Creating Environments for Successful Projects

Organizations that get the best results from their projects make consistent and continuing efforts to nourish the environment for selecting and executing projects. The process can start with a survey to assess the project environment and continue by taking action on findings. The goal is to apply a systematic approach that covers all areas, reinforces strengths, and gets results. Organizations increasingly find the need to improve because that is where wealth-creation or survival comes from. A suggestion is to embrace the tenets of a project-based organization where:

  • Projects create the means to generate profits and shareholder value
  • People enter into relations determined by problems rather than by structure
  • Cross-functional teams assemble to achieve a specific mission, with specific time and budget constraints
  • Everyone is attuned and trained to support projects

Creating Organizational Effectiveness

Despite repeated attempts to create it within organizations, there is no single organizational structure that fits all situations; nor is there ever a perfect organization. There will always be trade-offs and differences of opinion about how to structure any organization for the tasks ahead. Much of the literature in this area tries to help pick an optimum structure depending on the situation. In reviewing the options, many people desire more flexibility within their organizations; this is not uncommon. Many organizations are still stuck in archaic structures. Managers often obsess over organizational structures and engage in reorganization exercises, even more so than ensuring the means are in place to execute strategy. As participants in this arena, we are well served by bringing visibility to alternative approaches and being open to experimentation. Asking questions and suggesting options can prompt further dialogue. Trying new approaches is highly dependent on enlightened leadership and a willingness to be pioneers.

As a longtime proponent of project, program, and portfolio management, I am biased towards a project-based organization (PBO). I believe adopting a whole-hearted approach focused on projects would serve most situations much better than current approaches. However, wide scale adoption of PBOs is still slow in coming. A company like HP, where I previously worked, is a combination of operations and projects. Many organizations are well served by a hybrid approach—having a functional organization for routine operations and a projectized organization for project-based work such as developing new products or doing projects for clients. This way projects do not have to compete with other work for resources and management attention. It’s best if people are assigned full time in one area or another, not having to shift between operations and projects.

I also believe an organic approach—in the implementation of project management, to establishing a culture, and to organizational structures—is preferred because it more readily adapts to living organisms. Organizational charts are flexible or non-existent. Natural, organic processes and structures which evolve or fit how people best work together have the potential to create more harmony, less stress, and better results. But people who desire more structure may be uncomfortable in an organic environment. Established practices and long-term values may need changing if projects appear as “foreign objects” within the system and do not get the support they require.

An Environmental Assessment Survey Instrument (EASI) provides clues as to how effective are the current environment and organizational structure. Our effectiveness as project leaders will be highly dependent on our environments. It is important to continue absorbing other ideas through studies, ad hoc forums, and conference sessions. Next, put together an action plan and tailor it to the structure and culture of the organization. Benchmark scores help determine where we are compared to other organizations. Use the data and action plans to communicate with stakeholders about the need and means to build upon strengths and improve project environments.

The intent is to assess the current environment and then identify practices that can be adopted, adapted, and applied within an organization. A sample filled in planning template provides example action steps that may help increase competitive advantage. The goal is to describe efforts that contribute to creating an environment more conducive to project success. Another choice is to exercise options to go elsewhere in search of better operating conditions.

A key take-away from this discussion is to ensure successful projects, the organizational structure must not stand in the way. Setting people up in functional silos that are isolated from each other, rigid chains of command, excessive reports, indirect communication channels, and ineffective metrics are examples of potential obstacles. By recognizing the value of projects and priorities for project work, project leaders and their teams can exercise initiative and find a way through the structure to get work done. In addition, clarity of vision, effective processes, well defined roles and responsibilities, the right people assigned to tasks—these are elements that lead to optimized results.

A complete project manager realizes the transformational effects of creating and maintaining an effective operating environment. An environment that supports project work is probably the single most important factor that affects the probability of success.


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