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A peopLinks – Organization Systems White

Paper

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Organizational Support for Projects

By Daniel Ofek

May 2008
Contents

‫תוכן‬
Contents ............................................................................................................................................................. 2
Executive Summary ........................................................................................................................................... 3
Business Challenges ......................................................................................................................................... 3
Solution Principles ............................................................................................................................................ 4
Systemic Conception of Projects ............................................................................................................ 5
Solution Description .......................................................................................................................................... 6
The Launching Service ...................................................................................................................................... 7
The Maintenance Service .................................................................................................................................. 7
The Rescue Service ........................................................................................................................................... 7
Solutions to Challenges .................................................................................................................................... 8
The Benefits of the SPA Processes .................................................................................................................. 9
Implementation .................................................................................................................................................. 9
Summary .......................................................................................................................................................... 10
Bibliography..................................................................................................................................................... 10

May 2008
Executive Summary
Hi-tech projects are characterized by two unfortunate characteristics: They are constantly in trouble (in
terms of on-time and on-budget delivery), and secondly, most problems are organizational and/or
managerial oriented.

Every project stands on three foundations – Technology (its content), Business (its finance) and
Organizational (its people). Project Management and its expertise are mostly focused on the first two
while the organizational foundation is left merely to intuition. However, in our dynamic turbulent era,
problematic situations are mostly organizational oriented and so are the tools for projects success and
the solutions for those which got stuck.

Hi-tech projects' challenges form an iceberg whose visible and accessible tip reflects the technical ones
and down deep into the water reside the mysteries (to the typical project manager) of the human, project
personnel soul… we claim here, that solution to these challenges are sought after above the water while
many significant ones lay down in the dark below.

This paper describes the SPA (Services for Projects Alignment) suite of services for organizations which
operate in R&D and implementation project framework units. These services suit system providers,
R&D departments, large-scale software implementation projects and other types of project-oriented
enterprises. Typical beneficiaries of these services are managers who control projects, customers who
pay for the project's products and sometimes a combined project's steering committee

The Project SPA suite of services will ensure that projects are in good condition throughout their
lifecycle. The Project SPA services suite presents a unique concept that places the project in focus,
concentrating on its organizational world through its staff dynamics and divert the classical thrust form
focusing on project management issues to project personnel conduct – the "project behavior".

The Project SPA suite includes several services that, when introduced as a whole into a specific project's
environment, support and maintain the project's 'mental' health. The services can also be introduced on a
modular basis to bring tremendous value for projects in their various lifecycle stages.

Business Challenges
"It is still true that approximately 29% of all large-scale systems projects are successful, 53% are
challenged (with average overruns of 84% in time, 56% in budget and only 67% providing the required
functionality), and 18% are scrapped and written off altogether" (Hartmann, 2006). Numerous papers,
researches, whitepapers worded this situation. The symptoms are usually similar in all publications,
describing the project environment in many cases as chaotic and disappointing (see for example
(Stanleigh, 2006) and (Klein, 2005)). However, in many cases the solutions are either better technology
or better management procedures and adherence. Better planning and control are in many cases the
suggested prescriptions. Sometimes, leadership and project managers' skills and personality are the
focus of proposed solutions. We believe that the organizational components, beyond the PMs behavioral
elements, are in many cases the cause and source of solutions for these challenges. Let us emphasize our
point with a nice quote:
"Business and technical problems boil down to people problems. Calling something a technical
problem is a convenient label to say 'It's not something I can handle.' If the server goes down, 'it's
a technical problem.' Well, you either fix it or get someone to handle it. It's a people problem.
People solve problems. People create problems. 'It was a technical problem because the software
was buggy.' Well, it was people who created buggy software or made the decision to buy the
software. It's the extent to which we take responsibility for solving problems that gets them solved.
The myth of IT is that it's about computers and technology. It's not - IT is about people."

Sue Young CEO of ANDA Consulting in Colchester, VT in (Klein, 2005)

Solution Principles
The solution offered is based on the definition of a project as a (temporary) organization and thus, bears
almost every organizational characteristic. On the same token, a project, being large enough, bears also
its own flavor of cultural and operational parameters. For example, while vagueness is used as a
managerial tool and is cultural anchored in the greater organization, in a project environment, it is not
tolerated, since boundaries and power borders and networks must be crystal clear. Innovative thinking is
highly appraised in the organizational level whereas it is restricted to the project's interest within its
framework. The organization has a widely recognized culture. The project derives its culture from the
organization (we like to consider the project as a fractal of the organization) but carries specific lingual
and other artifacts. All these prepare the ground for a specific organizational support for projects.

We would like also to emphasize one aspect in this approach which is the focus in what we call 'project
behavior'. It is the behavior of the people within the project who need change and adjustment and not
just project management who is in many cases THE sole focus for change for many scholars and
industry thinkers.

Instead of dealing with hierarchies (people, task – WBS) within the project, we adopt the systemic
approach of referring to the project dynamics as networks and deal with 3 dimensional relationships:
person2person, task2task, person2task. No need to vigorously map all possible numerous relationship
but rather use our toolbox of questionnaires, observations, interview in order to reveal the few but
significant disconnections among the elements.

The following diagram defines the landscape of organizational support for projects within which the
services need to be provided. It bounds the space with two axis: project life-cycle stages and the projects
organizational areas. Every point on the bi-dimensional space represents an action that can be taken for
diagnosing and intervention in order to improve project's run:
Systemic Conception of Projects
All projects constitute a dynamic complex and adaptive system. The systemic approach uses two lenses
to view the environment: The concave lens takes the wide view of the project’s ecosystem (see Diagram
1 below) while the convex lens goes deep into the detailed observation of its components and their
relationships. The approach in studying the project is bi-directional, from understanding the ecosystem
environment to screening the separate components of the projects and then, in the opposite direction,
moving from the components to reestablish the perception of the ecosystem within its players' minds.
This process enables a grand alignment of all project's participants to all the components' and the project
ecosystem's conceptual platform.
Diagram 1 - Systemic Approach to Projects

Our method adopts a systemic approach of analyzing projects’ situations and establishing the
intervention activities on adjusting the balancing forces.

Solution Description
Our org. support approach for projects assumes that PM methodology is in place and is even mostly
followed successfully. It is a different focusing lens towards the project's challenges. In order to have
an effective, efficient (short) and leveraged service, we established a package of services targeting
various stages of projects life-cycle. The package which is called SPA (Support for Project Alignment)
comprises the following services:
• SPA-launch – plan and facilitate the performance of the activities that build strong launching pad for
projects, assuring their well being and sustainability
• SPA-Maintenance – perform frequent sampling of project reporting and deliverables data to probe its
well being and alert when it gets off tracks
• SPA-Rescue – plan and facilitate an intervention process which, based on systemic approach supports
the projects manager and people to get their project back on-track

The services help get and keep projects on track by using objective, structured and methodological
supporting processes, performed mainly on-site on the 'project floor' (physically and virtually) with the
project teams. It is based on conducting a systemic analysis of the project environment and establishing
significant change within the team and project management’s perception and conduct when needed.
The services are conducted within a project framework and focus, yet, their following in-depth 'lesson
learned' reporting is beneficial within the company wider scope.
The services promote staff empowerment, positive attitudes and optimistic view, with focus on the
strengths of project's individuals and based on small changes that draw big results. The following
paragraphs describe the services in detail.

The Launching Service
In the typical chaotic environment, projects don't really start but rather burst into existence with rush,
blurred starting point, with unclear purpose, staff and structure. Our launching service creates a process
which involves short analysis followed by a few well defined steps to bring all project members into
social coherence, knowledge of the environment (technological, business, cultural) and awareness of the
challenges ahead in order to establish their commitment and spirit. This service is particularly useful in a
matrix management environment where a complex network of people with potential conflicting interests
are loosely connected into a project's court (virtually in many times)

This dignified package of activities will be well remembered and it acts as a reference point in time and
consciousness to help in tough times which will surely follow.

In a matter of a couple of condensed days, the project will be put on-track with its staff energized with
sense of the right purpose, commitment and motivation towards the ultimate project goals.

The Maintenance Service
All projects may go wrong. The maintenance service samples the project on a pre-defined schedule and
read its status by going down to the project's environment and reviewing on-going documents, reports
and personnel oral reviews. The maintenance service is using the project's regular data and doesn’t need
any specially prepared ones. Our toolkit includes previous review status summary, anticipated progress
status and the resulting gap analysis. This service is capable of creating objective alerts when projects
show signs of getting off-tracks. Here is a partial list of alerts that can be identified through the
maintenance process:

• A small variance in schedule or budget consumption starts to get bigger, especially early in the project.
• Activities marked as already been completed are still being worked on.
• Unscheduled overtime is becoming standard, especially early in the project.
• Team morale starts to decline.
• Deliverable quality or service quality starts to deteriorate.
• Quality-control steps, testing activities, and project management time starts to be cut back from the
original schedule.
The report produced by the maintenance team contains the specific indicators together with
recommendation for remedies. This gives enough time for project managers and their management to
activate all recommended and other means to improve project well being.

The Rescue Service
The rescue process is two-fold: first with the analysis process, performed in a top-down manner; and
second is the change process, which is based on the analysis findings. It begins with project management
staff, buying them in the process by introducing the change and intervention processes. Then, the work
continues with the teams as can be seen in diagram #2. However, the whole process is cyclic and one
can enter or leave it in various points.

The duration of the rescue process varies from a few days to a few weeks, based on the project size,
complexity and unique situation. The rescue process is continuous and accompanies the project
environment until the successful completion of the task.

Diagram 2 - Project Rescue Processes

Solutions to Challenges
Following Tolstoy's saying, all successful projects are alike, but every unsuccessful project is different
in its own way, it is not easy to compile a comprehensive list of the measures the rescue processes may
take when handling projects challenges. However, the following few can give an idea of the focus in
converting a 'completion challenged' project into a successful one:
• Having all project teams understand fully the project's strategic aspects, specs, plans and high level
business aspects – all are aware and in agreement with the bigger picture (who is the customer?)
• The same with the selected technological solution – understanding and agreeing
• Align project management with its ecosystem – improve interfaces, decision making processes and plans
synchronization
• Verify the adequacy of the project org. structure with its functioning status – enabling proper
communication while maintaining proper control (establish war room when needed)
• Eliminate the gap between customer expectations and the project commitments – re-commit on
objective and realistic delivery
• Improve project atmosphere using teams activities meant to focus on friendship, ease tensions, increase
sense of significance, eliminate unnecessary competition, info and knowledge sharing
• Improve Project staff and management agility – enhance changes procedures, teams-tasks alignment,
recommend iterations and simulation
• Identify political factors in various levels that might cause waste of useful energy (e.g. who could
consciously or not benefit of the project failure, keeping up with initial commitments, denials,
intentionally wrong reporting, helpless sponsors)
• Facilitate Informal cooperation among all project players
• Define knowledge gaps and build training and coaching plans in all levels
• Support PM in handling the paradoxes and conflicts and help him to increase his managerial
effectiveness

The extent to which the challenges prevail during a project's life span can be measured using various
tools such as interviews, documentation reviews, dynamic group observation and coaching.

The Benefits of the SPA Processes
Customers of the Project SPA services are either the projects’ division/department managers (the
provider) or their clients’ executives. Both parties can benefit from these services by having focused,
objective and enlightening processes with significant leverage. They can either ask for support for their
own project's benefits or call for the services jointly, for example by a joint steering committee. In this
case, the support team will regard the committee as its customer.
The SPA team is experienced and objective. Their only purpose is to realign the project with its
budgeted and timed goals within its ecosystem, and to get staff to trust their goals and each other. Any
other intervention by the company's management could impose political pressure which may turn out to
be counterproductive. The narrow framework of a single project assures a short and effective solution.
The change process is highly focused. The impact of the services is likely to provide significant benefits
and is cost effective. An additional benefit is the 'lessons learned' process, which is valuable to the
broader level of management in the company/division. With one project in focus, the analysis and
intervention process may reveal some difficulties in the larger ecosystem, which in turn can be identified
and changed. The SPA processes are operated with a policy of total transparency and they utilize
objective metrics based on the project's own management tools.

Implementation
The SPA services are implemented as short, focused and outcomes targeted ones. Their business model
is success oriented. This kind of services, are quite new in nature. Especially the rescue service which
may lead to admission in failure, many project managers are reluctant to engage. Well, it is a challenge
which involves 'educating the market'. Once project managers know that their problems can be met with
professional remedy and the service becomes 'acceptable', then the service can become a line of business
within the organizational consultancy profession.
Summary
In this paper, we introduced the SPA suite of services which are offered to managers who are
responsible of large scale hi-tech projects or to their customers. The services, support projects in the
organizational aspects of their life-cycle, from launch time, during preventive maintenance and if needed
(and in many times it does) rescuing them when stuck. We described the scope of those org aspects and
explained that these are very important and too frequently left for intuition foundation of projects.

Bibliography
Hartmann, D. (2006, August 25). Interview: Jim Johnson of the Standish Group. http://www.infoq.com .
Klein, M. (2005). Retrieved May 2008, from Max's Project Management wisdom:
http://www.maxwideman.com/guests/balanced_blend/intro.htm
Stanleigh, M. (2006, march/april). From crisis to control: New standards for project management. Ivey
business journal .

About the Author

Daniel Ofek is a high-tech veteran with many years of large-scale, globally dispersed project
management in R&D and implementation, together with a variety of additional positions in marketing
and sales. With a B.A in Psychology and M.Sc. in Organizational Behavior, Daniel always combined his
technological and business professional skills with his passion for a keen understanding of human
dynamics in the work environments.