PPM 301 - Project Management

Section 8. The Project Culture

Objectives:

This lesson focuses on project teams. Objectives important to this lesson:

  1. Team culture
  2. Positives and negatives about teams
Concepts:

This chapter returns to concepts about project teams. It seems to be taking us in a direction that says our organization will be better if we run everything as a project and we construct teams as needed to carry out those projects. There is some confusion on the first page about whether we are discussing a team culture or a project culture, but the text seems to be saying they are the same.

The "strong working culture" described on page 352 supposes several things about the organization that has it:

  • employees' opinions are valued and they are treated as thinking adults
  • employees on teams appreciate the fact that teams are dependent on each other
  • employees are encouraged to offer their ideas for improvement
  • the organization has learned to let go of what has been, in order to gain improvement

We are given several pages of what an organization looks like before and after adopting the project team concept. It is quite overwhelming and requires that we accept a great deal on faith. I have a problem with that presently. There comes a time when you wonder how much you can accept on faith. You wonder if having faith in something is just being hopeful, just following someone's lead, or maybe just being foolish for being fooled again. I suppose it all depends on what you are placing your faith in. Faith in the right thing is not foolish or misplaced. Faith in the wrong thing is probably wrong, too.

The text takes an odd approach to presenting positive and negative aspects to project teams. We are only given a bullet list of positives, a set of statements that are not explained. These are some of them:

  • productivity increases
  • quality improvements
  • cost reductions
  • enhanced customer satisfaction
  • employee satisfaction
  • greater creativity and innovation
  • development of leadership/management potential

Again, this looks too much like someone has been drinking nothing but the company kool-aid. If some of the real improvements have been made, then people will be happier with the results, but that does not make it certain that the project teams were the cause.

The section about negative aspects of project teams is more wordy, but that seems to be an effort to make the authors' point of view clear, that the negatives are not the fault of the team implementations.

  • Inadequate delegation of authority - It is not clear what the authors mean.
  • Acceptance of the team concept, followed by disenchantment when implemented - It is not clear what the cause is, or what to do about it.
  • Teams are often perceived negatively in union shops.
  • Teams can be perceived as undercutting management's role. That would seem to apply to self managed teams.

This chapter shows no signs of becoming more useful or rational. We will take this opportunity to stop, catch our breath, and move forward to Section 9.

Section 9. Project Communications

Objectives:

This lesson focuses on communications, with a brief introductory interlude. Objectives important to this lesson:

  1. The PMIS
  2. Communications
  3. Communications in meetings
  4. Negotiations
Concepts:

This chapter says it is about communications, but it begins with a few pages about project management information systems (PMISs). As you may know, a PMIS is used to plan and document a project by first gathering all the information that will be used in the PMS to actually create schedules and resource management objects. The remarks in these pages only set the stage for communications during the project.

The text struggles to define communications on page 387. This page is very formal and general. It offers some suggestions for good communications:

  • be specific
  • understand what the sender and the receiver expect in the communication
  • take the perceptions of the sender and receiver into account
  • consider the timing of a communication, so it has the desired or best effect
  • watch for possible misunderstandings, while preparing and after sending a communication
  • listen/read actively to understand the message
  • consider the best medium for the communication
  • provide timely feedback
  • ask for clarification when needed

Throughout this discussion, be aware that when the authors discuss listening to a message, they also mean reading one, viewing a video, and whatever other mode of communication that might take place. They are discussing the aural mode, but they mean all modes.

On page 389, there is a list of points that have to do with listening for the hidden messages in a communication. One of the running themes is that people tend to hide bad news when it is being passed up the chain of command. In order to learn about problems, managers need to remove the fear that most employees have of passing on bad news. This echoes one of Deming's fourteen points: drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company. If you can't or have not yet removed this fear from your work area, you will need to listen for signs that there is trouble no one is reporting.

On page 390, we see a list of effects that emotions can produce in listeners.

  • The listener may hear only what they want to hear.
  • The message may cause an emotional reaction in the listener.
  • If the message is contrary to the listeners beliefs, the message may be ignored.
  • The fifth item is unclear. I think the author means that different cultures will have different meanings for symbols, which can warp the intended meaning of a message.
  • Preconceptions about the source or recipient of the message can affect the interpretation of the message.
  • The ego of the sender or receiver can prevent a meaningful message from being sent or from being received.

The text gives us a short list of project communication problems:

  • People may not mention a problem that they hope will go away.
  • Team members may not share information that they think is critical to the project's success. The motivation for this is not stated. We can assume that several motivations are possible.
  • If a project manager does not listen for feedback, the only chance for success would be if everything goes according to plan.
  • Project review meetings should also have two-way communication. If they do not, only one part of the story is being told.

The text warns us to pay attention to nonverbal communication, which means any communication that does not use words.

  • facial expressions
  • nodding or shaking of the head
  • eye movement
  • tone of voice
  • position of arms or legs

The items above are all part of the physical category of nonverbal communication. The text mention three other categories:

  • aesthetic - music, dance, and other expressionistic arts
  • signs - actual signs, signal flags, bells, and sirens
  • symbolic - religious symbols, political icons, status symbols

On page 391, the text offers some general advice about written communications:

  • Use reference material that makes your communications better, such as The Elements of Style
  • For every communication, ask yourself if your message is clear.
  • Make your communications easy to understand.
  • Decide what your message is before you start writing.
  • Use graphs and illustrations that make the message clearer.
  • Ask yourself and your proofreaders whether your message is logical, objective, and true.

The text turns to communication that takes place in meetings on page 392. It begins with the age old advice for a speech or a formal paper: tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and tell them what you told them. This can be interpreted to mean that you should introduce your topic, speak on it, then summarize your points.

Some advice about holding meetings appears on page 393. We are cautioned that some meetings are not productive, and probably should not be held. Consider that, and the points below, when you schedule a meeting.

  • Is the meeting necessary?
  • What is the purpose of the meeting?
  • Is there an issue that we are meeting about?
  • What facts are needed for the meeting, and do we have them?
  • What are the solutions that are possible for the issue?
  • What might come out of the meeting?
  • What would happen if we did not hold the meeting?

On page 394, there are two sets of points from Douglas McGregor about meetings that are effective and ineffective. They should be considered as counterpoints of each other.

Effective Ineffective
an informal, comfortable atmosphere an indifferent or bored atmosphere
everyone participates a few people dominate
the objective is understood the objective is not understood
people listen to each other people are not listening to each other
disagreements are comfortable disagreements are not handled effectively
decisions are by consensus decisions and actions are premature
criticism is frank and comfortable criticism produces tension or embarrassment
feelings can be freely expressed feeling remain hidden
clear assignments are given for action assignments are unclear
the chairperson does not dominate the meeting the chairperson dominates the meeting
the group functions well together the group does not act as a group

Some other suggestions are made, such as encouraging disagreement and lively discussions. This advice should be taken with caution. Unless you are skilled at handling people who are having a disagreement, you should enlist the aid of someone who has that skill before you begin a meeting that may become a disruption to your purpose.

The last four pages in the chapter are about negotiations, this time about negotiations with stakeholders about the project, the contract, and the resources for conducting the project. This seems a lot like what we have covered before. In fact, some of it references earlier material in the text.