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.
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