Module 7-Building Quality – through Commitment & Involvement, Leadership. the Project Team, and the Project Manager

Overview

Project quality management processes include all the activities of the performing organisation that determine quality policies, objectives, and responsibilities so that the project will satisfy the needs for which it was undertaken (PMBOK).  Quality, time, and cost are linked factors in all projects, and you cannot change one without it possibly impacting one or more of the other two.

Quality is not an ‘after the fact’ consideration in project management.  Project quality management should be consistent with external quality standards, (e.g., ISO 9000 series Quality Standards) as well as the internal quality standards, practices, and procedures of the organisation.  It is also important to include the quality standards of clients and all stakeholders when addressing project quality.

Review Neville Turbit’s article on Project Quality

In this module we will:

  • Define the true meaning of quality
  • Identify how to build quality into the management of projects
  • Identify how to build quality into the project deliverables
  • Identify Traits of effective Project Leaders

 

Quality Standards

 Visit the website of the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) and review the ‘ISO standards.’  These standards are at the heart of most organisations’ approaches to quality and the world’s best practices.

It’s not enough to make sure you get a project done on time and under budget. You need to be sure you make the right product to suit your stakeholders’ needs. Quality means making sure that you build what you said you would and that you do it as efficiently as you can. And that means trying not to make too many mistakes and always keeping your project working toward the goal of creating the right product.

Everybody “knows” what quality is. But the way the word is used in everyday life is a little different from how it is used in project management. Just like the triple constraint (scope, cost, and schedule), you manage quality on a project by setting goals and taking measurements. That’s why you must understand the quality levels your stakeholders believe are acceptable, and ensure that your project meets those targets, just like it needs to meet their budget and schedule goals.

Customer satisfaction is about making sure that the people who are paying for the end product are happy with what they get. When the team gathers requirements for the specification, they try to write down all of the things that the customers want in the product so that you know how to make them happy. Some requirements can be left unstated. Those are the ones that are implied by the customer’s explicit needs. For example, some requirements are just common sense (e.g., a product that people hold can’t be made from toxic chemicals that may kill them). It might not be stated, but it’s definitely a requirement.

“Fitness to use” is about making sure that the product you build has the best design possible to fit the customer’s needs. Which would you choose: a product that’s beautifully designed, well constructed, solidly built, and all around pleasant to look at but does not do what you need, or a product that does what you want despite being ugly and hard to use? You’ll always choose the product that fits your needs, even if it’s seriously limited. That’s why it’s important that the product both does what it is supposed to do and does it well. For example, you could pound in a nail with a screwdriver, but a hammer is a better fit for the job.

Conformance to requirements is the core of both customer satisfaction and fitness to use, and is a measure of how well your product does what you intend. Above all, your product needs to do what you wrote down in your requirements document. Your requirements should take into account what will satisfy your customer and the best design possible for the job. That means conforming to both stated and implied requirements.

In the end, your product’s quality is judged by whether you built what you said you would build.

Quality planning focuses on taking all of the information available to you at the beginning of the project and figuring out how you will measure quality and prevent defects. Your company should have a quality policy that states how it measures quality across the organization. You should make sure your project follows the company policy and any government rules or regulations on how to plan quality for your project.

You need to plan which activities you will use to measure the quality of the project’s product. And you’ll need to think about the cost of all the quality-related activities you want to do. Then you’ll need to set some guidelines for what you will measure against. Finally, you’ll need to design the tests you will run when the product is ready to be tested.

Quality and Grade

According to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), quality is “the degree to which a set of inherent characteristics fulfill requirements.” The requirements of a product or process can be categorized or given a grade that will provide a basis for comparison. The quality is determined by how well something meets the requirements of its grade.

For most people, the term quality also implies good value—getting your money’s worth. For example, even low-grade products should still work as expected, be safe to use, and last a reasonable amount of time. Consider the following examples.

Example: Quality of Petrol Grades

Petroleum refiners provide gasoline in several different grades based on the octane rating because higher octane ratings are suitable for higher compression engines. Petrol must not be contaminated with dirt or water, and the actual performance of the fuel must be close to its octane rating. A shipment of low-grade  graded as 87 octane that is free of water or other contaminants would be of high quality, while a shipment of high-grade 93 octane  that is contaminated with dirt would be of low quality.

 

Example: Quality of Furniture Packing

John has antique furniture in excellent condition that was left to him by his grandmother. The pieces are important to John for sentimental reasons, and they are valuable. John decides to hire movers (high-grade professionals) to load his furniture into the truck using appropriate padding and restraints to prevent dents and scratches during the move. John’s standard for high quality is that no observable damage occurs to his large pieces of furniture, especially the antiques. If the furniture arrives in his new apartment without a single dent, scratch, or other damage, the activity will be of high quality. John’s standard for packing his kitchen is lower. His dishes are old and cheap, so he decides to trust his inexperienced friends (low-grade amateurs) to help him pack his kitchen. If a few of the dishes or glassware are chipped or broken in the process, the savings in labour cost will more than make up for the loss and will be a good value.

 

Statistics

Determining how well products meet grade requirements is done by taking measurements and then interpreting those measurements. Statistics—the mathematical interpretation of numerical data—are useful when interpreting large numbers of measurements and are used to determine how well the product meets a specification when the same product is made repeatedly. Measurements made on samples of the product must be within control limits—the upper and lower extremes of allowable variation—and it is up to management to design a process that will consistently produce products between those limits.

Instructional designers often use statistics to determine the quality of their course designs. Student assessments are one way in which instructional designers are able to tell whether learning occurs within the control limits.

Example: Setting Control Limits

A petroleum refinery produces large quantities of fuel in several grades. Samples of the fuels are extracted and measured at regular intervals. If a fuel is supposed to have an 87 octane performance, samples of the fuel should produce test results that are close to that value. Many of the samples will have scores that are different from 87. The differences are due to random factors that are difficult or expensive to control. Most of the samples should be close to the 87 rating and none of them should be too far off. The manufacturer has grades of 85 and 89, so they decide that none of the samples of the 87 octane fuel should be less than 86 or higher than 88.

If a process is designed to produce a product of a certain size or other measured characteristic, it is impossible to control all the small factors that can cause the product to differ slightly from the desired measurement. Some of these factors will produce products that have measurements that are larger than desired and some will have the opposite effect. If several random factors are affecting the process, they tend to offset each other, and the most common results are near the middle of the range; this phenomenon is called the central limit theorem.

If the range of possible measurement values is divided equally into subdivisions called bins, the measurements can be sorted, and the number of measurements that fall into each bin can be counted. The result is a frequency distribution that shows how many measurements fall into each bin. If the effects that are causing the differences are random and tend to offset each other, the frequency distribution is called a normal distribution, which resembles the shape of a bell with edges that flare out. The edges of a theoretical normal distribution curve get very close to zero but do not reach zero.

Example: Normal Distribution

A refinery’s quality control manager measures many samples of 87 octane fuel, sorts the measurements by their octane rating into bins that are 0.1 octane wide, and then counts the number of measurements in each bin. Then she creates a frequency distribution chart of the data..

It is common to take samples—randomly selected subsets from the total population—and measure and compare their qualities, since measuring the entire population would be cumbersome, if not impossible. If the sample measurements are distributed equally above and below the centre of the distribution as they are in the figure below, the average of those measurements is also the centre value that is called the mean, and is represented in formulas by the lowercase Greek letter µ (pronounced mu). The amount of difference of the measurements from the central value is called the sample standard deviation or just the standard deviation.

The first step in calculating the standard deviation is subtracting each measurement from the central value (mean) and then squaring that difference. (Recall from your mathematics courses that squaring a number is multiplying it by itself and that the result is always positive.) The next step is to sum these squared values and divide by the number of values minus one. The last step is to take the square root. The result can be thought of as an average difference. (If you had used the usual method of taking an average, the positive and negative numbers would have summed to zero.) Mathematicians represent the standard deviation with the lowercase Greek letter σ (pronounced sigma). If all the elements of a group are measured, instead of just a sample, it is called the standard deviation of the population and in the second step, the sum of the squared values is divided by the total number of values.

This figure shows that the most common measurements of octane rating are close to 87 and that the other measurements are distributed equally above and below 87. The shape of the distribution chart supports the central limit theorem’s assumption that the factors that are affecting the octane rating are random and tend to offset each other, which is indicated by the symmetric shape. This distribution is a classic example of a normal distribution. The quality control manager notices that none of the measurements are above 88 or below 86 so they are within control limits, and she concludes that the process is working satisfactorily.

 

Example: Standard Deviation of Petrol Samples

The refinery’s quality control manager uses the standard deviation function in her spreadsheet program to find the standard deviation of the sample measurements and finds that for her data, the standard deviation is 0.3 octane. She marks the range on the frequency distribution chart to show the values that fall within one sigma (standard deviation) on either side of the mean .

One sigma range diagram
Figure 32: One Sigma Range by Wylie, et al. is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA (Attribution NonCommercial ShareAlike)

For normal distributions, about 68.3% of the measurements fall within one standard deviation on either side of the mean. This is a useful rule of thumb for analyzing some types of data. If the variation between measurements is caused by random factors that result in a normal distribution, and someone tells you the mean and the standard deviation, you know that a little over two-thirds of the measurements are within a standard deviation on either side of the mean. Because of the shape of the curve, the number of measurements within two standard deviations is 95.4%, and the number of measurements within three standard deviations is 99.7%. For example, if someone said the average (mean) height for adult men in Australia is 178 cm (70 inches) and the standard deviation is about 8 cm (3 inches), you would know that 68% of the men in Australia are between 170 cm (67 inches) and 186 cm (73 inches) in height. You would also know that about 95% of the adult men in Australia were between 162 cm (64 inches) and 194 cm (76 inches) tall, and that almost all of them (99.7%) are between 154 cm (61 inches) and 202 cm (79 inches) tall. These figures are referred to as the 68-95-99.7 rule.

 

Example: Petrol within Three Standard Deviations

The refinery’s quality control manager marks the ranges included within two and three standard deviations. Some products must have less variability than others to meet their purpose. For example, if training designed to operate highly specialized and potentially dangerous machinery was assessed for quality, most participants would be expected to exceed the acceptable pass rate. Three standard deviations from the control limits might be fine for some products but not for others. In general, if the mean is six standard deviations from both control limits, the likelihood of a part exceeding the control limits from random variation is practically zero (2 in 1,000,000,000).

68 95 99 rule diagram
Figure 33:  68-95-99 Rule by Wiley et al. is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA (Attribution NonCommercial ShareAlike)

 

Example: A Step Project Improves Quality of Gasoline

A new refinery process is installed that produces fuels with less variability. The refinery’s quality control manager takes a new set of samples and charts a new frequency distribution diagram. The refinery’s quality control manager calculates that the new standard deviation is 0.2 octane. From this, she can use the 68-95-99.7 rule to estimate that 68.3% of the fuel produced will be between 86.8 and 87.2 and that 99.7% will be between 86.4 and 87.6 octane. A shorthand way of describing this amount of control is to say that it is a five-sigma production system, which refers to the five standard deviations between the mean and the control limit on each side.

 

Quality planning tools

High quality is achieved by planning for it rather than by reacting to problems after they are identified. Standards are chosen and processes are put in place to achieve those standards.

Measurement Terminology

During the execution phase of the project, services and products are sampled and measured to determine if the quality is within control limits for the requirements and to analyze causes for variations. This evaluation is often done by a separate quality control group, and knowledge of a few process measurement terms is necessary to understand their reports. Several of these terms are similar, and it is valuable to know the distinction between them.

The quality plan specifies the control limits of the product or process; the size of the range between those limits is the tolerance. Tolerances are often written as the mean value, plus or minus the tolerance. The plus and minus signs are written together, ±.

Example: Tolerance in Fuel Production

The petroleum refinery chose to set its control limits for 87 octane gasoline at 86 and 88 octane. The tolerance is 87 ± 1.

Tools are selected that can measure the samples closely enough to determine if the measurements are within control limits and if they are showing a trend. Each measurement tool has its own tolerances.

The choice of tolerance directly affects the cost of quality (COQ). In general, it costs more to produce and measure products that have small tolerances. The costs associated with making products with small tolerances for variation can be very high and not proportional to the gains. For example, if the cost of evaluating each screen as it is created in an online tutorial is greater than delivering the product and fixing any issues after the fact, then the COQ may be too high and the instructional designer will tolerate more defects in the design.

Defining and Meeting Client Expectations

Clients provide specifications for the project that must be met for the project to be successful. Recall that meeting project specifications is one definition of project success. Clients often have expectations that are more difficult to capture in a written specification. For example, one client will want to be invited to every meeting of the project and will then select the ones that seem most relevant. Another client will want to be invited only to project meetings that need client input. Inviting this client to every meeting will cause unnecessary frustration. Listening to the client and developing an understanding of the expectations that are not easily captured in specifications is important to meeting those expectations.

Project surveys can capture how the client perceives the project performance and provide the project team with data that are useful in meeting client expectations. If the results of the surveys indicate that the client is not pleased with some aspect of the project, the project team has the opportunity to explore the reasons for this perception with the client and develop recovery plans. The survey can also help define what is going well and what needs improvement.

Sources of Planning Information

Planning for quality is part of the initial planning process. The early scope, budget, and schedule estimates are used to identify processes, services, or products where the expected grade and quality should be specified. Risk analysis is used to determine which of the risks to the project could affect quality.

Techniques

Several different tools and techniques are available for planning and controlling the quality of a project. The extent to which these tools are used is determined by the project complexity and the quality management program in use by the client.

The following represents the quality planning tools available to the project manager.

  • Cost-benefit analysis is looking at how much your quality activities will cost versus how much you will gain from doing them. The costs are easy to measure; the effort and resources it takes to do them are just like any other task on your schedule. Since quality activities don’t actually produce a product, it is sometimes harder for people to measure the benefit. The main benefits are less reworking, higher productivity and efficiency, and more satisfaction from both the team and the customer.
  • Benchmarking means using the results of quality planning on other projects to set goals for your own. You might find that the last project in your company had 20% fewer defects than the one before it. You should want to learn from a project like that and put in practice any of the ideas they used to make such a great improvement. Benchmarks can give you some reference points for judging your own project before you even start the work.
  • Design of experiments is the list of all the kinds of tests you are going to run on your product. It might list all the kinds of test procedures you’ll do, the approaches you’ll take, and even the tests themselves. (In the software world, this is called test planning.)
  • Cost of quality is what you get when you add up the cost of all the prevention and inspection activities you are going to do on your project. It doesn’t just include the testing. It includes any time spent writing standards, reviewing documents, meeting to analyze the root causes of defects, reworking to fix the defects once they’re found by the team: in other words, absolutely everything you do to ensure quality on the project. Cost of quality can be a good number to check to determine whether your project is doing well or having trouble. Say your company tracks the cost of quality on all of its projects; then you could tell if you are spending more or less than has been spent on other projects to get your project up to quality standards.
  • Control charts can be used to define acceptable limits. If some of the functions of a project are repetitive, statistical process controls can be used to identify trends and keep the processes within control limits. Part of the planning for controlling the quality of repetitive processes is to determine what the control limits are and how the process will be sampled.
  • Cause-and-effect diagrams can help in discovering problems. When control charts indicate an assignable cause for a variation, it is not always easy to identify the cause of a problem. Discussions that are intended to discover the cause can be facilitated using a cause-and-effect or fishbone diagram where participants are encouraged to identify possible causes of a defect.
Example: Diagramming Quality Problems

A small manufacturing firm tries to identify the assignable causes to variations in its manufacturing line. They assemble a team that identifies six possibilities:

  • Low-quality raw materials
  • Power fluctuation
  • Ambient temperature
  • Worker absenteeism
  • Poor training
  • Old equipment

Each of these possibilities are organized into a fishbone diagram:

Cause and effect diagram
Figure 35:  Cause and Effect Diagram by Wiley et al. is licensed under  CC BY-NC-SA (Attribution NonCommercial ShareAlike)

Each branch of the diagram can be expanded to break down a category into more specific items.  An engineer and an electrician work on one of the branches to consider possible causes of power fluctuation. They identify:

  • Utility reliability
  • Personal space heaters and large motor start up leading to over loaded circuits
  • Lighting

Those items are added to their part of the fishbone diagram.

Possible causes of power fluctuation diagram
Figure 36:  Power Fluctuation Diagram by Wiley et al. is licensed under  CC BY-NC-SA (Attribution NonCommercial ShareAlike)

Check sheets, histograms, and Pareto charts are used to solve several quality problems. When a quality-control issue occurs, a project manager must choose which problem to address first. One way to prioritize quality problems is to determine which ones occur most frequently. These data can be collected using a check sheet, which is a basic form on which the user can make a check in the appropriate box each time a problem occurs or by automating the data collection process using the appropriate technology. Once the data are collected, they can be analyzed by creating a type of frequency distribution chart called a histogram. A true histogram is a column chart where the widths of the columns fill the available space on the x-axis axis and are proportional to the category values displayed on that axis, while the height of the columns is proportional to the frequency of occurrences. Most histograms use one width of column to represent a category, while the vertical axis represents the frequency of occurrences.

A variation on the histogram is a frequency distribution chart invented by economist Vilfredo Pareto known as a Pareto chart, in which the columns are arranged in decreasing order with the most common on the left and a line added that shows the cumulative total. The combination of columns and a line allows the user to tell at a glance which problems are most frequent and what fraction of the total they represent.

Once you have your quality plan, you know your guidelines for managing quality on the project. Your strategies for monitoring project quality should be included in the plan, as well as the reasons for all the steps you are taking. It’s important that everyone on the team understand the rationale behind the metrics being used to judge success or failure of the project.

Quality Assurance

The purpose of quality assurance is to create confidence that the quality plan and controls are working properly. Time must be allocated to review the original quality plan and compare that plan to how quality is being ensured during the implementation of the project.

Process Analysis

The flowcharts of quality processes are compared to the processes followed during actual operations. If the plan was not followed, the process is analyzed and corrective action taken. The corrective action could be to educate the people involved on how to follow the quality plan, or it could be to revise the plan.

The experiments that sample products and processes and collect data are examined to see if they are following statistically valid sampling techniques and that the measurement methods have small enough tolerances to detect variation within control limits.

Because projects are temporary, there are fewer opportunities to learn and improve within a project, especially if it has a short duration. But even in short projects, the quality manager should have a way to learn from experience and change the process for the next project of a similar complexity profile.

Example: Analyzing Quality Processes in Safety Training

A technical college responsible for training employees in safe plant practices evaluates its instructor selection process at the end of the training to see if it had the best criteria for selection. For example, it required the instructors to have master’s degrees in manufacturing to qualify as college instructors. The college used an exit survey of the students to ask what they thought would improve the instruction of future classes on this topic. Some students felt that it would be more important to require that the instructors have more years of training experience, while others recommended that instructors seek certification at a training center. The college considered these suggestions and decided to retain its requirement of a master’s degree but add a requirement that instructors be certified in plant safety.

The purpose of quality assurance is to build confidence in the client that quality standards and procedures are being followed. This is done by an internal review of the plan, testing, and revisions policies or by an audit of the same items performed by an external group or agency.

 

Now lets look at the role of the Project Manager in assuring quality

We stated in Module 1 that project management is not a ‘technical’ technique, but a management tool for undertaking activities that have a discrete life – a beginning and end date and specified deliverables.  This proposition is supported by the proposition that successful project management requires the same management skills as ‘routine’ or ongoing activities in organisations – planning, organising, leading, and controlling.  As with other administrative techniques, project management requires the appointment of a suitable leader (PM), the selection of a suitable team, and effective leadership of the team.

Project managers need to be capable of inspiring, controlling, and disciplining their project team members.  They also need to be capable of creating the sort of team culture and climate where team members are motivated to achieve their tasks within time, cost, and quality constraints.  Clients must be able to gain confidence that the project team is not only capable but also focused and committed to achieving the aims of the project.

Conflict is inevitable in all organisations and affects projects equally, sometimes more so as the pressure to meet the time, cost, and quality targets impose stresses and strains on even the best team.  The PM must be able to recognise when conflict occurs and work strenuously to resolve it.  Conflict can reveal opportunities for cost, time, and quality savings and improvements, but, if not resolved, can sap the energy and confidence of project team members and other stakeholders.

Lastly, the PM must be an excellent problem-solver.  Problems arising from within and from outside the project team are a daily occurrence in most projects.  The ability of the PM to work with all stakeholders to resolve these problems and to come up with effective countermeasures (or ‘work-arounds’) will largely determine the success of the project and the success of the Project Manager.

We should reflect on the following:

  • Demonstrating leadership
  • Developing the team
  • Resolving the issues (and the conflict)
  • The ‘right’ application of power
  • Effective meetings and communication
  • Selecting the ‘right’ project manager
  • Reinforcing and rewarding team performance

 

Project Manager

With the study of previous modules, we now have a clear understanding of the important role played by the project manager in the completion of a project.  It is worth noting that while studying the project life cycle we also have looked at the wide role project managers have.  Yet, people recognise the duties of a project manager, but will often ignore the skills required to accomplish these duties.  The project manager must have leading skills but know when to delegate. He/she must also develop people but know when to step back and have good communication skills, but first, know how to develop and encourage communication channels.

The project manager is the link between the customers, internal and external project stakeholders, and the project team.  Therefore, successful project completion often depends more on the project manager’s communication and interpersonal skills than his/her technical expertise in the project area.

The project manager’s overall role is to achieve the project’s objective within the three corners of the project triangle: time, cost, and scope quality.  Responsibilities do change according to the project type.  However, four perspectives apply to their role:

  • Planning – defines project objectives and conducts project planning-scheduling.
  • Organising – establishes project-schedule resource allocation and aligns team members’ responsibilities to delegate authority.
  • Leading – the project manager needs to demonstrate effective leadership to the team, but also other stakeholders. Clients in particular look for positive and confident leadership from the project manager.  They are not only concerned that the PM can manage the project’s performance, but effectively communicate progress and satisfactory resolution of problems.
  • Controlling – implements project monitor, control systems, and risk management processes to track actual project status and identify completion threats in time.

 

Project Team

Building a good team is a project manager’s priority to achieve the successful completion of the project. With the right motivation, collaboration, coordination, and enthusiasm, a team will overcome almost any obstacle to thrive in its objectives. The working structure in today’s organisation style means that workers find themselves in some sort of team arrangement. Independently to their position, the number of years working in the organisation or recent appointment, people are part of a team culture and environment.  We could spend a substantial amount of time discussing demands on work performances and teamwork outputs imposed by today’s highly competitive marketplace, but at this point, I would rather make only one statement: today’s highly competitive and global marketplace has made teams central for businesses’ survival. Therefore, project managers have the responsibility for building a first-class, cross-trained, and highly competitive team to carry the project through to success.

Leadership and Team collaboration in a nutshell video.

(Click the image below to access the video)

Video: Leadership and effective collaboration

Differences Between Managers and Leaders

 

As a project manager, one of your responsibilities is your commitment to quality and deliver always what the client wants: on time, within budget, and within scope. Project Management and in particular Quality Project Management is a “Leader-Intensive” role. The table below provides a good overview of the differences between managers and leaders and their key role in actioning successful projects.

 

Table 7: Overview of Differences between Managers and Leaders
Concerns Managers Leaders
Creation of Purpose Focus on plans and budgets; create steps, timetables for achieving results, and looks for resources to support goals. Establishes direction; creates a vision and the strategies needed to achieve it.
Developing a Network for Achieving the Agenda Organisers and staffs; creates the structure for achieving the plans; delegates responsibility and authority; develop procedures to guide behaviour; create monitoring systems. Aligns people with the target; communicates direction by word and deed to those whose cooperation is needed; creates teams that understand and share the project’s vision.
Execution Controls and solves problems; monitor results and applies corrective action. Motivates and inspires; energizes people; overcome obstacles and show personal initiative.
Outcomes Produces a degree of predictability and order; seeks to maintain the status quo. Produces change; challenges the status quo.
Focus Efficiency of operations Effectiveness of outcomes
Timeframe Short-term; avoiding risks, maintaining, and imitating. Long-term; taking risks, innovating, and originating.

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 in a Nutshell

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 Australia 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.

 

Do you have the right 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 USA 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 Australia 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 Australia. 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 favoured 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 behaviour 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 behaviour 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 favour 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 favour 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 Melbourne University was assigned to develop a project approach to drafting, shooting, and editing educational videos without storing the videos on the university 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.

No matter what type the project team is, all teams go trough the same development stages:

  • Forming – coming together, establishing relationships, ‘cards close to the chest’;
  • Norming – establishing and agreeing the norms or standards of behavior;
  • Storming – inevitable conflict and issues among members;
  • Performing – ready and willing to ‘get on with things’;
  • Adjourning – celebrating achievement, closing the project and disbanding.

 

The following video demonstrates some of these stages.

(Click the image below to access the video)

Video: Statges of gorup development

 

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 Australia, 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 behaviours 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 behaviour.  Shared basic assumptions are the deeply embedded, taken-for-granted behaviours 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 team-building 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 behaviour 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.

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Overview by Carmen Reaiche is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.