Creating Organizational Effectiveness

Despite many [repeated] attempts to create it within organizations, there is no one organizational structure that fits all situations, nor is there ever a perfect organization. There will always be trade-offs and differences of opinion about how to structure any organization for the tasks ahead. Much of the literature in this area tries to help us pick an optimum structure depending on the situation. In reviewing the options, many people desire more flexibility within their organizations; this is not uncommon. Many organizations are still stuck in archaic structures. Managers often obsess over organizational structures and engage in reorganization exercises, even more so than ensuring the means are in place to execute strategy. As participants in this arena, we are well served by bringing visibility to alternative approaches and being open to experimentation. Asking questions and suggesting options can prompt further dialogue. Trying new approaches is highly dependent on enlightened leadership and a willingness to be pioneers.

As a longtime proponent of project, program, and portfolio management, I am biased towards a project-based organization (PBO). I believe adopting a whole hearted approach focused on projects would serve most situations much better than current approaches. However, wide scale adoption of PBOs is still slow in coming. A company like HP, where I previously worked, is a combination of operations and projects. Many organizations are well served by a hybrid approach—having a functional organization for routine operations and a projectized organization for project based work such as developing new products or doing projects for clients. This way projects do not have to compete with other work for resources and management attention. It’s best if people are assigned full time in one area or another, not having to shift between operations and projects.

I also believe an organic approach–in the implementation of project management, to establishing a culture, and to organizational structures–is preferred because it more readily adapts to living organisms. Organizational charts are flexible or non-existent. Natural, organic processes and structures which evolve or fit how people better work together have the potential to create more harmony, less stress, and better results. But people who desire more structure may be uncomfortable in an organic environment. Established practices and long term values may need changing if projects appear as “foreign objects” within the system and do not get the support they require.

An Environmental Assessment Survey Instrument (EASI) provides clues as to how effective are the current environment and organizational structure. Our effectiveness as project leaders will be highly dependent on our environments. It is important to continue absorbing other ideas through studies and ad hoc forums and conference sessions, and then put together an action plan. Tailor actions to the specifics of a structure and culture. Benchmark scores help determine where we are compared to other organizations. Use the data and action plans to communicate with stakeholders about the need and means to build upon strengths and improve project environments. The intent is to assess the current environment and then identify practices that can be adopted, adapted, and applied within an organization. A sample filled in planning template provides example action steps that may help increase competitive advantage. The goal is to describe efforts that contribute to creating an environment more conducive to project success. Another choice is to exercise options to go elsewhere in search of better operating conditions.

Identify the forces driving or restraining organizational development

One piece of advice I strongly advocate as a take-away from this discussion is: ensure that the organizational structure does not get in the way of doing projects. Setting people up in functional silos that are isolated from each other, rigid chains of command, excessive reports, indirect communication channels, and ineffective metrics are examples of potential obstacles. By recognizing the value of projects and establishing priorities for project work, project leaders and their teams can exercise initiative and find a way through the structure to get work done. In addition, clarity of vision, effective processes, well defined roles and responsibilities, the right people assigned to tasks—these are elements that lead to optimized results.

A complete project manager realizes the transformational effects of paying attention to and creating an effective operating environment. An environment that supports project work is probably the single most important factor that affects the probability of success of every project. Several ways to do this are:

  • Be sensitive to cultural factors, knowing the variability of values that exist in different cultures.
  • Seek to create a culture of productivity.
  • Embrace chaos as a natural operating state.
  • Understand the patterns that exist in nature and how people behave.
  • Create opportunities for conditions that expose project personnel to a variety of best practices. These initial conditions, such as assessments, training sessions, dialogue with others, or consulting, may lead to enormous changes in the operating environment.
  • Use survey instruments to assess the environment and create action plans that honor and have a high probability of success in your organization. Then take action…and reap the benefits!

The Environmental Assessment Survey Instrument, Action Plan template, and Sample Action Plan are available on the web at www.englundpmc.com.  Reference material is the Graham/Englund book on Creating an Environment for Successful Projects.

Randy Englund, Englund Project Management Consultancy, www.englundpmc.com

Co-author, The Complete Project Manager: Integrating People, Organizational, and Technical Skills and The Complete Project Manager’s Toolkit

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  1. I’d like to share with you the story of “Grupo Eroski” and arose from the need of the company to improve project management in its organization. They had eight formal project managers in an organization of about 150 employees. They manage big internal IT infrastructure projects. They were conscious that projects were delayed, they had many unexpected changes during the project life cycle, and they found a lack of sponsorship. Then they detected the need to improve project management in the organization. They outsourced a consulting company to start up that improvement.

    As a project management consultant I acted as a guide for the project managers and executives of the organization, helping them to understand how to create the right environment for successful projects and building the project manager’s credibility. At the beginning we ran an assessment to find out the organizational maturity level in project management, and also ran a projects review. The findings were very meaningful for the executives in order to understand where they were in terms of project maturity, but also they were able to understand that many things that had very big business impact might be improved.

    Twelve people answered the survey. We included in that survey professionals with different roles: project managers, functional managers, and the IT Director of the organization. After running that survey, an action plan was developed, and it has been implemented during the last two years. Now the functions of the project manager are better understood and recognized by everyone in the organization. Project managers are more and more credible in the eyes of customers, executives, and team members in the organization. They have been able to create a better environment for project success, and they learned how that effort affects the entire organization.

    To evaluate the maturity of the organization, we used a tool (Environmental Assessment Survey Instrument) which is very effective and focuses on the ten areas of Creating an Environment for Successful Projects. The assessment deals with how to change to project based organizations, the strategic emphasis for projects, understand upper management influence, develop a core team process, organize for project management, develop a project management information system, develop plan for project manager selection and development, develop a learning organization, develop a project management initiative, and develop project management in your organization. The questionnaire has ten questions for each area and took no more than thirty minutes to complete.

    Before running this survey, I (Bucero) asked the participants to be honest and speak the truth, explaining to them that nobody would be punished because of that. This approach worked very well and also helped them to reflect about the real situation within their projects. I sat down with the selected people, and they filled in the questionnaire. Afterwards we spent some time talking with the project managers about the projects they managed and their perceptions and feelings.

    All people interviewed showed a positive attitude in answering the survey questions. The questions were scored from 1 to 7, and the results were as shown in Exhibit 1. The different answers and point of views from senior and junior project managers turned out to be very interesting. Some executives interviewed also had different perceptions about the same questions.

    Results and Recommendations

    The scoring from all people interviewed in all areas never was higher than 4.5. It showed the project management culture was low in the organization. In any case all people interviewed showed a positive attitude facing the change.
    The change to project based organizations: I detected the project manager position was not formally recognized in the organization as a formal but as a temporal job. Project managers perceived projects were important for the organization but project managers did not feel supported by the organization. There was also a lack of communication among project team members. One of the reasons for that was that many of them were working on many projects.
    Strategic emphasis: The strategic emphasis was low. Most of the people interviewed said that project objectives were not linked to strategic objectives. There was no formal project manager selection process in place.
    Management support: The general perception was that management did not give the necessary support to project teams, and did not recognize the efforts put into projects. People had the feeling they were working on too many projects. Most team members had a lack of commitment. Project priorities were not consistent, they did not have any project management methodology, and the project manager had not enough authority in the organization. Management was focused on results rather than control.

    Project team support: Most team members did not work only on one project. Everybody felt they worked on too many projects. Team members thought that teamwork was not recognized by the organization. Because of that there was a lack of commitment.

    Organizational support: Project priorities were not consistent for all departments in the organization. There was no common methodology. The organizational focus was on operations, not on projects. The project manager did not have enough authority in the organization. Sometimes, the organizational structure created obstacles for projects.

    Project management information system: They did not have any PMIS. They had some tools that were used to control project resources and project cost.
    Project management selection and development: There was no formal process to assign project managers to projects. There was no professional development plan for project managers. They did not have a defined project management career path.

    Organizational learning: The general opinion is that the organization was not promoting creativity. Organizational decisions were not made based on previous documented experiences. They did not do project reviews.
    Project office: They only had one person, partial time assigned, who pushed project management into the organization. They had a project inventory and a common repository for project documentation.

    Project management culture: Not all project stakeholders knew the project status. The project management discipline was not homogeneous across the entire organization. They did not run project reviews and project snapshots. The overall opinion among the people interviewed is that not everyone spoke the truth about project work.

    Then I made some recommendations for each area. My purpose was to improve the culture in order to build the project manager’s credibility. I made suggestions for each of the ten areas investigated, but the main issue was how to start. What would be first?

    Although the common tendency in many organizations is to put the focus on the weak areas detected in the survey, we focused on the highest scores. We had eight project managers that did a few things well; we needed to believe in and give them the benefit of the doubt. We needed to demonstrate to the organization that there was room for improvement, and they already had potentially good professionals to manage their projects.

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