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Main Body

11. Resource Planning

bpayne and Adrienne Watt

In the previous wedding case study, it is clear that Steve and Susan have resource problems. Getting a handle on all of the tasks that have to be done is a great start, but it’s not enough to know the tasks and the order they come in. Before you can put the final schedule together, you need to know who is going to do each job, and the things they need so they can do it.

“We’ve got so much to do! Invitations, catering, music… and I’ve got no idea who’s going to do it all. I’m totally overwhelmed.” From this statement it is clear that Susan is worried about human resources. In comparison, Steve realizes that not all resources are people: “And it’s not just people. We need food, flowers, a cake, a sound system, and a venue. How do we get a handle on this?”

Resources are people, equipment, place, money, or anything else that you need in order to do all of the activities that you planned for. Every activity in your activity list needs to have resources assigned to it. Before you can assign resources to your project, you need to know their availability. Resource availability includes information about what resources you can use on your project, when they’re available to you, and the conditions of their availability. Don’t forget that some resources, like consultants or training rooms, have to be scheduled in advance, and they might only be available at certain times. You’ll need to know this before you can finish planning your project. If you are starting to plan in January, a June wedding is harder to plan than one in December, because the wedding halls are all booked up in advance. That is clearly a resource constraint. You’ll also need the activity list that you created earlier, and you’ll need to know how your organization typically handles resources. Once you’ve got a handle on these things, you’re set for resource estimation.

Estimating the Resources

The goal of activity resource estimating is to assign resources to each activity in the activity list. There are five tools and techniques for estimating activity resources.

Expert judgment means bringing in experts who have done this sort of work before and getting their opinions on what resources are needed.

Alternative analysis means considering several different options for how you assign resources. This includes varying the number of resources as well as the kind of resources you use. Many times, there’s more than one way to accomplish an activity and alternative analysis helps decide among the possibilities.

Published estimating data is something that project managers in a lot of industries use to help them figure out how many resources they need. They rely on articles, books, journals, and periodicals that collect, analyze, and publish data from other people’s projects.

Project management software such as Microsoft Project will often have features designed to help project managers estimate resource needs and constraints and find the best combination of assignments for the project.

Bottom-up estimating means breaking down complex activities into pieces and working out the resource assignments for each piece. It is a process of estimating individual activity resource need or cost and then adding these up together to come up with a total estimate. Bottom-up estimating is a very accurate means of estimating, provided the estimates at the schedule activity level are accurate. However, it takes a considerable amount of time to perform bottom-up estimating because every activity must be assessed and estimated accurately to be included in the bottom-up calculation. The smaller and more detailed the activity, the greater the accuracy and cost of this technique.

Estimating Activity Durations

Once you’re done with activity resource estimating, you’ve got everything you need to figure out how long each activity will take. That’s done in a process called activity duration estimating. This is where you look at each activity in the activity list, consider its scope and resources, and estimate how long it will take to perform.

Estimating the duration of an activity means starting with the information you have about that activity and the resources that are assigned to it, and then working with the project team to come up with an estimate. Most of the time you’ll start with a rough estimate and then refine it to make it more accurate. You’ll use these five tools and techniques to create the most accurate estimates:

Expert judgment will come from your project team members who are familiar with the work that has to be done. If you don’t get their opinion, there’s a huge risk that your estimates will be wrong.

Analogous estimating is when you look at similar activities from previous projects and how long they took. This only works if the activities and resources are similar.

Parametric estimating means plugging data about your project into a formula, spreadsheet, database, or computer program that comes up with an estimate. The software or formula that you use for parametric estimating is based on a database of actual durations from past projects.

Three-point estimating is when you come up with three numbers: a realistic estimate that’s most likely to occur, an optimistic one that represents the best-case scenario, and a pessimistic one that represents the worst-case scenario. The final estimate is the weighted average of the three.

Reserve analysis means adding extra time to the schedule (called a contingency reserve or a buffer) to account for extra risk.

In each of the following scenarios of planning Steve and Susan’s wedding, determine which of the five activity resource estimation tools and techniques is being used.  (Solutions follow.)

Exercises

Exercise 11.1 Sally has to figure out what to do for the music at Steve and Susan’s wedding. She considers using a DJ, a rock band, or a string quartet.

Exercise 11.2 The latest issue of Wedding Planner’s Journal has an article on working with caterers. It includes a table that shows how many waiters work with various guest-list sizes.

Exercise 11.3 There’s a national wedding consultant who specializes in Caribbean-themed weddings. Sally gets in touch with her to ask about menu options.

Exercise 11.4 Sally downloads and fills out a specialized spreadsheet that a project manager developed to help with wedding planning.

Exercise 11.5 There’s so much work that has to be done to set up the reception hall that Sally has to break it down into five different activities in order to assign jobs.

Exercise 11.6 Sally asks Steve and Susan to visit several different caterers and sample various potential items for the menu.

Exercise 11.7 Sally calls up her friend who knows specifics of the various venues in their area for advice on which one would work best.

Exercise 11.8  There are two different catering companies at the wedding. Sally asks the head chef at each of them to give her an estimate of how long it will take each of them to do the job.

Exercise 11.9  There’s a spreadsheet Sally always uses to figure out how long it takes guest to RSVP. She enters the number of guests and their zip codes, and it calculates estimates for her.

Exercise 11.10  Sally’s done four weddings that are very similar to Steve and Susan’s, and in all four of them, it took exactly the same amount of time for the caterers to set up the reception hall.

Solutions

Solution to Exercise 11.1
Alternative analysis

Solution to Exercise 11.2
Published estimating data

Solution to Exercise 11.3
Expert judgment

Solution to Exercise 11.4
Project management software

Solution to Exercise 11.5
Bottom-up estimating

Solution to Exercise 11.6
Alternative analysis

Solution to Exercise 11.7
Expert judgment

Solution to Exercise 11.8
Expert judgment

Solution to Exercise 11.9
Parametric estimating

Solution to Exercise 11.10
Analogous estimating

 

The activity duration estimates are an estimate of how long each activity in the activity list will take. This is a quantitative measure usually expressed in hours, weeks, days, or months. Any work period is fine, and you’ll use different work periods for different jobs. A small job (like booking a DJ) may take just a few hours; a bigger job (like catering, including deciding on a menu, ordering ingredients, cooking food, and serving guests on the big day) could take days.

Another thing to keep in mind when estimating the duration of activities is determining the effort involved. Duration is the amount of the time that an activity takes, while effort is the total number of person-hours that are expended. If it takes two people six hours to carve the ice sculpture for the centerpiece of a wedding, the duration is six hours. But if two people worked on it for the whole time, it took 12 person-hours of effort to create.

You’ll also learn more about the specific activities while you’re estimating them. That’s something that always happens. You have to really think through all of the aspects of a task in order to estimate it. As you learn more about the specific activities remember to update the activity attributes.

If we go back to our case study of the wedding, we can see that while Sally has a handle on how long things are going to take, she still has some work to do before she has the whole project under control. Steve and Susan know where they want to get married, and they have the place booked now. But, what about the caterer? They have no idea who’s going to be providing food. And what about the band they want? Will the timing with their schedule work out? “If the caterers come too early, the food will sit around under heat lamps. But if they come too late, the band won’t have time to play. I just don’t see how we’ll ever work this out.”

It’s not easy to plan for a lot of resources when they have tight time restrictions and overlapping constraints. How do you figure out a schedule that makes everything fit together? You’re never going to have the complete resource picture until you have finished building the schedule. And the same goes for your activity list and duration estimates! It’s only when you lay out the schedule that you’ll figure out that some of your activities and durations didn’t quite work.

Project Schedule and Critical Path

The project schedule should be approved and signed off by stakeholders and functional managers. This ensures they have read the schedule, understand the dates and resource commitments, and will cooperate. You’ll also need to obtain confirmation that resources will be available as outlined in the schedule. The schedule cannot be finalized until you receive approval and commitment for the resource assignments outlined in it. Once the schedule is approved, it will become your baseline for the remainder of the project. Project progress and task completion will be monitored and tracked against the project schedule to determine if the project is on course as planned.

The schedule can be displayed in a variety of ways, some of which are variations of what you have already seen. Project schedule network diagrams will work as schedule diagrams when you add the start and finish dates to each activity. These diagrams usually show the activity dependencies and critical path.

The critical path method is an important tool for keeping your projects on track. Every network diagram has something that is called the critical path. It’s the string of activities that, if you add up all of the durations, is longer than any other path through the network. It usually starts with the first activity in the network and usually ends with the last one.

Steve
Aunt Jane is a vegetarian. That won’t be a problem, right?

Susan
Well, let’s see. What menu did we give the caterers?

Steve
We didn’t give it to them yet; because we won’t have the final menu until everyone RSVPs and lets we know which entrée they want.

Susan
But they can’t RSVP because we haven’t sent out the invitations! What’s holding that up?

Steve
We’re still waiting to get them back from the printer. We can’t send them out if we don’t have them yet!

Susan
Oh no! I still have to tell the printer what to print on the invitations and what paper to use.

Steve
But you were waiting on that until we finished the guest list.

Susan
What a mess!

Steve thought Aunt Jane being a vegetarian was just a little problem. But it turns out to be a lot bigger than either Steve or Susan realized at first. How did a question about one guest’s meal lead to such a huge mess?
The reason that the critical path is critical is that every single activity on the path must finish on time in order for the project to come in on time. A delay in any one of the critical path activities will cause the entire project to be delayed (Figure 11.1).

 

Critical Path for Wedding

Figure 11.1: An example of problems that can be caused within the critical path.
Illustration from Barron & Barron Project Management for Scientists and Engineers, http://cnx.org/content/col11120/1.4/

Knowing where your critical path is can give you a lot of freedom. If you know an activity is not on the critical path, then you know a delay in that activity may not necessarily delay the project. This can really help you handle emergency situations. Even better, it means that if you need to bring your project in earlier than was originally planned, you know that adding resources to the critical path will be much more effective than adding them elsewhere.

It’s easy to find the critical path in any project. Of course, on a large project with dozens or hundreds of tasks, you’ll probably use software like Microsoft Project to find the critical path for you. But when it does, it’s following the same exact steps that are followed here (Figure 11.12).

 

Step 1.  Start with a network diagram.

Network Diagram

Figure 11.2 Step 1 Network Diagram
Illustration from Barron & Barron Project Management for Scientists and Engineers, http://cnx.org/content/col11120/1.4/

 

Step 2. Find all the paths in the diagram. A path is any string of activities that goes from the start of the project to the end.
16-1-2-All-Paths-1024x180

 

 

Step 3. Find the duration of each path by adding up the durations of each of the activities on the path.

16-1-3-All-Paths-1024x237

 

 

 

Step 4. The first path has a duration of 11, which is longer than the other paths, so it’s the critical path.
The schedule can also be displayed using a Gantt chart (Figure 11.3).

Gantt Chart

Figure 11.3: An example of a Gantt chart.
Illustration from Barron & Barron Project Management for Scientists and Engineers, http://cnx.org/content/col11120/1.4/

Resource Management

Resource management is the efficient and effective deployment of an organization’s resources when they are needed. Such resources may include financial resources, inventory, human skills, production resources, or information technology (IT). In the realm of project management, processes, techniques, and philosophies for the best approach for allocating resources have been developed. These include discussions on functional versus cross-functional resource allocation as well as processes espoused by organizations like the Project Management Institute (PMI) through the methodology of project management outlined in their publication A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK). Resource management is a key element to activity resource estimating and project human resource management. As is the case with the larger discipline of project management, there are resource management software tools available that automate and assist the process of resource allocation to projects.

HR Planning

The most important resource to a project is its people—the project team. Projects require specific expertise at specific moments in the schedule, depending on the milestones being delivered or the given phase of the project. An organization can host several strategic projects concurrently over the course of a budget year, which means that its employees can be working on more than one project at a time. Alternatively, an employee may be seconded away from his or her role within an organization to become part of a project team because of a particular expertise. Moreover, projects often require talent and resources that can only be acquired via contract work and third party vendors. Procuring and coordinating these human resources, in tandem with managing the time aspect of the project, is critical to overall success.

Managing the Team

In order to successfully meet the needs of a project, it is important to have a high-performing project team made up of individuals who are both technically skilled and motivated to contribute to the project’s outcome. One of the many responsibilities of a project manager is to enhance the ability of each project team member to contribute to the project, while also fostering individual growth and accomplishment. At the same time, each individual must be encouraged to share ideas and work with others toward a common goal.

Through performance evaluation, the manager will get the information needed to ensure that the team has adequate knowledge, to establish a positive team environment and a healthy communication climate, to work properly, and to ensure accountability.

Managing the project team includes appraisal of employee performance and project performance. The performance reports provide the basis for managerial decisions on how to manage the project team.

Employee performance includes the employee’s work results such as:

  • Quality and quantity of outputs
  • Work behavior (such as punctuality)
  • Job-related attributes (such as cooperation and initiative)

After conducting employee performance reviews, project managers should:

  • Provide feedback to employees about how well they have performed on established goals
  • Provide feedback to employees about areas in which they are weak or could do better
  • Take corrective action to address problems with employees performing at or below minimum expectations
  • Reward superior performers to encourage their continued excellence

Techniques for Managing Resources

One resource management technique is resource leveling. It aims at smoothing the stock of resources on hand, reducing both excess inventories and shortages.

The required data are the demands for various resources, forecast by time period into the future as far as is reasonable; the resources’ configurations required in those demands; and the supply of the resources, again forecast by time period into the future as far as is reasonable.

The goal is to achieve 100% utilization. However that is very unlikely, when weighted by important metrics and subject to constraints; for example: meeting a minimum quality level, but otherwise minimizing cost.

Resource Leveling

Resource leveling is used to examine unbalanced use of resources (usually people or equipment) over time and for resolving over-allocations or conflicts.

When performing project planning activities, the manager will attempt to schedule certain tasks simultaneously. When more resources such as machines or people are needed than are available, or perhaps a specific person is needed in both tasks, the tasks will have to be rescheduled sequentially to manage the constraint. Resource leveling during project planning is the process of resolving these conflicts. It can also be used to balance the workload of primary resources over the course of the project, usually at the expense of one of the traditional triple constraints (time, cost, scope).

When using specially designed project software, leveling typically means resolving conflicts or over-allocations in the project plan by allowing the software to calculate delays and update tasks automatically. Project management software leveling requires delaying tasks until resources are available. In more complex environments, resources could be allocated across multiple, concurrent projects thus requiring the process of resource leveling to be performed at company level.

In either definition, leveling could result in a later project finish date if the tasks affected are in the critical path.

Working with Individuals

Working with other people involves dealing with them both logically and emotionally. A successful working relationship between individuals begins with appreciating the importance of emotions and how they relate to personality types, leadership styles, negotiations, and setting goals.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotions are both a mental and physiological response to environmental and internal stimuli. Leaders need to understand and value their emotions to appropriately respond to the client, project team, and project environment.

Emotional intelligence includes the following:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Empathy
  • Relationship management

Emotions are important to generating energy around a concept, building commitment to goals, and developing high-performing teams. Emotional intelligence is an important part of the project manager’s ability to build trust among the team members and with the client. It is an important factor in establishing credibility and an open dialogue with project stakeholders. Emotional intelligence is critical for project managers, and the more complex the project profile, the more important the project manager’s emotional intelligence becomes to project success.

Personality Types

Personality types refer to the differences among people in such matters as what motivates them, how they process information, how they handle conflict, etc. Understanding people’s personality types is acknowledged as an asset in interacting and communicating with them more effectively. Understanding your personality type as a project manager will assist you in evaluating your tendencies and strengths in different situations. Understanding others’ personality types can also help you coordinate the skills of your individual team members and address the various needs of your client.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is one of most widely used tools for exploring personal preference, with more than two million people taking the MBTI each year. The MBTI is often referred to as simply the Myers-Briggs. It is a tool that can be used in project management training to develop awareness of preferences for processing information and relationships with other people.

Based on the theories of psychologist Carl Jung, the Myers-Briggs uses a questionnaire to gather information on the ways individuals prefer to use their perception and judgment. Perception represents the way people become aware of people and their environment. Judgment represents the evaluation of what is perceived. People perceive things differently and reach different conclusions based on the same environmental input. Understanding and accounting for these differences is critical to successful project leadership.

The Myers-Briggs identifies 16 personality types based on four preferences derived from the questionnaire. The preferences are between pairs of opposite characteristics and include the following:

Extroversion (E)-Introversion (I)
Sensing (S)-Intuition (N)
Thinking (T)-Feeling (F)
Judging (J)-Perceiving (P)

Sixteen Myers-Briggs types can be derived from the four dichotomies. Each of the 16 types describes a preference: for focusing on the inner or outer world (E-I), for approaching and internalizing information (S-I), for making decisions (T-F), and for planning (J-P). For example, an ISTJ is a Myers-Briggs type who prefers to focus on the inner world and basic information, prefers logic, and likes to decide quickly.

It is important to note that there is no best type and that effective interpretation of the Myers-Briggs requires training. The purpose of the Myers-Briggs is to understand and appreciate the differences among people. This understanding can be helpful in building the project team, developing common goals, and communicating with project stakeholders. For example, different people process information differently. Extroverts prefer face-to-face meetings as the primary means of communicating, while introverts prefer written communication. Sensing types focus on facts, and intuitive types want the big picture.

On larger, more complex projects, some project managers will use the Myers-Briggs as a team-building tool during project start-up. This is typically a facilitated work session where team members take the Myers-Briggs and share with the team how they process information, what communication approaches they prefer, and what decision-making preferences they have. This allows the team to identify potential areas of conflict, develop communication strategies, and build an appreciation for the diversity of the team.

Another theory of personality typing is the DISC method, which rates people’s personalities by testing a person’s preferences in word associations in the following four areas:

Dominance/Drive—relates to control, power, and assertiveness
Inducement/Influence—relates to social situations and communication
Submission/Steadiness—relates to patience, persistence, and thoughtfulness
Compliance/Conscientiousness—relates to structure and organization

Understanding the differences among people is a critical leadership skill. This includes understanding how people process information, how different experiences influence the way people perceive the environment, and how people develop filters that allow certain information to be incorporated while other information is excluded. The more complex the project, the more important the understanding of how people process information, make decisions, and deal with conflict. There are many personality-type tests that have been developed and explore different aspects of people’s personalities. It might be prudent to explore the different tests available and utilize those that are most beneficial for your team.

Leadership Styles

Leadership style is a function of both the personal characteristics of the leader and the environment in which the leadership must occur, and a topic that several researchers have attempted to understand. Robert Tannenbaum and Warren Schmidt described leaders as either autocratic or democratic (1958). Harold Leavitt described leaders as pathfinders (visionaries), problem solvers (analytical), or implementers (team oriented) (1986). James MacGregor Burns conceived leaders as either transactional (focused on actions and decisions) or transformational (focused on the long-term needs of the group and organization) (1978).

Fred Fiedler introduced his contingency theory, which is the ability of leaders to adapt their leadership approach to the environment (1971). Most leaders have a dominant leadership style that is most comfortable for them. For example, most engineers spend years training in analytical problem solving and often develop an analytical approach to leadership.

A leadership style reflects personal characteristics and life experiences. Although a project manager’s leadership style may be predominantly a pathfinder (using Leavitt’s taxonomy), most project managers become problem solvers or implementers when they perceive the need for these leadership approaches. The leadership approach incorporates the dominant leadership style and Fiedler’s contingency focus on adapting to the project environment.

No particular leadership approach is specifically appropriate for managing a project. Due to the unique circumstances inherent in each project, the leadership approach and the management skills required to be successful vary depending on the complexity profile of the project. However, the Project Management Institute published Shi and Chen’s research that studied project management leadership traits and concluded that good communication skills and the ability to build harmonious relationships and motivate others are essential (2006). Beyond this broad set of leadership skills, the successful leadership approach will depend on the profile of the project. For example, a transactional project manager with a strong command-and-control leadership approach may be very successful on a small software development project or a construction project, where tasks are clear, roles are well understood, and the project environment is cohesive. This same project manager is less likely to be successful on a larger, more complex project with a diverse project team and complicated work processes.

Matching the appropriate leadership style and approach to the complexity profile of the project is a critical element of project success. Even experienced project managers are less likely to be successful if their leadership approach does not match the complexity profile of the project.

Each project phase may also require a different leadership approach. During the start-up phase of a project, when new team members are first assigned to the project, the project may require a command-and-control leadership approach. Later, as the project moves into the conceptual phase, creativity becomes important, and the project management takes on a more transformational leadership approach. Most experienced project managers are able to adjust their leadership approach to the needs of the project phase. Occasionally, on very large and complex projects, some companies will bring in different project managers for various phases of a project. Changing project managers may bring the right level of experience and the appropriate leadership approach, but is also disruptive to a project. Senior management must balance the benefit of matching the right leadership approach with the cost of disrupting established relationships.

Example: Multinational Textbook Publishing Project

On a project to publish a new textbook at a major publisher, a project manager led a team that included members from partners that were included in a joint venture. The editorial manager was Greek, the business manager was German, and other members of the team were from various locations in the United States and Europe. In addition to the traditional potential for conflict that arises from team members from different cultures, the editorial manager and business manager were responsible for protecting the interest of their company in the joint venture.

The project manager held two alignment or team-building meetings. The first was a two-day meeting held at a local resort and included only the members of the project leadership team. An outside facilitator was hired to facilitate discussion, and the topic of cultural conflict and organizational goal conflict quickly emerged. The team discussed several methods for developing understanding and addressing conflicts that would increase the likelihood of finding mutual agreement.

The second team-building session was a one-day meeting that included the executive sponsors from the various partners in the joint venture. With the project team aligned, the project manager was able to develop support for the publication project’s strategy and commitment from the executives of the joint venture. In addition to building processes that would enable the team to address difficult cultural differences, the project manager focused on building trust with each of the team members. The project manager knew that building trust with the team was as critical to the success of the project as the technical project management skills and devoted significant management time to building and maintaining this trust.

Leadership Skills

The project manager must be perceived to be credible by the project team and key stakeholders. A successful project manager can solve problems and has a high degree of tolerance for ambiguity. On projects, the environment changes frequently, and the project manager must apply the appropriate leadership approach for each situation.

The successful project manager must have good communication skills. All project problems are connected to skills needed by the project manager:

  • Breakdown in communication represents the lack of communication skills
  • Uncommitted team members represents the lack of team-building skills
  • Role confusion represents the lack of organizational skill

Project managers need a large numbers of skills. These skills include administrative skills, organizational skills, and technical skills associated with the technology of the project. The types of skills and the depth of the skills needed are closely connected to the complexity profile of the project. Typically on smaller, less complex projects, project managers need a greater degree of technical skill. On larger, more complex projects, project managers need more organizational skills to deal with the complexity. On smaller projects, the project manager is intimately involved in developing the project schedule, cost estimates, and quality standards. On larger projects, functional managers are typically responsible for managing these aspects of the project, and the project manager provides the organizational framework for the work to be successful.

Listening

One of the most important communication skills of the project manager is the ability to actively listen. Active listening is placing oneself in the speaker’s position as much as possible, understanding the communication from the point of view of the speaker, listening to the body language and other environmental cues, and striving not just to hear, but to understand. Active listening takes focus and practice to become effective. It enables a project manager to go beyond the basic information that is being shared and to develop a more complete understanding of the information.

Example: Client’s Body Language

A client just returned from a trip to Australia where he reviewed the progress of the project with his company’s board of directors. The project manager listened and took notes on the five concerns expressed by the board of directors to the client.

The project manager observed that the client’s body language showed more tension than usual. This was a cue to listen very carefully. The project manager nodded occasionally and clearly demonstrated he was listening through his posture, small agreeable sounds, and body language. The project manager then began to provide feedback on what was said using phrases like “What I hear you say is…” or “It sounds like.…” The project manager was clarifying the message that was communicated by the client.

The project manager then asked more probing questions and reflected on what was said. “It sounds as if it was a very tough board meeting.” “Is there something going on beyond the events of the project?” From these observations and questions, the project manager discovered that the board of directors meeting did not go well. The company had experienced losses on other projects, and budget cuts meant fewer resources for the project and an expectation that the project would finish earlier than planned. The project manager also discovered that the client’s future with the company would depend on the success of the project. The project manager asked, “Do you think we will need to do things differently?” They began to develop a plan to address the board of directors’ concerns.

Through active listening, the project manager was able to develop an understanding of the issues that emerged from the board meeting and participate in developing solutions. Active listening and the trusting environment established by the project manager enabled the client to safely share information he had not planned on sharing and to participate in creating a workable plan that resulted in a successful project.

In the example above, the project manager used the following techniques:

  • Listening intently to the words of the client and observing the client’s body language
  • Nodding and expressing interest in the client without forming rebuttals
  • Providing feedback and asking for clarity while repeating a summary of the information back to the client
  • Expressing understanding and empathy for the client

Active listening was important in establishing a common understanding from which an effective project plan could be developed.

Negotiation

When multiple people are involved in an endeavor, differences in opinions and desired outcomes naturally occur. Negotiation is a process for developing a mutually acceptable outcome when the desired outcome for each party conflicts. A project manager will often negotiate with a client, team members, vendors, and other project stakeholders. Negotiation is an important skill in developing support for the project and preventing frustration among all parties involved, which could delay or cause project failure.

Negotiations involve four principles:

  1. Separate people from the problem. Framing the discussions in terms of desired outcomes enables the negotiations to focus on finding new outcomes.
  2. Focus on common interests. By avoiding the focus on differences, both parties are more open to finding solutions that are acceptable.
  3. Generate options that advance shared interests. Once the common interests are understood, solutions that do not match with either party’s interests can be discarded, and solutions that may serve both parties’ interests can be more deeply explored.
  4. Develop results based on standard criteria. The standard criterion is the success of the project. This implies that the parties develop a common definition of project success.

For the project manager to successfully negotiate issues on the project, he or she should first seek to understand the position of the other party. If negotiating with a client, what is the concern or desired outcome of the client? What are the business drivers and personal drivers that are important to the client? Without this understanding, it is difficult to find a solution that will satisfy the client. The project manager should also seek to understand what outcomes are desirable to the project. Typically, more than one outcome is acceptable. Without knowing what outcomes are acceptable, it is difficult to find a solution that will produce that outcome.

One of the most common issues in formal negotiations is finding a mutually acceptable price for a service or product. Understanding the market value for a product or service will provide a range for developing a negotiating strategy. The price paid on the last project or similar projects provides information on the market value. Seeking expert opinions from sources who would know the market is another source of information. Based on this information, the project manager can then develop an expected range within the current market from the lowest price to the highest price.

Additional factors will also affect the negotiated price. The project manager may be willing to pay a higher price to assure an expedited delivery or a lower price if delivery can be made at the convenience of the supplier or if payment is made before the product is delivered. Developing as many options as possible provides a broader range of choices and increases the possibility of developing a mutually beneficial outcome.

The goal of negotiations is not to achieve the lowest costs, although that is a major consideration, but to achieve the greatest value for the project. If the supplier believes that the negotiations process is fair and the price is fair, the project is more likely to receive higher value from the supplier. The relationship with the supplier can be greatly influenced by the negotiation process and a project manager who attempts to drive the price unreasonably low or below the market value will create an element of distrust in the relationship that may have negative consequences for the project. A positive negotiation experience may create a positive relationship that may be beneficial, especially if the project begins to fall behind schedule and the supplier is in a position to help keep the project on schedule.

Conflict Resolution

Conflict on a project is to be expected because of the level of stress, lack of information during early phases of the project, personal differences, role conflicts, and limited resources. Although good planning, communication, and team building can reduce the amount of conflict, conflict will still emerge. How the project manager deals with the conflict results in the conflict being destructive or an opportunity to build energy, creativity, and innovation.

David Whetton and Kim Cameron developed a response-to-conflict model that reflected the importance of the issue balanced against the importance of the relationship (2005). The model presented five responses to conflict:

  • Avoiding
  • Forcing
  • Collaborating
  • Compromising
  • Accommodating

Each of these approaches can be effective and useful depending on the situation. Project managers will use each of these conflict resolution approaches depending on the project manager’s personal approach and an assessment of the situation.

Most project managers have a default approach that has emerged over time and is comfortable. For example, some project managers find the use of the project manager’s power the easiest and quickest way to resolve problems. “Do it because I said to” is the mantra for project managers who use forcing as the default approach to resolve conflict. Some project managers find accommodating with the client the most effective approach to dealing with client conflict.

The effectiveness of a conflict resolution approach will depend on the situation. The forcing approach often succeeds in a situation where a quick resolution is needed, and the investment in the decision by the parties involved is low.

Example: Resolving an Office Space Conflict

Two senior managers both want the office with the window. The project manager intercedes with little discussion and assigns the window office to the manager with the most seniority. The situation was a low-level conflict with no long-range consequences for the project and a solution all parties could accept.

Sometimes office size and location is culturally important, and this situation would take more investment to resolve.

Example: Conflict Over a Change Order

In another example, the client rejected a request for a change order because she thought the change should have been foreseen by the project team and incorporated into the original scope of work. The project controls manager believed the client was using her power to avoid an expensive change order and suggested the project team refuse to do the work without a change order from the client.

This is a more complex situation, with personal commitments to each side of the conflict and consequences for the project. The project manager needs a conflict resolution approach that increases the likelihood of a mutually acceptable solution for the project. One conflict resolution approach involves evaluating the situation, developing a common understanding of the problem, developing alternative solutions, and mutually selecting a solution. Evaluating the situation typically includes gathering data. In our example of a change order conflict, gathering data would include a review of the original scope of work and possibly of people’s understandings, which might go beyond the written scope.The second step in developing a resolution to the conflict is to restate, paraphrase, and reframe the problem behind the conflict to develop a common understanding of the problem. In our example, the common understanding may explore the change management process and determine that the current change management process may not achieve the client’s goal of minimizing project changes. This phase is often the most difficult and may take an investment of time and energy to develop a common understanding of the problem.

After the problem has been restated and agreed on, alternative approaches are developed. This is a creative process that often means developing a new approach or changing the project plan. The result is a resolution to the conflict that is mutually agreeable to all team members. If all team members believe every effort was made to find a solution that achieved the project charter and met as many of the team member’s goals as possible, there will be a greater commitment to the agreed-on solution.

Delegation

Delegating responsibility and work to others is a critical project management skill. The responsibility for executing the project belongs to the project manager. Often other team members on the project will have a functional responsibility on the project and report to a functional manager in the parent organization. For example, the procurement leader for a major project may also report to the organization’s vice-president for procurement. Although the procurement plan for the project must meet the organization’s procurement policies, the procurement leader on the project will take day-to-day direction from the project manager. The amount of direction given to the procurement leader, or others on the project, is the decision of the project manager.

If the project manager delegates too little authority to others to make decisions and take action, the lack of a timely decision or lack of action will cause delays on the project. Delegating too much authority to others who do not have the knowledge, skills, or information will typically cause problems that result in delay or increased cost to the project. Finding the right balance of delegation is a critical project management skill.

When developing the project team, the project manager selects team members with the knowledge, skills, and abilities to accomplish the work required for the project to be successful. Typically, the more knowledge, skills, abilities, and experience a project team member brings to the project, the more that team member will be paid. To keep the project personnel costs lower, the project manager will develop a project team with the level of experience and the knowledge, skills, and abilities to accomplish the work.

On smaller, less complex projects, the project manager can provide daily guidance to project team members and be consulted on all major decisions. On larger, more complex projects, there are too many important decisions made every day for the project manager to be involved at the same level, and project team leaders are delegated decision-making authority. Larger projects, with a more complex profile will typically pay more because of the need for the knowledge and experience. On larger, more complex projects, the project manager will develop a more experienced and knowledgeable team that will enable the project manager to delegate more responsibility to these team members.

Example:  Learning Project in Peru

An instructional design project in Peru was falling behind schedule, and a new manager was assigned to the design team, which was the one most behind schedule. He was an experienced project manager from the United States with a reputation for meeting aggressive schedules. However, he failed to see that as a culture, Peruvians do a great deal more socializing than teams in the U.S. The project manager’s communication with the team was then limited because he did not go out and spend time with them, and his team did not develop trust or respect for him. Due to these cultural differences, the project fell further behind, and another personnel change had to be made at a significant cost of time, trust, and money.

The project manager must have the skills to evaluate the knowledge, skills, and abilities of project team members and evaluate the complexity and difficulty of the project assignment. Often project managers want project team members they have worked with in the past. Because the project manager knows the skill level of the team member, project assignments can be made quickly with less supervision than with a new team member with whom the project manager has little or no experience.

Delegation is the art of creating a project organizational structure with the work organized into units that can be managed. Delegation is the process of understanding the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to manage that work and then matching the team members with the right skills to do that work. Good project managers are good delegators.

Adjusting Leadership Styles

Remember that personality traits reflect an individual’s preferences, not their limitations. It is important to understand that individuals can still function in situations for which they are not best suited. It is also important to realize that you can change your leadership style according to the needs of your team and the particular project’s attributes and scope.

For example, a project leader who is more thinking (T) than feeling (F) (according to the Myers-Briggs model) would need to work harder to be considerate of how team members who are more feeling (F) might react if they were singled out in a meeting because they were behind schedule. If individuals knows their own preferences and which personality types are most successful in each type of project or project phase, they can set goals for improvement in their ability to perform in those areas that are not their natural preference.

Another individual goal is to examine which conflict resolution styles you are least comfortable and work to improve those styles so that they can be used when they are more appropriate than your default style.

Working with Groups and Teams

A team is a collaboration of people with different personalities that is led by a person with a favored leadership style. Managing the interactions of these personalities and styles as a group is an important aspect of project management.

Trust

Trust is the foundation for all relationships within a project. Without a minimum level of trust, communication breaks down, and eventually the project suffers in the form of costs increasing and schedules slipping. Often, when reviewing a project where the performance problems have captured the attention of upper management, the evidence of problems is the increase in project costs and the slippage in the project schedule. The underlying cause is usually blamed on communication breakdown. With deeper investigation, the communication breakdown is associated with a breakdown in trust.

On projects, trust is the filter through which we screen information that is shared and the filter we use to screen information we receive. The more trust that exists, the easier it is for information to flow through the filters. As trust diminishes, the filters become stronger and information has a harder time getting through, and projects that are highly dependent on an information-rich environment will suffer from information deprivation.

Contracts and Trust Relationships

A project typically begins with a charter or contract. A contract is a legal agreement that includes penalties for any behavior or results not achieved. Contracts are based on an adversarial paradigm and do not lend themselves to creating an environment of trust. Contracts and charters are necessary to clearly establish the scope of the project, among other things, but they are not conducive to establishing a trusting project culture.

A relationship of mutual trust is less formal but vitally important. When a person or team enters into a relationship of mutual trust, each person’s reputation and self-respect are the drivers in meeting the intent of the relationship. A relationship of mutual trust within the context of a project is a commitment to an open and honest relationship. There is nothing that enforces the commitments in the relationship except the integrity of the people involved. Smaller, less complex projects can operate within the boundaries of a legal contract, but larger, more complex projects must develop a relationship of mutual trust to be successful.

Types of Trust

Svenn Lindskold describes four kinds of trust (1978):

  • Objective credibility. A personal characteristic that reflects the truthfulness of an individual that can be checked against observable facts.
  • Attribution of benevolence. A form of trust that is built on the examination of the person’s motives and the conclusion that they are not hostile.
  • Non-manipulative trust. A form of trust that correlates to a person’s self-interest and the predictability of a person’s behavior in acting consistent in that self-interest.
  • High cost of lying. The type of trust that emerges when persons in authority raise the cost of lying so high that people will not lie because the penalty will be too high.

Creating Trust

Building trust on a project begins with the project manager. On complex projects, the assignment of a project manager with a high trust reputation can help establish the trust level needed. The project manager can also establish the cost of lying in a way that communicates an expectation and a value for trust on the project. Project managers can also assure that the official goals (stated goals) and operational goals (goals that are reinforced) are aligned. The project manager can create an atmosphere where informal communication is expected and reinforced.

The informal communication is important to establishing personal trust among team members and with the client. Allotting time during project start-up meetings to allow team members to develop a personal relationship is important to establishing the team trust. The informal discussion allows for a deeper understanding of the whole person and creates an atmosphere where trust can emerge.

Example: High Cost of Lying in a Charleston Project

On a project in Charleston, South Carolina, the client was asking for more and more backup to information from the project. The project manager visited the client to better understand the reporting requirements and discovered the client did not trust the reports coming from the project and wanted validating material for each report. After some candid discussion, the project manager discovered that one of the project team members had provided information to the client that was inaccurate. The team member had made a mistake but had not corrected it with the client, hoping that the information would get lost in the stream of information from the project. The project manager removed the team member from the project for two main reasons. The project manager established that the cost of lying was high. The removal communicated to the project team an expectation of honesty. The project manager also reinforced a covenant with the client that reinforced the trust in the information the project provided. The requests for additional information declined, and the trust relationship between project personnel and the client remained high.

Small events that reduce trust often take place on a project without anyone remembering what happened to create the environment of distrust. Taking fast and decisive action to establish a high cost of lying, communicating the expectation of honesty, and creating an atmosphere of trust are critical steps a project manager can take to ensure the success of complex projects.

Project managers can also establish expectations of team members to respect individual differences and skills, look and react to the positives, recognize each other’s accomplishments, and value people’s self-esteem to increase a sense of the benevolent intent.

Managing Team Meetings

Team meetings are conducted differently depending on the purpose of the meeting, the leadership style that is appropriate for the meeting, and the personality types of the members of the team.

Action Item Meetings

Action item meetings are short meetings to develop a common understanding of what the short-term priorities are for the project, individual roles, and expectations for specific activities. This type of meeting is for sharing, not problem solving. Any problems that emerge from the discussion are assigned to a person, and another meeting is established to address the issue. Action item meetings focus on short-term activities, usually less than a week in duration.

The action item meeting is fact based and information oriented. It is a left-brain-type focus. The action item meeting has very little dialogue except to ask clarification questions. If discussion is needed or disagreement is not easily resolved, another problem-solving meeting is established to deal with that issue. On smaller topics, that meeting might take place immediately after the action item meeting and only include those people with an interest in the outcome of the discussion.

The project manager keeps the successful action item meeting short in duration and focused on only those items of information needed for the short-term project plan. The project manager will restate the common understandings of what activities are priorities and who will be responsible for the activities. Often these meetings can include a review of safety procedures or security procedures when these issues are important to the project. The leadership approach to action item meetings focuses on data, actions, and commitments. Although the project manager may observe stresses between project team members or other issues, they are not addressed in this meeting. These are fact-based meetings. If issues begin to arise between people, the project manager will develop other opportunities to address these issues in another forum. Using the Myers-Briggs descriptions, team members who favor thinking more than feeling and judging more than perceiving are more comfortable with this type of meeting.

Management Meetings

Management meetings are longer in duration and are focused on planning. They are oriented toward developing plans, tracking progress of existing plans, and making adjustments to plans in response to new information.

These meetings include focused discussion on generating a common understanding of the progress of the existing plan. This discussion is based on quantitative information provided on the progress of the schedule and other data, but the discussion is qualitative in evaluating the data to develop a more complete understanding of the data. The experience and opinions of the project leaders are solicited, and disagreement about meaning of the data is even encouraged to develop a deeper understanding of the data. Through this discussion, a common understanding of the status of the project should emerge, and the project manager invites discussion, invites people to offer their thoughts, and assures that disagreements are positive discussions about interpretation of the information and that disagreements do not become personal.

Management meetings also focus on developing mid-term goals. For larger, more complex projects, the goals may be monthly or even quarterly. For smaller or less complex projects, weekly goals will provide the focus. The project manager focuses the discussion on the broad priorities for the next period and includes all the functional leaders in the discussion. The goals that emerge from the discussion should represent a common understanding of the priorities of the project for the next term.

For example, during the early phases of a project, the team is focused on developing a conceptual understanding of the project. A major milestone on complex projects is typically the completion of the conceptual plan. The project manager would lead a discussion on what needs to be accomplished to meet the project milestone and asks what potential barriers exist and what key resources are needed. From the discussion, the project team develops a few key goals that integrate the various functions of the project team and focus the team on priorities.

The following are some examples of goals during the conceptual phase:

  • Developing a list of the procurement long-lead items and defining critical dates
  • Developing a human resources plan that identifies critical positions
  • Developing and building agreement with the client on the project scope of work

Each of these goals is measurable and has a time frame specified. They can be developed as positive motivators and will take the project leaders and most of the project team to accomplish. They develop a general understanding of the priorities and are easy to remember.

Management meetings are a combination of left-brain thinking, which is fact based, and right-brain thinking, which is creative and innovative. Using the Myers-Briggs terminology, team members who prefer feeling over thinking and perceiving over judging can contribute ideas and perspectives on the project that the more fact-oriented members might miss.

The project manager allows and encourages conversation in developing and evaluating the goals but focuses the discussion on the goals and obstacles. Management meetings take on a different focus during the month. Meetings at the beginning of the month spend time addressing the progress and potential barriers to the goals developed the previous month. During the middle of the month, the project manager leads the team to develop next month’s goals as the team also works on the current month’s goals. Toward the end of the month as the goals for the month are accomplished, the meeting focuses more on the next month, enabling the team to remain goal focused during the life of the project.

Management meetings are also an opportunity to discover obstacles to goal achievement. The project team reallocates resources or develops alternative methods for accomplishing the goals. As the project team discusses the progress of project goals, the project manager explores possible obstacles and encourages exposing potential problems in achieving goals. The project manager focuses the team on finding solutions and avoids searching for blame.

The project manager uses a facilitative leadership approach, encouraging the management team to contribute their ideas, and builds consensus on what goals will bring the appropriate focus. The project manager keeps the focus on developing the goals, tracking progress, identifying barriers, and making adjustments to accomplish the management goals. Although there are typically meetings for scheduling and procurement and other meetings where goals are established and problems solved, the management meeting and the goal development process create alignment among the project leadership on the items critical to the project’s success.

Leadership Meetings

Leadership meetings are held less frequently and are longer in length. These meetings are used by the project manager to reflect on the project, explore the larger issues of the project, and back away from the day-to-day problem solving. The project manager will create a safe environment for sharing thoughts and evaluations of issues that are less data oriented. This is a right-brained, creative meeting that focuses on the people issues of the project: the relationship with the client, vendors, and project team. Team members who favor feeling, perceiving, and intuition often contribute valuable insights in this type of meeting. The team might also share perceptions by upper management and perceptions of the community in which the project is being executed. Where the time frame for action item meetings is in weeks and management meetings is in months, the time frame for leadership meetings is longer and takes in the entire length and impact of the project.

The project manager’s meeting management skill includes creating the right meeting atmosphere for the team discussion that is needed. For discussions based on data and facts, the project manager creates the action item type meeting. The conversation is focused on sharing information and clarification. The conversation for leadership meetings is the opposite. Discussion is more open ended and focused on creativity and innovation. Because each type of meeting requires a different meeting atmosphere, mixing the purposes of a meeting will make it difficult for the project manager to develop and maintain the appropriate kind of conversation.

Skilled project managers know what type of meeting is needed and how to develop an atmosphere to support the meeting type. Meetings of the action item type are focused on information sharing with little discussion. They require efficient communication of plans, progress, and other information team members need to plan and execute daily work. Management type meetings are focused on developing and progressing goals. Leadership meetings are more reflective and focused on the project mission and culture.

These three types of meetings do not cover all the types of project meetings. Specific problem-solving, vendor evaluation, and scheduling meetings are examples of typical project meetings. Understanding what kinds of meetings are needed on the project and creating the right focus for each meeting type is a critical project management skill.

Types of Teams

Teams can outperform individual team members in several situations. The effort and time invested in developing a team and the work of the team are large investments of project resources, and the payback is critical to project success. Determining when a team is needed and then chartering and supporting the development and work of the team are other critical project management abilities.

Teams are effective in several project situations:

  • When no one person has the knowledge, skills, and abilities to either understand or solve the problem
  • When a commitment to the solution is needed by large portions of the project team
  • When the problem and solution cross project functions
  • When innovation is required

Individuals can outperform teams on some occasions. An individual tackling a problem consumes fewer resources than a team and can operate more efficiently—as long as the solution meets the project’s needs. A person is most appropriate in the following situations:

  • When speed is important
  • When one person has the knowledge, skills, and resources to solve the problem
  • When the activities involved in solving the problem are very detailed
  • When the actual document needs to be written (Teams can provide input, but writing is a solitary task.)

In addition to knowing when a team is appropriate, the project manager must also understand what type of team will function best.

Functional Teams

A functional team refers to the team approach related to the project functions. The engineering team, the procurement team, and the project controls team are examples of functional teams within the project. On a project with a low complexity profile that includes low technological challenges, good team member experience, and a clear scope of work, the project manager can utilize well-defined functional teams with clear expectations, direction, and strong vertical communication.

Cross-Functional Teams

Cross-functional teams address issues and work processes that include two or more of the functional teams. The team members are selected to bring their functional expertise to addressing project opportunities.

Example:  Cross-Functional Teamwork

A cross-functional project team in Tennessee was assigned to develop a project approach to drafting, shooting, and editing educational videos without storing the videos on the school server. Although the complexity of this goal is primarily related to creating the videos and procuring editing equipment, the planning involved coordination of the script drafting, procurement of equipment and talent, and establishment of project controls. Team members from each of these functions developed and tracked a plan to meet the project goal. Because they communicated so frequently and clearly, the cross-functional team was successful in designing a process and executing the plan in a way that saved three weeks on the video schedule and several thousand dollars in cost by hosting off-site.

Problem-Solving Teams

Problem-solving teams are assigned to address specific issues that arise during the life of the project. The project leadership includes members that have the expertise to address the problem. The team is chartered to address that problem and then disband.

Qualitative Assessment of Project Performance

Project managers should provide an opportunity to ask such questions as “What is your gut feeling about how the project going?” and “How do you think our client perceives the project?” This creates the opportunity for reflection and dialogue around larger issues on the project. The project manager creates an atmosphere for the team to go beyond the data and search for meaning. This type of discussion and reflection is very difficult in the stress of day-to-day problem solving.

The project manager has several tools for developing good quantitative information—based on numbers and measurements—such as the project schedules, budgets and budget reports, risk analysis, and goal tracking. This quantitative information is essential to understanding the current status and trends on the project. Just as important is the development of qualitative information—comparisons of qualities—such as judgments made by expert team members that go beyond the quantitative data provided in a report. Some would label this the “gut feeling” or intuition of experienced project managers.

The Humm Factor is a survey tool developed by Russ Darnall to capture the thoughts of project participants. It derived its name from a project manager who always claimed he could tell you more by listening to the hum of the project than reading all the project reports. “Do you feel the project is doing the things it needs to do to stay on schedule?” and “Is the project team focused on project goals?” are the types of questions that can be included in the Humm Factor. It is distributed on a weekly or less frequent basis depending on the complexity profile of the project. A project with a high level of complexity due to team-based and cultural issues will be surveyed more frequently.

The qualitative responses are converted to a quantitative value as a score from 1 to 10. Responses are tracked by individuals and the total project, resulting in qualitative comparisons over time. The project team reviews the ratings regularly, looking for trends that indicate an issue may be emerging on the project that might need exploring.

Example: Humm Survey Uncovers Concerns

On a project in South Carolina, the project surveyed the project leadership with a Humm Survey each week. The Humm Factor indicated an increasing worry about the schedule beginning to slip when the schedule reports indicated that everything was according to plan. When the project manager began trying to understand why the Humm Factor was showing concerns about the schedule, he discovered an apprehension about the performance of a critical project supplier. When he asked team members, they responded, “It was the way they answered the phone or the hesitation when providing information—something didn’t feel right.”

The procurement manager visited the supplier and discovered the company was experiencing financial problems and had serious cash flow problems. The project manager was able to develop a plan to help the supplier through the period, and the supplier eventually recovered. The project was able to meet performance goals. The Humm Factor survey provided a tool for members of the project team to express concerns that were based on very soft data, and the project team was able to discover a potential problem.

Another project team used the Humm Factor to survey the client monthly. The completed surveys went to a person who was not on the project team to provide anonymity to the responses. The responses were discussed at the monthly project review meetings, and the project manager summarized the results and addressed all the concerns expressed in the report. “I don’t feel my concerns are being heard” was one response that began increasing during the project, and the project manager spent a significant portion of the next project review meeting attempting to understand what this meant. The team discovered that as the project progressed toward major milestones, the project team became more focused on solving daily problems, spent more time in meetings, and their workday was becoming longer. The result was fewer contacts with the clients, slower responses in returning phone calls, and much fewer coffee breaks where team members could casually discuss the project with the client.

The result of the conversation led to better understanding by both the project team and client team of the change in behavior based on the current phase of the project and the commitment to developing more frequent informal discussion about the project.

Creating a Project Culture

Project managers have a unique opportunity during the start-up of a project. They create a project culture, something organizational managers seldom have a chance to do. In most organizations, the corporate or organizational culture has developed over the life of the organization, and people associated with the organization understand what is valued, what has status, and what behaviors are expected. Edgar Schein identified three distinct levels in organizational culture.

  1. Artifacts and behaviours
  2. Espoused values
  3. Assumptions

Artifacts are the visible elements in a culture and they can be recognized by people not part of the culture.  Espoused values are the organization’s stated values and rules of behavior.  Shared basic assumptions are the deeply embedded, taken-for-granted behaviors that are usually unconscious, but constitute the essence of culture.

Characteristics of Project Culture

A project culture represents the shared norms, beliefs, values, and assumptions of the project team. Understanding the unique aspects of a project culture and developing an appropriate culture to match the complexity profile of the project are important project management abilities.

Culture is developed through the communication of:

  • The priority
  • The given status
  • The alignment of official and operational rules

Official rules are the rules that are stated, and operational rules are the rules that are enforced. Project managers who align official and operational rules are more effective in developing a clear and strong project culture because the project rules are among the first aspects of the project culture to which team members are exposed when assigned to the project.

Example: Operational Rules on a Multi-site Project

During an instructional design project that required individuals to collaborate remotely, an official rule had been established that individuals would back up their work in a location other than the shared folders they were using every week. It did not take long, however, for everyone involved to see that one member was actively backing up all work. Believing that was sufficient, the operational rule became simply leaving the backing up to a single individual. They assumed that official rules could be ignored if they were difficult to obey.

When this individual fell ill, however, no one picked up the slack and followed the official rule. When some files were corrupted, the team found that their most recent backups were weeks old, resulting in redoing a lot of work. The difference between the official rules and the operational rules of the project created a culture that made communication of the priorities more difficult.

In addition to official and operational rules, the project leadership communicates what is important by the use of symbols, storytelling, rituals, rewards or punishments, and taboos.

Example: Creating a Culture of Collaboration

A project manager met with his team prior to the beginning of an instructional design project. The team was excited about the prestigious project and the potential for career advancement involved. With this increased competitive aspect came the danger of selfishness and backstabbing. The project leadership team told stories of previous projects where people were fired for breaking down the team efforts and often shared inspirational examples of how teamwork created unprecedented successes—an example of storytelling. Every project meeting started with teambuilding exercises—a ritual—and any display of hostility or separatism was forbidden—taboo—and was quickly and strongly cut off by the project leadership if it occurred.

Culture guides behavior and communicates what is important and is useful for establishing priorities. On projects that have a strong culture of trust, team members feel free to challenge anyone who breaks a confidence, even managers. The culture of integrity is stronger than the cultural aspects of the power of management.

Innovation on Projects

The requirement of innovation on projects is influenced by the nature of the project. Some projects are chartered to develop a solution to a problem, and innovation is a central ingredient of project success. The lack of availability of education to the world at large prompted the open education movement, a highly innovative endeavor, which resulted in the textbook you are now reading. Innovation is also important to developing methods of lowering costs or shortening the schedule. Traditional project management thinking provides a trade-off between cost, quality, and schedule. A project sponsor can typically shorten the project schedule with an investment of more money or a lowering of quality. Finding innovative solutions can sometimes lower costs while also saving time and maintaining the quality.

Innovation is a creative process that requires both fun and focus. Stress is a biological reaction to perceived threats. Stress, at appropriate levels, can make the work environment interesting and even challenging. Many people working on projects enjoy a high-stress, exciting environment. When the stress level is too high, the biological reaction increases blood flow to the emotional parts of the brain and decreases the blood flow to the creative parts of the brain, making creative problem solving more difficult. Fun reduces the amount of stress on the project. Project managers recognize the benefits of balancing the stress level on the project with the need to create an atmosphere that enables creative thought.

Example:  Stress Managed on a Website Design Project

When a project manager visited the team tasked with designing the website for a project, she found that most of the members were feeling a great deal of stress. As she probed to find the reason behind the stress, she found that in addition to designing, the team was increasingly facing the need to build the website as well. As few of them had the necessary skills, they were wasting time that could be spent designing trying to learn building skills. Once the project manager was able to identify the stress as well as its cause, she was able to provide the team with the support it needed to be successful.

Exploring opportunities to create savings takes an investment of time and energy, and on a time-sensitive project, the project manager must create the motivation and the opportunity for creative thinking.

References

Burns, J.M. (1978). Leadership. New York: Harper & Row.

Fiedler, F.E. (1971). Validation and Extension of the Contingency Model of Leadership Effectiveness. Psychological Bulletin, 76(2), 128–48.

Leavitt, H. (1986). Corporate Pathfinders. New York: Dow-Jones-Irwin and Penguin Books.

Lindskold, S. (1978). Trust Development, the GRIT Proposal, and the Effects of Conciliatory Acts on Conflict and Corporation. Psychological Bulletin 85(4), 772–93.

Shi, Q., & Chen, J. (2006). The Human Side of Project Management: Leadership Skills. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute, Inc.

Tannenbaum, R., & Schmidt, W. (1958). How to Choose a Leadership Pattern. Harvard Business Review 36, 95–101.

Whetton, D., & Cameron, K. (2005). Developing Management Skills. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

 

Attribution

This chapter of Project Management is a derivative copy of Project Management by Merrie Barron and Andrew Barron licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 UnportedProject Management/PMBOK/Human Resources Management and Development Cooperation Handbook/How do we manage the human resources of programmes and projects?/Manage the Project Team by Wikibooks licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0, Resource Management and Resource Leveling by Wikipedia licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0, Resource Management, and Project Management for Instructional Designers by Amado, M., Ashton, K., Ashton, S., Bostwick, J., Clements, G., Drysdale, J., Francis, J., Harrison, B., Nan, V., Nisse, A., Randall, D., Rino, J., Robinson, J., Snyder, A., Wiley, D., & Anonymous. (DATE). Project Management for Instructional Designers. Retrieved from http://pm4id.org/ under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edgar_Schein.

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