Developing a project management “culture”?

A guest post from Kevin Lonergan, coach at PMIS Consulting Limited.

It is often said in firms that “we simply don’t have a project management culture”. This can be true but a) what doe it mean and assuming it is true, b) what can be done about it?

So, what is Organisational culture?

Organisational culture definitely exists. There is much written on organisational culture – just Google it and you’ll find loads of detail but in essence this is what it means.

All organisations that have existed for at least some time will have developed a “culture”. In its most simplest, it is the values and habits that are promoted by the organisation is being important, or even crucial to the business. This could be and often is extended to the behaviours that individuals and even teams’ exhibit in discharging normal business – and this can and will include projects. It will also extend to what (does and does not) get noticed by seniors in a business. A great form of this is the examples of behaviours or practice that are “promoted” (say in a corporate magazine) as being or value to the business – often though this focuses more on results than process, sometimes with the two becoming very confused.

To determine your own culture it is quite easy to write or find a list of terms that describe typical cultures, and use that to ask a cross section of people from a single business to assess which of those terms most closely describe their firm – it usually works very well to highlight the sort of things like behaviours that are highlighted as being desirable – including that which is sometimes be referred to as the “hero factor”.

So how does this relate to project management? Well, many firms will have developed at least a framework to describe how projects should be defined, planned, managed and closed-out. Often, these frameworks will follow or replicate practices that are generally considered to be valuable or even fundamental to project (delivery) success. However, despite this, when real projects come along the actual practice on the ground is often light years away from the written framework or procedures. Often, this could even have been driven directly from somewhere at the top in the business. That is usually the point when two or more people are having a coffee chat and one will say ”…… yes, but it’s just not in our culture….. etc etc”.

In practical terms, this can often mean that staff within the business will not necessarily follow (even in principle) what someone in the organisation believes is strategically important to planning and delivering successful projects. Others in the business may feel that managing projects is little more than running or chairing meetings, and that “Project Management” adds little value. Sadly, in their business they may well be right.

So, if this is the case, what can we do? I will address this in my next post and in the meantime, please feel free to add your comments and suggestions.

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For more resources, see the Library topic Project Management.

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