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Behavioral Aspects Of Project Management

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Behavioral Aspects of Project Management

Project management is much more than creating a work breakdown structure and tracking a plan. The hardest part for many is the personal side of project management. In this paper, we will explore how the organizational culture of a company and basic human behavior influence the success or failure of projects.

In conducting this exploration, we will envision ourselves in the following scenario, and address the issues presented.

"You have just been brought in on a project, as the previous project manager has left. The project is behind schedule and over budget, and several key team members have quit in disgust, plummeting the morale of the rest of the team, who fear they will have to do the extra work without compensation."

What are Organizational Cultures?

Throughout history ethnicity, geography and politics have created distinctions and differences among people and societies. Not until the 20th century and the advancement of technology have people, races and nations been able to learn form each other so quickly.

When many cultures come together, their differences and how to deal with these differences becomes an issue. This is never more evident then in business where many cultures must come together for one unified goal. To minimize conflicts that differences in race, creed or geography exists, an organization develops its own culture. This culture, which may be written or implied, gives guidelines as to what is acceptable behavior within the organization.

When we consider a project, we have to also allude to the possibilities of subcultures, when a company's culture may have one behavior as acceptable, the acceptable behavior of the subculture may be more extreme or have a total different way of interpreting what may be the organization culture.

Subcultures can also exist between departments, for instance finance has one acceptable behavioral, while information technology may have another. In most instances, these differences in culture interpretations co-exist very well until a project that effects many departments is implemented.

What is the organizational culture's influence?

Whenever implementing a project throughout an organization there will likely be some initial resistance. Resistance to a project can result from professional or departmental pride. When someone tells a manager, director or someone else in power to throw away old methods, or his personal idea is not a sound project, he may take the suggestion on a personal level. His pride is hurt, and even though he may appear to buy in to the project, you can be assured that it is not with his whole heart and soul.

Psychological resistance is inevitable. This kind of professional resistance is stronger than the usual "resistance to change," oftentimes because the manager will consider himself or herself to be the inventor of the method, and any negativism toward the method is a threat to him personally.

This threat can also exist within departments of an organization; an example would be the VP of finance suggesting a project and the Chief Operating Officer not fully on board for personal or professional reasons. Since most of the human resources of that project involve the staff of the Chief Operating Officer, he can pull individuals from the project to do something else, thus minimizing the availability of resources, and sabotaging the success of the project.

The power meter is not a real measuring device but rather a perception that the project manager should be aware of. Projects that do not offend anyone, or anyone of power, were the projects that were selected over those that may not have been liked by an over zealous higher ranking company official. Many times this resulted from an officer doing, what he thought was best for his department. A good project manager is very aware of this power meter and he understands how to use it to take on and complete projects.

One of the nastiest, most debilitating project cancers is resistance to change. For hundreds of companies, there is not a more potent, paradoxical or equal opportunity killer of projects and progress in general than resistance to change. Resistance to change not only causes projects to fail but will discourage innovative thinking, creative ideas and the loss of many of the company's best employees. However, all of these things can be combated and in many cases beaten if the project manager is properly equipped to deal with these disasters.

When dealing with change a manager actually needs to manage transition, not change. Resistance to change is more deeply rooted in transition. Most resistance is merely the perception of the end of the project. Subconsciously the employees say to themselves "When this project is done, who will have to be let go?" For a project to be successful, it is critical to identify who is losing what, explicitly define what is over and what is not, mark endings and treat the past with respect. When employees know how a project will affect them, they are more likely to accept the transition. Without personal or professional malice, they move into the transition open-mindedly.

When personal disputes, opinions or self-gratifying reasons, are the driving forces to projects, many times those involved become disheartened. The project manager can not meet his or her goals, because there is no real buy in for the project and in many cases, the project can and will run over budget and behind scheduled. When a major player in a project does not buy into the project (shows resistance to the project or the change that the project may bring) he consciously or subconsciously makes up his mind to sabotage the success of the project. The higher the saboteur scores on the power meter the greater the chance that the project will fail, but no matter what the case a good project manager finds a way to get things done.

Does project leadership play a role?

Leadership also plays a part in managing successful projects. On the rare occasions when projects run relatively smoothly, the project manager need only manage the process. However, projects seldom proceed down the WBS path as originally planned. Project managers often have to deviate from what was originally planned and introduce changes in the project scope and schedule to respond to unforeseen threats or opportunities. These changes often require the project manager to do more than simply manage, they require him to step in and lead.

That leadership usually involves recognizing and articulating the need to significantly alter the direction and operation of the project. It also

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