This post reviews the main misalignments Project Management may suffer within a company.
Between firm's formal organization & culture:
When there is no common approach to Project Management (PMgt) in a company, the most likey solutions of integration of the PMgt community are:
- a corporate PMgt Office (PMO) with a structure to drive the synergies in the management of Project Managers (PMs)
- the disintegration of the PMgt community as such and its full integration within each business unit (BU)
In a matrix organization, the PM is at the center of the conflict between BUs and corporate functions. This intense rivalry puts a strain on PMgt but it allows at the macro level to optimize and shape the company towards what the market wants. Consequently, decisions are more politically driven and titles do not represent necessarily the power of influence within the company.
Yet, choosing any type of organization will always lead to upsides & downsides. Therefore, the aim of top management is to find a way of fast-tracking the resolution of such tensions through better coherence between the management of both sides of the matrix.
Between formal organization and its people:
Differences of organizational structure between BUs do not favor cross-fertilization. The PMgt community is a good example of this rather global issue. Indeed, despite that BUs can share the same locations, a silo mentality sets them apart as no real direct communication exists between them.
Focusing on the PMgt community, any BU could benefit from other BUs’ expertise. The lack of corporate overview and of a PMgt body is detrimental to this point.
The integration of newcomers is typically “HR-ed” and product/service-oriented. It lacks federation. In order to mitigate this point for the PMgt community, PMOs can set events on a yearly basis, and other geographically-oriented ones. However, the financial crisis and objectives to limit non-productive overheads have cancelled many of these events. Do not miss any opportunity to (re-)start such interactive melting pots.
The matrix organization adds a reporting line and thus, inhibits further autonomy & creativity. Too much reporting is a common flaw at PM level. The PMgt community has systematically reported the low added value to the first users of such reports: themselves. In fact, this is a question of integration of sub-businesses in one bigger corporation as large companies are more conglomerates of SMEs rather than one big company altogether.
Between formal organization and tasks:
The structure of some BUs can be too deep or too wide. Too many levels of hierarchy increases the difficulty to communicate. As such, the PM role is put under constraints when there is a need to lobby the management to progress critically.
Too many product lines under the same umbrella restrains the quality of control, the synergies between them and reinforces micro-management. The necessary support a PM needs from the company is put at stake when there is a lack of coordination between diverse areas of the firm.
The matrix system also impacts the innovation of the company. Indeed, R&D activities may be split between product lines with very weak ties to corporate. They will mainly develop new ideas through specific R&D projects which are correlated to findings they made themselves in previously executed ones. Thus, a non-R&D PM will tend to avoid R&D as R&D stakeholders will have conflicting incentives and will consider effects of delays and overspend less important.
Between culture and people:
Leadership is a key skill for PMs but there are few trainings about it; except for new PMs. Otherwise, leadership trainings are generally found on the other side of the experience spectrum: top management. There is a need to fill in the gap for experienced PM.
The profile of internally newly appointed PMs and the way PMs are coached in their new job is also at stake. Irrespective of their past expertise (engineering, sales, finance…), new PMs might erroneously want to perform themselves tasks requiring their particular expertise rather than guiding others in doing it. This is typical of an engineer becoming a PM. By doing so, they will limit their implications in other aspects of the project. This issue remains one important factor of early failures of new PMs.
Political relationships (internal) may go against the entrepreneurial behavior sought in the PM role. Due to multiple reporting lines, PMs may have little room to decide on the fate of their projects. This point is particularly accentuated in troubled projects.
Between culture and tasks:
Beyond his project execution role, the PM is also used as a change agent (see previous post). Yet, the best achiever in change management will be a creative leader. When we compare the Reinhard’s definition of a creative leader to a PM job description, we can see conflicting ideas:
- Hiring someone clever than you can be a treacherous step
- PMs & management are generally not open to surprises: Excellence in project management resides in the fact that the PM does exactly what he is expected, not necessarily better
- PMs have to be virtually omniscient on their projects as apparent naivety becomes synonym of under-performance
Between people and tasks:
It is not uncommon to identify the PM role as a fuse in the company, being replaced after a part of the firm has suffered too much intense pressure, internal or external.
This matter is also linked to an unequal distribution of rewards. Indeed, one rewarding aspect of the PM role is his empowerment to act almost at any level within the company to ensure the success of his project. Yet, this means taking the risk to overcome his own management.
Furthermore, as leader of a team, the PM’s achievement will be merged with his team’s successes but failures will only be his own.
During contract execution, operational change is embodied by the project team. However, BUs will wait to encounter problems rather iteratively before accepting most changes.
The PM’s disruptive effect is also mitigated in newly acquired entities when it is difficult to spread the integrating company culture as the company focuses more, at the beginning, on the technical added value of the new entity.
Back to strategy:
This framework could be further tuned in by giving more emphasis to the micro-level of individual psychology, as the struggle for power is always a major incentive. Indeed, people commonly look for an integrative strategy (win/win) if they can reach it, but they will potentially seek a win/lose one as their BATNA.
In order to optimize the value-creation of the company in an external environment more demanding than ever, the PM role must evolve from the management of a task-oriented network to the lead of a people-oriented network bridging structural holes.
The PMgt community can be the main lever of change. The global operational vision, the identification of necessary alignments to progress, the awareness of motivational factors and the introspection (decomposed in an array of analysis and implementation) highlight the strategic role of the PM for a company. However, the lack of global strategy for the PMgt community will ground the company’s ability to evolve.