In 2006, Peter Druecker famously stated “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. What he meant by that is that your organisation’s culture (values and behaviour) is a bigger factor to how work gets done, than the plans, processes and tools you may have selected (all of those things are obviously still very important but to really get value from them you need to also have the right culture!). This should spark the interest of anyone in the game of trying to improve project management in their organisation because it means that even if you pick the “best” project methodology (however you would determine which one is best) it might not have any impact at all unless your culture supports good project management practices… or… you are able to transform your culture into one that values good project management practices.  

So what kind of culture fosters good projects?  

First of all let’s get on the same page about what culture is, because there is no one official definition of what culture actually is. Generally it is described as the values and behaviours that impact how things get done, like an unwritten rule book. Others describe it as the personality of a team or a company.   

So, what personality (culture) fosters project success? Just like with personalities in people we cannot say that one is universally better than any other, but there are some traits (or characteristics) that definitely help improve how projects are managed and delivered.  

We value project management  

Yep… it’s quite an obvious one, but the obvious are usually the really important ones. If you organisation or team does not truly value project management it is likely you will say you have processes and structures in place (and you might even have things written down) but in reality you just “get on with it” and as soon as opportunity arises people deviate from the defined standard and make up their own ways of getting things done. Now, valuing project management is not about forcing everyone to do work in exactly the same way (that would be an unpleasantly rigid and controlling culture) so there should be some flexibility and trust in the individuals’ judgement. However, if that flexibility leads to lack of control or a pattern of cutting corners then you have gone too far.   

We align with strategy 

Alignment with strategy is a really important behaviour for project success because it implies that everyone in the organisation is pulling in the same direction. This usually means they are focusing efforts on things that are really important, rather than having a multitude of local initiatives with no connection to the bigger picture. The risk of these disconnected local projects is that they take resources away from what really matters. They can be downright damaging to the organisation if they contradict strategy and they are likely to create an experience of “we’re always working but nothing happens”.  

Empowerment of the team and individual 

Are you working in an environment where “everyone” has to be invited to a meeting or where the email cc: list is longer than the email itself?  

That might be pointing to a culture that lacks empowerment, which in turn is often caused by a lack of trust.  

A lack of empowerment can cause problems for projects if it means decisions are not being made in a timely manner, or that necessary “harsh” decisions get diluted so that they lose value.  

If everything is done by committee it can also weaken each individual’s sense of responsibility for what is being done, and this in turn can impact the individual’s level of commitment and the quality of work.  

Personal accountability 

Leading on from empowerment… with power comes responsibility. Each individual has to be accountable for their work, their results and their decisions. Leaders have to lead by example and take credit for both successes and mistakes.  

 

Visibility, transparency and scrutiny 

Do you know what is happening in your projects and also in other projects in your organisation? If not you might be making misinformed decisions, or take action which could damage your project, other projects or the organisation at large. 

If you work in an organisation where there is a lack of visibility and transparency it might point to a lack of trust, or fear of punishment or losing face if not everything is perfect. The obvious risk if people do not dare to report if their projects are having problems is that problems might fly under the radar and snowball into much bigger problems. Leadership has to address this by making positive examples of those projects that do report problems.  

Fail fast and stop 

Sometimes we have to try things without knowing for sure how it will work. An organisation that waits for absolutely certainty before they start a project will be left behind, so sometimes projects have to start even though we cannot be sure they will be successful. Trying new things is good, and accepting that failure might happen is also good. 

What is not good is if we recognise signs that the project is failing and still keep on going. It is common to have a mentality that “we have spent X already, that money would be wasted if we stop now” which is false economy and only leads to us throwing good money after bad.  

Active leadership involvement 

Your leadership team make and break your culture. If you have a goal to improve personal accountability but your leaders continue blaming others or not owning up to mistakes then you will never achieve that goal. You may need to educate the leadership team about exactly what they should say and do.  

In the long run, if the change in culture is tied to the survival of the organisation and some leaders fail to align then tough decisions about their future in the organisation might be necessary. 

How the PMO Can help 

The PMO supports the practice of project management but also takes responsibility for championing a culture of change, learning, and community. It does this within its own internal Customer base, ensuring a collaborative relationship with all involved in projects, and within the Senior teams as it provides insights and analysis to support future decision making. 

Many PMOs already have experience in Change Management and those within the team are likely to have been involved in some kind of cultural change before so understand the importance of ringing people on the journey. 

Make sure that you engage your PMO in your cultural change to ensure success! 

Can we change our culture?  

Yes of course you can! It will be a big undertaking but it is absolutely possible. Take a look at our Change Management Practitioner course to learn how! 

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Monthly Newsletter

By: Karin Maule

Karin Maule

Published: 11 April 2023

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