The Influence of Organizational Culture

The success of a project is certainly due in part to the skills and training of the project manager as well as the scaleable measuring tools used to gauge progress. However, in this Tech Republic article, author Tom Mochal makes the point that regardless of how well-equipped a project manager is, the success of an initiative rises and falls in part due to the existing organization culture. How does culture influence a project? Perhaps the organization has a history of starting projects and not seeing them through to the end. Over time this could develop a pessimistic careless attitude among employees towards the introduction of new initiatives. The organizational structure matters as well, dictating how, where, and when people spend their time at work on a project. Mochal notes that while structure can change, culture is nearly impenetrable in the short run. This brings to mind the case we just discussed in class with an employee pulled between two task forces. Multitasking rarely improves a process, but rather splits attentions to 50% “power.”

I have personally experienced the roadblocks of inbred organizational cultural mentalities, especially the lack of compliance and urgency in the final stages of project implementation. My volunteer team was working to analyze the supply chain (and reduce costs) of a bakery whose proceeds were largely donated to a cause. The bakery was financially in the red and had been for years, but the first priority was always the cause; this was evident when you talked to the employees. In fact, the bakery had never undergone a full financial analysis. The request for the project came from top management and we met with them to discuss the project scope and timeline. However, as we began to search for the data necessary to complete our initial analysis, we met resistance from middle management who vocalized their doubts about the project. They had seen other projects start and fail numerous times and were not willing to invest the time to see this project succeed. The top management and middle management additionally had not engaged in any communications concerning the project. When we met with middle management to ask for the data, it was the first time they had heard of the project and would not relinquish the data  to us initially. These are only a few examples of our representative experience with the bakery, but it does serve as a poignant reminder that as a project manager, you can have the skills, the tools and the vision, but without the support of the people within the organization who will be affected by your project implementation, every step you take will be in vain.

Have you experienced or witnessed a great project fail in your organization? Why did it fail? How did the existing organizational culture play a part? Or vice versa, do you have an example of an organization culture that sped up the timeline of a project’s implementation? How did it complement the project initiatives?



The Many Faces of PM

When our professor asked if we had been project managers, my immediate reaction was “no”. Yet upon further thought, I realized that I have informally managed projects numerous times, typically from a volunteer position though. I have even directed some large fundraisers for non-profits before. I have seen projects soar to success and I have seen projects plummet in failure. Have I consciously participated in the hard science of strategized project management? No.

As an individual, I am hyper-organized by nature, so I understand the benefits of project management. There are so many details, people, and resources that must be constantly monitored in order to successfully implement a project. This to me, is the science of project management, the method you choose as a project manager. Kay Wais, a PMI certified professional with twenty-four years of project management experience, has devoted her time to preparing students for the PMP exams. She describes in brief the many methodologies of project management (who knew there were so many options!).

  • Waterfall: emphasizes the planning stages before implementation; very common in software development
  • Agile: constant communication and more flexible requirements in the planning stages allow for speedier project delivery
  • Six Sigma: more of an operations management methodology, but applicable in some PM instances; follows these six stages: define, measure, analyze, improve, control, synergize; can be helpful to identify defects and keep a project in line with certain standards

Other methods include SCRUM, RAD, NPI, PER, Kanban, and more. What do you think is the ideal method in project management? I believe that the ideal is project specific. However, there are some disadvantages with each method as well that are important to recognize before starting a new project.

For example, the waterfall method is very detailed in planning specific requirements, but this takes time. If the industry is one that prizes the best and the latest innovations, this is probably not the method to choose. On the other hand, let us consider the agile method. The flexibility in specifications and communication allows for a project to morph into a different shape mid-process but this leaves you with a less decisive end goal. As a result, projects completed with the agile method are often completed in installments or smaller pieces of the unclear end goal. If you are working on a large project, the waterfall method might serve better to establish solid foundational specifications and goals <em>before</em> you continue on to the “design” phase.

Now on to the art aspect of project management. In my informal experience, I have discovered that what makes project management an art is not just a matter of managing different personalities. It is also the art of managing different expectations, of managing the disappointment of setbacks, of managing the coordinated effort of people from diverse backgrounds and talents. These are the invisible elements of project management which cannot be taught. How do you think someone should approach learning more of the art of project management?