Monday, January 11, 2010

Organizational Culture and Project Management

Organizational culture: “A pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems”. Edgar H. Schein

You may find that you are one of a very small number of individuals within your library consciously planning projects. Projects without effective management may be standard operation for your organization. In a 2008 survey of web project managers in academic libraries (Keach and Fagan 2008), ten of 65 respondents mentioned that one of the top challenges in their library was a lack of project management techniques or a lack of understanding about why such techniques are needed. Your requests for resources and realistic schedules may fall on deaf ears. Other projects may run over budget, take twice as long as expected, skip over stakeholder buy-in or neglect to solicit user input. You may understandably feel frustration and wonder why you work so hard on project management when it is not explicitly expected of you and others don’t appear to be trying.

Building a record of success is the best way for you to increase your organization’s appreciation of project management. In time, colleagues will come to you for advice on how to manage a project. The library administration may ask you to lead high-stakes projects, knowing that you will get the job done. If you are a manager, or if you find yourself able to influence the top management within your organization, you can do even more to change the culture of your organization.

Some ways that leaders throughout your organization can make project management a priority for the whole organization:

  • Incorporate aspects of project management into the organizational strategic plan, goals, and objectives. For example, organizational objectives may explicitly state the expectation of evidence-based decision-making. Such a statement endorses the time project managers should spend researching possible solutions and identifying user needs.
  • Clearly identify the expected components of project management. All organizational leaders may agree, for instance, that every project within their organization should have a project overview document listing the project sponsor, project team, stakeholders, and clearly defined goals.
  • Reward those who meet those expectations—during annual reviews, with public recognition, with words of praise, with less oversight on future projects—and mentor those who do not meet those expectations.
  • Reward those who experiment with additional project management techniques, even if they fail.
  • Designate staff members who are particularly good at an aspect of project management—communicating, estimating time needed to complete tasks, facilitating meetings, earning buy-in from colleagues—as able to teach others one-on-one or in workshops.
  • Model project management skills yourself.

You can increase the value that your organization places on project management regardless of your position within the organization. First, focus on improving your own project management skills. If you manage others, set expectations that they use project management techniques, and reward continued experimentation and improvement. Over time, you will begin to influence your peers to try the same techniques. Gradually, if you are successful in your project management, you will also influence those with more authority—those who have the supervise others as well as chart the direction of the whole organization—to value project management as well.

Sources and Recommended Reading
Baker, Kathryn A. (2004) “Organizational Culture” In Organizational Culture: An Introduction. Edited by Nashreen Taher. ICFAI University Press, India.

Fagan, Jody and Jennifer Keach (2009) Web Project Management for Academic Libraries. Oxford: Chandos.

Keach, Jennifer, and Jody Condit Fagan (2008) Survey of Web Project Managers in Academic Libraries. Web survey conducted June 9 – July 1, 2008.

Schein, Edgar H. (1992) Organizational Culture and Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.