and then uncovering and managing the “hidden pyramid.”

Further applied research is needed in the future to validate the many hypotheses made on taxonomies and proxies, to put in place and calibrate appropriate metrics, and eventually, to integrate the model with some of the most popular project management tools.

Acknowledgements

This paper and the related research work would not have been possible without instrumental contributions that the authors want to recognize.

First of all, the 261 professionals that completed the survey, which was open for a period of three months, to provide indications about the pertinence of the prospected questionnaire questions: thanks to all of them for their patience, support, and thoughtful contributions.

Then, we want to acknowledge the effort and the contribution of the seven SME that contributed to the quantitative part of the model:, Barbara Barone, Lorenza Longoni, Antonella Padova , Giorgio Bassi, Roberto Bonafini, Fabrizio Donferri Mitelli,, and Alessandro Leone. Thanks to all of them for their hard work, team spirit, and further suggestions.

Finally, we want to acknowledge the support received from The PMI Rome Chapter and The PMI Southern Italy Chapter, who made it possible to reach a qualified population of project managers for the diffusion of the survey. Thanks to Anna Maria Felici and Vincenzo Arnone from The PMI Rome Chapter and to Pietro Casanova and Francesco Grimaldi from The PMI SIC Chapter for their availability and openness to the initiative.

Atkinson, R. (1999). Project management: Cost, time and quality, two best guesses and a phenomenon, It's time to accept other success criteria, International Journal of Project Management, 17(6), 337–342.

Bernroider, W.N., & Ivanov, M. (2011). IT project management control and the control objectives for IT and related technology (CobIT) framework. International Journal of Project Management, 29, 325–336.

Caccamese, A., & Bragantini, D. (2012, May). Beyond the iron triangle: Year zero. PMI Global Congress 2012, Europe, Marseille, France.

Caccamese, A., & Bragantini, D. (2013, September/October). Beyond the iron triangle: Year one. International Project Management Association (IPMA) 27th World Congress. Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Capra, F. (1982). The turning point. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

Garcia, P. (2009). Discovery by serendipity: A new context for an old riddle. Found Chem, 11, 33–42.

Müller, R., & Turner, J. R. (2006). Matching the project manager's leadership style to project type. International Journal of Project Management, 25(1), 21–32.

Serrador, P., & Turner R. (2015). The relationship between project success and project efficiency. Project Management Journal, 46(1), 30–39.

Toor, S.R., & Ogunlana, S.O. (2010). Beyond the “iron triangle:” Stakeholder perception of key performance indicators (KPIs) for large-scale public sector development projects. International Journal of Project Management, 28, 228–236.

Verma, V.K. (1995). Human resource skills for the project manager. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

Whatley, J. (2009). Ground rules in team projects: Findings from a prototype system to support students. Journal of Information Technology Education, 8, 161–176.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

© 2015, Andrea Caccamese, Damiano Bragantini
Originally published as a part of the 2015 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Orlando, Florida, USA

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