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?



Culture is Critical

Understanding organizational culture is a critical component to the success of a project.  I was able to see this first-hand during a large acquisition project I worked on recently.  We acquired one of our competitors who employed over 4,500 employees.   The goal of the project was to successfully integrate our two companies together and eventually operate both businesses in a uniform way.  Both companies delivered a similar service, but the organizational structures and company cultures were very different.  We knew this would pose a challenge to the project as we set out to combine the two together.

During our last class, we discussed the key dimensions that define an organization’s culture.  These dimensions indicate risk tolerance, team focus or communication style amongst other attributes.  During the acquisition integration project we utilized similar key dimensions to try and understand what made our cultures so different.  By understanding the culture differences we believed we could better manage the large-scale changes.  The process involved employees from both companies completing a culture survey and assessing their own organizational culture based on the key dimensions.  We then asked the same group to complete the survey again and indicate what their perceptions are of the other company culture.  The results of the effort are shown below:

Capture culture

The solid yellow line is the acquired company (PM) assessment of their culture.  The dotted yellow is the purchasing company (NEC) perception of PM’s culture.  The blue lines are the same assessment for NEC.  We discovered the employees from both companies had a very good idea about the culture of the other company, and we could easily identify where our cultures differed from one another.  This information became central to the project and assisted us in managing the integration.  We were careful not to make drastic changes in areas where our cultures differed, and move quickly to integrate in areas where our companies were aligned.  An additional benefit was the positive view the employees from the acquired company had about NEC.  The interest we showed in learning about their culture and applying what we learned built trust between the two groups.  This trust became the platform to support all future integration efforts.  Ultimately, by paying attention to organizational culture we were able to complete the integration project on-time and integration synergies were achieved earlier than planned.

The concept of organizational culture and the effect it has on project management is supported by a recent article I read from on the website.  Click here to link to the article.  The article indicates the most valuable training a project manager can have is organizational culture training.   The author recommends culture based training for project managers and project participants.  The training material should enable project teams to identify, assess and address issues related to organization’s work culture.  The efforts will be most successful when lessons learned from previous projects at a company can be shared and leveraged to ensure future projects are equally successful.

Have you ever worked with an organizational culture survey as part of a project?  Did you find it helpful?


Nair, J. (2014, March 27). Organizational Culture: Essential Training for PMs. <i></i>. Retrieved July 5, 2014, from–Essential-Training-for-PMs