Before one can tackle the question at hand, i.e. the decisions that a project manager has to make in order to create a cohesive and productive environment for his project team, one must first be familiar with the basics of project management.
Project management is a wide area which has gained relatively greater importance in the last three decades. Managers began to realize that project management techniques and abilities were central to the success or failure of projects and thus a great deal of research and literature was published on the factors that affect and influence project management techniques (Maylor, 2005). Needless to say, project management is an area of study that requires a great deal of study because of the number of variables associated with it. This paper will thus start off by giving a brief overview of project management in a bid to first establish that the environment in which the project team feels motivated can in fact determine the success or failure of a project and then move on to critically analyze different ways in which a project manager can improve this environment per se.
Business Project Management
(1)Various texts have defined a project differently, one could informally see a project as a bid to accomplish a given objective through a set of interlinked tasks using a given amount of resources. It could be something as simple as planning a wedding or a more complex task like building a new house. More formally, a project can be defined as, “A complex, non-routine, one-time effort limited by time, budget, resources, and performance specifications designed to meet customer needs (Allan 2004, p.12).” From this formal definition we can deduce some main attributes of projects such as the fact that a project has an established objective, a defined life span, has specific time, cost and performance requirements and requires across-the-organization participation. The main attributes of a project are not only essential for planning and implementing the project but ultimately, the success or failure of a project is judged on how well it has adhered to these essential attributes. Basically one has to see how well a project meets customer requirements and whether it has been able to do it within the time, cost and performance requirements that had been initially established.
As mentioned earlier, projects can comprise large complex assignments or small tasks spanning only a few days. For practical purposes, one must also be familiar with the prevailing types of organizational structures in order to better understand the various ways in which impending projects are tackled by various organizations. The first kind can be labeled as the functional organizational structure. Different segments of the project are delegated to respective functional units of the organization and coordination is maintained through normal communication channels. Such a structure allows for flexibility, in-depth expertise and easy post-project transition for team members. At the same time however, there is poor integration, a lack of focus and more importantly a lack of ownership for the success or failure of particular tasks. Then there is the dedicated project team structure. It is normally implemented by projectized organizations that are mainly dependent on one time projects to conduct the bulk of their business. In this system, each task or assignment is treated as a distinct project and a group of employees is put into a project team and handed the sole responsibility of completing that particular project (Burke 2003, p.89). The system is fast, simple, cohesive and allows for cross-functional integration from different departments. On the downside, it proves expensive, leads to internal strife between team members and there arises a problem of post-project transition for the employees. Thirdly, there is the matrix structure. It’s a hybrid organizational structure and seeks to combine the best attributes of the two structures formerly discussed. Basically, there are two chains of command and project participants report simultaneously to both functional and project managers. The matrix structure achieves a greater integration of expertise and project requirements. There are three sub-types of the matrix organizational structure. In the weak-form matrix, the authority of the functional manager predominates and the project manager only has indirect authority. In the balanced form matrix, the project manager sets the overall plan and the functional manager determines how work is to be done.
In the strong form matrix structure, much like the dedicated project teams, the project manager has broader control and functional departments only act as subordinates in an advisory roll.
(1)No matter the type of organizational structure in place, project management basically seeks to plan, organize and implement a project, large or small, using formal standardized procedures and practices which will ensure that the project meets is objectives as efficiently as possible. The project management process starts off by defining the project scope (Gray & Larson 2006, p.119). This is basically a statement of the end result of the project and what it seeks to achieve. Technical requirements for the project and its limits are also highlighted at this stage. Furthermore, major deliverables and milestones are identified which will all add up and transpire into the final end product. Once this has been done, the projects priorities are set with respect to which of the previously discussed three criterions, cost time and performance are to be enhanced and which are to be constrained. The next step in the project management process involves developing a work break down structure (WBS) (Allan 2004, p.67). The work breakdown structure basically defines the relationship of the final deliverable/project to its sub-deliverables and in turn their relationship to work packages. A work package is the smallest level of the work breakdown structure and basically defines what the work/particular task is, how long it would take to complete, how much would it cost, how many resources will it need and is small enough such that it can be assigned to be the responsibility of one particular individual.
Based on this type of a project break-down, one can clearly see that for the ultimate success of a project, all the small tasks and work packages have to be not only completed efficiently and within their assigned budget and time but also in a coherent manner such that they add up to give the final deliverable to the customer. Consequently, no matter the type of organizational structure in place, functional, project teams or the matrix form, ultimately, the project team will comprise every individual assigned to a particular work-package and if a suitably motivating environment is not provided to the project team, then the success of the project will most definitely be jeopardized. In fact an unmotivated and incoherent project team can affect the success or failure of a project through out its life cycle (Maylor 2005, p.87).
The first stage in the project life cycle is defining of the project. As discussed earlier also, at this stage the goals and specifications of the project are identified, it is broken down into smaller deliverable tasks and responsibilities are assigned to people for the completion of these tasks thus creating a project team. If a project team is unmotivated at this stage of the product lifecycle, the final goals and specifications of the project may not be defined properly thus dooming the project to failure even before it has officially begun. The second stage is the planning stage. Schedules are made for the completion of sub-deliverables, budgets calculated and resources assessed and assigned. Staffing decisions are also made at this stage of the project life cycle in addition to the assessment of the various risks that might hinder its progress. An unmotivated workforce at this stage could transpire into a number of spillover effects all of which would contribute to the Projects failure. For example, budgets may not be calculated correctly thus leading to unnecessary cost and time overruns on the project. Resources may not be assessed properly or people may not work to their full potential due to the lack of a motivated environment thus leading to resource bottlenecks and ultimately delays in the projects completion and cost overruns as well. The third stage in the product life cycle is the execution stage. Status reports are compiled, quality of the work completed is assessed, forecasts about future progress are made and ultimately the project plan is adjusted in order to reflect these changes (Burke 2003, p.56).
An unmotivated work force at this level would contribute towards project failure the most. Even if mistakes have been made on a project, timely detection of these deviations from plan are essential in order to take corrective action and bring the project back on track. And unmotivated a non-cohesive project team would mean that not only is the quality of work not checked properly, but more importantly, status reports and future forecasts are delayed and misrepresentative thus leading to further deviations from schedule and complete and utter project failure. The last and final stage in the product life cycle is the projects delivery. It encompasses a number of activities including training the customer, transferring documents, releasing resources and analyzing the lessons learnt. An unmotivated project team at this stage of the product life cycle would mean that either the project is not handed over to the customer on time or even if it is, proper documentation or training is not provided to the customer. Ultimately, the success of the project is determined on how well it meets consumer demands and therefore, the lack of an environment where the project team feels motivated will once again leave to project failure. Having established that the proper environment is essential for the success of a project, we can now move on to critically analyze different decisions that need to be made by a project manager in order to create an environment in which his team will feel motivated.
To successfully create a viable work environment for his or her team, the project manager has to start with the basics. Obviously, issues like managing conflicts or keeping the team motivated using proper incentives arise later on in a projects life cycle. The first step is to create a project team. The whole process of building a project team can be formalized into four broad steps. Decisions that the project manager needs to take to keep his team motivated change with each stage of the team building process. The decisions under question will thus be analyzed in light of these four stages (Gray & Larson 2006, p.117).
The first stage in team development is team “Forming”. Little work is actually accomplished during this stage and it basically involves the transition from “individual” to “team”. The newly appointed team members generally have positive expectations from the project and get acquainted with each other. A major barrier to team effectiveness is the lack of unclear goals and an unclear definition of roles and responsibilities of individual team members. In order to avoid future confusion, the project manager must seek to provide direction and structure during this first stage of team building (Gray & Larson 2006, p.118).
Questions like what is the purpose of the project, who the team members are, what they are responsible for and what constrains they will be working under should all be defined and cleared from the onset. Similarly, when assigning work to his team members at this preliminary stage, the project manager must take a number of points into consideration. For example, he must not always choose the same people to do the toughest tasks. Such a policy would not only create resentment amongst the ones being chosen but may also give off a vibe that the chosen team member is the subject of favoritism. Similarly, the project manager should choose people with an eye to fostering their growth through participation on the task or project. This would create an environment where team members feel they are learning new things and advancing in their careers thus increasing motivational levels. Teaming up veterans with new comers is another popular strategy which allows for the sharing of experiences as well as helping in socializing the newcomers into the organizational culture. However, in a situation where the newcomers are resented by the veterans this policy could also backfire resulting in fueling hostility and thus leading to the break down of work.
Project managers can also seek to pair up people with incompatible work habits who will be required to work together at a later stage in the project. As discussed earlier, problems with team motivation during the execution stage of the project life cycle are much more costly then at the planning or defining stage. So such a decision by the project manager needs to be taken so that the group under discussion can work out their differences for the time when their cooperation and teamwork would really be vital for the completion of the project.
The second stage in team development can said to be team “Storming” (Burke 2003, p.59). During this stage, the team members basically start work on their assigned tasks and begin to test the limits and flexibility of each other as well as the project manager in the process. Team allegiance takes a back seat and members express their individuality. Conflicts and tensions increase during this stage leading to a reduction in morale and motivation of the group members. In order to maintain an environment conducive to work and to keep the project on schedule, the project manager needs to provide an understanding and supportive environment and not become defensive or take issues personally. In this somewhat directive role, the project manager also has to understand that conflict is inevitable and can actually be beneficial both for the team and for the project.
Therefore, instead of trying to avoid conflict altogether, the project manager must use proper conflict resolution techniques to not only mitigate and resolve conflicts but to use them to his advantage. Conflicts can arise between group members due to a number of reasons including resource assignments, schedule, cost, organizational issues and personal differences. No matter the cause of the conflict however, by choosing to avoid minor conflicts, compromising and accommodating where possible, and confronting major conflicts through problem solving or negotiations, the project manger can ensure that he uses these conflicts to his and the projects benefit. However, one has to keep in mind that practically speaking, making the right choice at the right time is not that easy and many a project has succumbed to massive failure due to unresolved conflicts between project team members. It is also vital during this storming stage that the project manager establish strong communication channels both between himself and the team as well as amongst team members. Some project managers have an open-door policy for example where individual team members are free to come discuss any issues or grievances with them. If a project manager fails to establish strong communication channels at this stage of the team development process, he would not only jeopardize the success of the project but there will also be a high chance that the team building process will stagnate and fail to enter the normalizing stage (Burke 2003, p.78).
Following the storming stage dominated by interpersonal conflicts and low motivation, comes the third stage of the team building process, i.e. the “Norming” stage. As interpersonal conflicts are slowly resolved, relationships become settled and team members begin to develop a certain degree of cohesiveness. Work performance begins to accelerate and productivity increases also. At this stage, the project manager can look to reduce directiveness which dominated his role during the storming stage and seek to give a more general sense of direction to the team. In my opinion, this can be achieved by calling regular team meetings. It should be noted that these periodic meetings should only discuss team-related issues and ask questions like how are we working as a team, what barriers are impeding our work and what can we do to overcome these barriers. Such regular meetings would basically give the team a reassurance that they are heading in the right direction and also keep checks on where the project stands as far as its progress is concerned. As team development enters its final stage, the “Performing” stage, the team becomes highly committed and eager to achiever the project objective. The level of work performance is very high, communication is open and members actually collaborate and help each other automatically. At this stage, the project manager can seek fully delegate authority and concentrate on project performance acting only as a mentor to team members. In my opinion decisions that the project manager now has to take to improve the environment for his team deal with the recognition of milestones and individual achievements. By arranging social outings for the team, acknowledging certain milestones and personal achievements, the manger can ensure that the team stays motivated and dedicated towards completing the project (Maylor 2005, p.76).
In summation, this paper has established that the project management process basically employs standardized procedures to plan implement and deliver a project by breaking it down into small sub-deliverables and adding each of them to give a final output. This approach of project management basically implies that each individual assigned to a work package indirectly becomes vital to the success or failure of the entire project and thus a member of the project team. Consequently, an environment where each of these individuals or the project team as a whole feels motivated thus becomes vital for the success or failure of the project especially because the absence of such an environment can inhibit the projects progress at different stages of its life cycle (Maylor 2005, p.92).
The project manager is thus faced with that monumental task of putting together a project team and watching them develop into a cohesive working unit gradually. This gradual process can formally be broken into the four steps of team development which have been discussed in quite some detail. Basically, the project manager is faced with different challenges in each of these stages and has to make decisions accordingly in order to provide his team with an environment conducive to work. By defining project objectives and individual responsibility clearly from the onset, establishing strong communication channels, calling regular team meetings, celebrating milestones appropriately and being fair and foresighted when assigning work, the project can ensure that his team is provided with an ideal environment where it can cohesively work towards the final deliverable with complete efficiency.