4 Ways to Build a Strong Project Management Culture
Like every other company out there, your company relies on projects to deliver business value. Anytime you want to do something new, strategic, or challenging – that’s a project.
Projects help bring order to chaos, and balance demands for resources. When delivered successfully, projects lower operating costs, improve efficiencies, and fulfill strategic objectives.
However, without an organizational culture that supports projects, companies fail to realize the many benefits of projects.
In this article, I’ll explore the importance of organizational culture to project management and suggest four ways to cultivate a successful project management culture in your company.
What is organizational culture?
Organizational culture describes the personality of a company and influences how employees work and interact with each other.
Culture helps an organization to reach strategic goals by encouraging desired behaviors, attitudes, and ways of working.
Although difficult to define, organizational culture typically encompasses:
- Consistent, observable behaviors
- Work ethics
- Codes of conduct
- Habits and emotional responses
- Incentives and reward systems
- A shared sense of purpose and action
- The story of a company and how people fit into that story.
Culture is constantly evolving, making it hard to change through a formal program or effort. That said, there are some steps you can take to make positive changes to culture to support your project, which we’ll cover later on.
Why is organizational culture important to my projects?
Organizational culture is the framework in which a project manager and team must work.
All elements of a project – from processes to leadership, management styles, communication, risk tolerance, and project request management – are influenced by cultural norms in your company.
A shared belief in the value of project management and a willingness to invest in project processes are key to a strong project management culture.
In fact, the Project Management Institute (PMI) reports:
”High-performing organizations successfully meet goals two–and–a–half times more often, and these organizations waste 13 times less money than their low-performing counterparts”.
Culture is a key point of differentiation between these types of organizations.
Culture also affects the types of projects executed by a company. Ideally, all projects should be aligned with strategic goals. Not only will this help companies to deliver more business value; teams are likely to be more committed to a project if it reflects the story of a company.
Individuals who understand how they fit into a company and into a project and how a project fits into the company will be highly motivated.
4 Ways to Build a Strong Project Management Culture
As I mentioned above, changing organizational culture is notoriously difficult. Too often, organizations try to change everything at once and fail to translate the new vision into practical steps for their employees.
It’s worth remembering that culture is about doing, about behaviors and actions. If you want to make a lasting change to improve project outcomes, start with action. People tend to act their way into new behaviors before changing their mindsets.
Let’s take a look at four practical ways you can build a strong project management culture.
1. Pick your project management approach
I’m sure you can think of many elements of project management you’d like to change within your organization! You need to be rigorous and realistic when picking a behavior.
Introducing a standardized approach to project management is a good place to start.
Quite often, individuals tasked with managing a project have no formal training in project management. As a result, the whole idea of “project management” – never mind a project management culture – is a new concept.
In the absence of a clear approach, individuals will get creative and develop their own ways of working, leading to multiple styles in one organization!
Below is a project management spectrum we use with our customers. As depicted, some projects require a lighter touch whilst others need more rigorous project management processes. The choice will depend on project maturity levels with your organization, the number of projects, the complexity of projects, duration of projects, etc.
When picking your approach, you should think about how projects are currently managed and what practices should be kept, for example, weekly team meetings or collaborative planning sessions.
Don’t make changes just for the sake of change.
2. Pick your project management tool
Next, you’ll need to make it easy to translate the new process into actionable steps for your team. Update relevant project management templates and software as required, or find new software is required.
Focus on practical, role-based training to help your team understand how the software supports their role. It is important that the new solution is easier to use, or in some cases, obviously worth the extra effort for team members.
If you want to use SharePoint for project management, the Free Template from BrightWork is an effective starting point. The pre-planned project site is very easy to use and is mapped to a practical five-step project management process.
3. Measure and report on performance
Demonstrating tangible improvements to business and project outcomes is key to driving new behaviors. People need to know their efforts are contributing positively to projects and the organization; otherwise, they will become disillusioned your leadership.
Pick a few project metrics to improve with your new process and report on these in your project site. Does your team struggle to track tasks and meet deadlines? Do issues fall through the cracks as no-one knows how to report a problem? Are documents stored in multiple locations, leading to confusion?
Report on these project metrics during weekly team meetings to demonstrate impact quickly. The SharePoint Project Management Template ships with useful reports including:
- Work (Open, Overdue, Upcoming, and Unassigned)
- Metric tiles
- Project Status.
You should also think about how improvements in these areas add value to the company – more projects finished on time, increased stakeholder satisfaction, effective teams.
These benefits will likely become apparent after a project is finished. Set a reminder to get the outcomes and share with the team and company a few weeks after the completion date. Send an email, share an update on your intranet, talk to people at meetings – just get the word out!
4. Get leadership involved
People tend to mimic the behavior of individuals or groups who have influence within an organization. If your team sees senior management acting differently to you regarding project management, they’ll no longer follow your efforts.
Find someone to act as a “Project Management Champion,” to secure senior management buy-in. The champion is someone who really cares about project management, someone who “gets it” and really wants it to succeed.
‘Influencers’ are not only found in the C-suite; look to your team and colleagues to help spread your message.
Organizational culture shapes how people work together in pursuit of common goals. A culture that supports and actively works to improve project management processes will likely experience growth and success. If you need to change attitudes towards projects, focus on behaviors and actions that can be easily measured.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in January 2013 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.
In her free time, she enjoys a challenging session at the gym, tucking into a good book, and walking the beautiful Galway coastline with her dog.