Project Organizations – Harmony or Cacophony
Guest Post by Malcolm Peart (first posted on CERM ® RISK INSIGHTS – reposted here with permission)
In a galaxy far-far-away a Jedi Knight said, “Integrated Matrix” and, with a sweeping wave of his hand, the project organisation was immediately taken from the Dark side of chaotic confusion and the Force was with them…
This could be the end to a Star Wars movie about project management (LOL). However, and with few earthbound Jedi project management practitioners, our project organisations are rarely perfect and not what they would claim to be.
In any group of people taking on a task there will be a natural development of some hierarchical structure; and subsequent leadership and communication will develop within this framework. In a Project environment this framework should be planned, and approved and possibly rigorously imposed, but will it work and how?
In project management bodies of knowledge various ‘organisational structures’ are described. These include administrative and functional structures with their singular silos through to matrix organisations with various degrees of collaboration between departments in support of projects. Ultimately some organisations have a purely projectized structure with limited, if any, mutual reliance between projects.
Of course, there is the Shamrock Organisation of outsourcers in line with Charles Handy and more complex structures reflecting Mintzberg’s Apex, Middle Line, and Operating Core with theirTechnological and Support functions. At another extreme there can be entrepreneurial adhocracy as advocated by the “no worries – she’ll be right mate” optimists for whom organisational structure is merely an administrative burden.
People make projects; and how they are organised can make the difference between success and failure. The project ‘team’ and its lineup are akin to any sports team. American Football has offense and defence positions while English Soccer has various configurations of 4-4-2 and 3-5-2 etc, but both sports organise themselves to win, or at least, avoid defeat.
But in any event the structure of the project and where its people ‘fit’ are fundamental to ensuring that there is synergy and collaboration rather than dysfunction and confrontation.
No matter what structure an organisation chooses to adopt every organisation and each project will have some form of organisation charts. These charts, often held in great esteem by many PM proponents, are typically part of the Quality Plan and Project Management Plan and adorn many a wall in project offices.
Any one chart is expected to identify the decision makers as well as reflect reporting lines and formal communication channels. However, more often than not, the chart merely reflects the project hierarchy and where people sit in the pecking order. They may then establish their relative importance and see how many people are’ below’ them. The crafter of the chart may possibly be more preoccupied about placing project staff in ‘boxes’ with a view to who can authorise annual leave and expenses.
The chart will identify those who are burdened with carrying out dreaded annual appraisals against often mismatched or misaligned job descriptions. These charts may also reflect a culture of over-command, over-control and over-administration which is far from suitable for many project-based organisations. A rigorously imposed bureaucratic hierarchy is unlikely to meet the exigencies of projects in reality.
A project’s organisation may look great on paper in the form of a static two-dimensional chart; but it’s only during execution that any organisational shortfalls are detected. These shortfalls are characterised by communication breakdowns, interpersonal and inter party conflict, missed deadlines, misaligned priorities and rework. The tangible results of such discord are cost and time overruns but the intangible negative impact on the behaviours of the project personnel is possibly more damaging and essential people with “get up and go” may well leave.
Consider a classical orchestra dressed in tuxedos and evening gowns; they may look formidable prior to the start of a concert but it’s only when they have played that their performance may be judged. Similarly, a project is eventually judged on its execution rather than what its organisation looked like. The orchestral organisation of timpani, percussion, woodwind, brass and strings is fixed but the execution, when everybody plays according to a musical score, is under the baton of the conductor. This relationship should result in a harmonious polyphony; but without such interconnection a shambolic cacophony could well result.
An orchestra has a sole conductor who can rely on their first violinist to keep tune. However, in a project the Project Manager is expected to orchestrate the project team as well as the sponsor, owner and stakeholders who may well have a different interpretation of the ‘score’ than the project team. In order to ensure that there is ‘harmony’ there needs to be configuration, coordination, and management of the team which requires leadership of the entire organisation.
And then there is the element of time. Projects have various phases and the organisation required during the start-up of execution may well be different to that during any testing and commissioning phase, and close-out. But how often is this important dynamic missed from organisation structures as one phase morphs into another and personnel change taking their contributary knowledge with them. This loss can both impede organisational learning and leave a gap in project knowledge.
Unfortunately, projects, being unique undertakings, require on-the-project training and cannot rely on rehearsals with a fixed and predetermined scope. In the absence of rehearsals any superstition driven theatrical idioms such as ‘It’ll be alright on the night’ and ‘break a leg’ should not relied upon by Project Managers.
Organisational structuring is not a ‘one-off’ exercise and, although projects may be time-bound they are dynamic in their phasing. The organisation structure will almost certainly need to change, or at least change in emphasis as a project moves through its various phases and differing skills are needed. Change is inevitable and any would-be‘ conductor’ wishing for a curtain-call would be wise to keep this in mind.
Changing an organisational structure may also require cultural or attitude changes be they major or minor. But change is change and as a project elaborates the org-chart of yesterday may not reflect the needs of today and tomorrow. Projects in reality need organisation based upon mutual trust and morale fostered through good communication, motivation and common goals which change with time.
The force that drives a project team is a reflection of the strength and harmony of the team and its organisation structure. Without such a Force being with you then the Darkside could well be just around the corner…unless you adapt.
UK Chartered Engineer & Chartered Geologist with over thirty-five years’ international experience in multicultural environments on large multidisciplinary infrastructure projects including rail, metro, hydro, airports, tunnels, roads and bridges. Skills include project management, contract administration & procurement, and design & construction management skills as Client, Consultant, and Contractor.