What belongs in the status report?

2 min.

Summary

A regular status report is important in the project. The status report is the basic information for the members of the steering committee. It is advisable to create a list of the typical contents of a report, which can be used in any presentation form. Also the status light colours must be well defined to ban the watermelon effect.

Addressees and occasion

A regular status report is important in the project. Regular means that a predefined cycle or on certain predefined occasions is created and delivered to the specified recipients. The objective is to present the progress of the project, to address decision-making needs and to point out risks and problems. The status report is the basic information for all members of the steering committee.

Content

Each status report should include the following:

  • Management Summary
  • Status light
  • Defined indicators (often performance, deadline and costs) and optionally their development in an Earned Value analysis
  • Achievements in the reporting period
  • Planned but unachieved in the period
  • Initiated or planned measures
  • Planned for the next reporting period / upcoming milestones
  • Top (3) risks
  • Necessary decisions

Status Light Colours and the Eternal Controversy

Again and again there are energetic discussions about which colour the status light should have. It often doesn’t make sense to take part in them and as a project manager you should have a clear and above all simple, easy to understand and valid definition for all levels at hand in order to be able to avert the watermelon effect (red inside, green outside). The following definition can be of help:

  • Red = Problems exist which can no longer be solved at the reporting level and which have a negative effect on the defined indicators (usually performance, deadline, costs) or which have already had an effect. Measures were not effective or not possible. There is a need for decision or action at the higher level (level above that of the reporting party).
  • Yellow = The defined indicators show plan deviations. Problems exist that the reporting person plans to solve. Measures have been or are being taken (list of measures required). The need for decision or action on the part of the higher authority is foreseeable if the measures taken do not have an effect.
  • Green = No problems at the reporting level. The defined indicators show no deviations from the plan.

A possible file naming convention for the status report can be found here.

Resources – what ugly word?!

3 min.

Summary

You know Germans have more words to say something similar but different. There is always a “sound” connected to similar words. An “Einsatzmittel” as an earlier DIN term and a synonym for the current term “resources” for the project. Resources in project management are personnel and material resources that are needed to carry out processes, work packages and projects. Many people say that to describe personnel or project staff as “Einsatzmittel” or even resources is not adequate. As already noted in my article “Six Interdependencies” resources / resources are limited available for a project.

Resource planning

In the planning phase of the project, the resources are displayed on the timeline in which they are available to the project. The aim is to anchor the resources in the project as briefly, evenly and as little as possible. Because the use of resources causes costs and above all also as with “Six Interdependencies” noted deficits in the line organization or in other projects.

Qualification for personnel and specification for material resources are the decisive characteristics of resource characteristics in resource management and the determination of demand.

The relation to agility

In agile project management, resource planning is just as relevant as in classical project management. Even if, for example, SCRUM teams are usually available full-time for the entire sprint length, they still represent a critical factor, since their capacity is to be used just as “optimally” as in classic PM by selecting the relevant user stories. Even in agile projects, factual resources such as available mainframe time slots are regarded as critical resources with the same dedication.

Resources and their sound

The introduction of the term resources and resource management has met with much criticism in the German speaking project manager community in connection with sounding lack of appreciation of the employees in the project and its qualification. The qualification required for project employees is subject to constant change and is certainly viewed differently today than it was when DIN was amended in 2009. The orientation towards employees has also changed considerably since then. Nevertheless, it can be stated that if the term “resource” is seen in connection with “one time usage”, this is inhumane and in any case cannot be seen as good. It would be careless and degrading. On the positive side, since it is regarded as inevitably lost, the term “resources” on natural resources such as crude oil or nature as such has had a positive impact in recent years on the term resource in German language. This also gives rise to hopes that a pure view of resources as labour/worker will increasingly lose ground. For the awareness that it can represent lost lifetime for any human, as long as it sees no sense behind the given task. What makes sense for the individual person, but also for society as a whole, will become an essential factor in resource management in project management, because even today, personnel for many tasks can simply no longer be found on the “market”.

How do I put together the best team?

2 min.

Summary

Team composition and understanding of roles are a success factor for successful project implementation. The Belbin model can be used to analyse and define an optimal mix of colleagues in the team with a wide variety of characteristics. My observation is that in international teams the mix is often easier to achieve due to the different cultural backgrounds. In teams without clear leadership authority it is even more elementary that the team members are deployed according to their strengths and the composition of the team is “optimal”.

Why do I have to take care of this?

In addition to my firm conviction that international and thus interculturally assembled teams are the best, we should take a closer look at why this is so. An analysis in an environment where leadership is given without epaulettes is particularly relevant. This is where optimally assembled teams become particularly important.

The origins of intercultural effectiveness with regard to team composition are determined by the cultural dimensions (e.g. according to Hofstede) and thus the stronger or weaker character of the people involved.

What does Belbin say?

Meredith Belbin presents nine roles in 1981, which should be taken into account when putting together a team. These nine roles are divided into three groups.

  • Action-oriented roles
    • Implementer = implements ideas and plans
    • Finisher = Ensures quality-conscious work and ensures that deadlines are met
    • Shaper = Encourages the team to improve. Eliminates problems.
  • Communication-oriented roles
    • Co-ordinator = Coordinates the team and promotes results orientation.
    • Teamworker = promotes team building
    • Resource Investigator = Promotes the exploitation of opportunities and forms a network in the project environment.
  • Knowledge-oriented roles
    • Plant = Shows ideas and possible solutions.
    • Monitor-Evaluator = Analyzes options for action for their feasibility.
    • Specialist = Brings in his expertise.

How does it work?

Team members and managers can identify the respective strengths and weaknesses in their own team by looking at the various roles and reflecting on them in order to use the potential of the individuals as well as the potential for the composition of teams. The team can be “balanced” through a mutual understanding and awareness of the characteristics. Surely the above mentioned roles will never be found in their pure form, because everyone assumes different roles depending on the project context or the project task, but nevertheless the understanding at least about the tendencies in the role characteristics for team cooperation helps.

From the “Tripple Constraints” to the “Six Interdependencies”

3 min.

Summary

The project objectives, the Magic Triangle, Tripple Constraint or also called Objectives Triangle is a consolidated representation of the project objectives. In the course of time, a further target variable has been added to represent stakeholder satisfaction, especially client satisfaction. The project is carried out in the context of organisations. At least one organization provides resources in the form of project personnel and material resources. A simple resource planning of the project optimized for the project isolated from the context is not target-oriented. Further each project has not only positive aspects, but causes also a damage. These are the “six interdependencies” which also apply to agile project management approaches.

Origin and Development

The project objective variables, the magic triangle, triple constraint or also called objectives triangle is a consolidated representation of the project objectives on the basis of the measurement variables

  • scope or service,
  • cost (hours or person days and costs) and
  • time (duration and dates).

In the course of time, a further target variable has been added, which is to represent stakeholder satisfaction, especially customer satisfaction. An extension to the magic square did not take place, but was seen as an extension of the magic triangle.

A magic square in connection with project management was mistakenly included in the literature, in which the quality was recorded separately. However, we must clearly distance ourselves from this, since quality is inherently anchored in the aforementioned goals.

We can therefore state that there are at least four indicators for the success of a project: scope, time, cost and stakeholder satisfaction.

Project success in the context of the environment

The project will be carried out in the context of organisations. At least one organisation provides resources in the form of project personnel and material resources. These are also limited and it is a component of the planning duties and thus criterion of the project success, how effectively the project personnel and how careful/limited the project resources are used for the entire organization. Because the project personnel is often entrusted with other tasks in the line and / or the coworkers are just as urgently looked for in other projects. The material resources such as an excavator become just as important for the course of the project on another construction site, for example. A simple resource planning of the project optimized for the project isolated from the context is not goal-prominent. The optimization needs which the project director, the project portfolio manager or the specialist departments specify for project resources are not only a one-sided process. Perhaps the consideration of this interdependence resource optimization in project success would also nip in the bud the thought construct of “thinking of project members only as inputs”.

Every project not only has positive aspects, but also causes damage. For example, an implementation of software may lead to job losses. Or an environmental protection project for the creation of a new nature reserve leads to the loss of a farmer’s arable land. This causes damage to the farmer, even if he is certainly compensated for it. So here we have a clear contribution to the project success in this case with a negative sign. We cannot simply deduct this negative contribution from the performance. Here we would make it too easy for ourselves, because the service is the desired dimension of the client and automatically does not take the damage into account.

In addition to scope, time, cost and stakeholder satisfaction, we have now established two further success criteria such as resource optimization and project damage.

We have thus outlined the “Six Interdependencies”.

Six Interdependencies

Agility and the reflection of the Six Interdependencies

Now you might think the magic triangle was never relevant for me as an agile product owner anyway, because the performance is never relevant due to “fix” number of story points that can be processed in a sprint. This is deceptive and not really true, because by prioritizing the backlog the most important performance is of course defined as “part” of the project. Reprioritizing, adding or removing stories at the start of each sprint deliberately changes the performance of the project. So the six interdependencies are also likely to be relevant in agile practice.

Activity list – why is that?

3 min.

Summary

After work package planning has been completed, the activity list is created as a table. It is the following method to be applied according to the work breakdown structure. The activity list is the link between the work breakdown structure and the schedule.
The real added value is the task list, as a means of reducing the project duration, in that the core team with its expertise and the project manager identifies as many logical sequences as possible that can contribute to reducing the project duration. Even in an agile environment, dependencies need to be identified and taken into account. Splitting user stories without creating additional dependencies is an important skill of the SCRUM team.

What is the task list?

After completion of the work package planning, the process list is created. It is a table of all work packages and contains essential information from the work package planning from which the scheduling is derived in the further course.

The work breakdown structure (WBS) does not yet have any information on the functional sequence (“technical” dependencies). The activity list helps here. In project management, it is a “bridge medium” between WBS and the schedule. The activity list is a table of activities in the project. Based on the activity list, the project manager can determine the start and end dates of the work packages.

What is the added value of the activity list?

After creating the task list, it can be estimated for the first time whether it is possible to achieve the project goal within the framework of the available resources. Now it is possible to add all costs and capacities that were considered necessary by the WP managers. However, it is not yet possible to draw conclusions about the sufficient availability of the necessary capacities, since normally there is no uniform utilization, but rather individual capacity peaks represent the problem. It is also possible to record which predecessors are necessary to start a work package.

The real added value is the task list, as a means of reducing the project duration, in which the core team with its expertise and the project manager identifies as many logical sequences as possible that can contribute to reducing the project duration. So a lazy use of the end-start sequence, because this is so convenient and easy to do, would cost the client project time and drive up project costs. Alternative sequences such as Beginning-Start help the project manager reduce the number of tasks on the critical path. This simplifies project control. The work package managers should not define the inputs for the sequence relationship in a quiet chamber, but communicate them to the core team (sub-project manager or project manager in the program), which then determines optimized sequences. The creation and discussion of the process list thus raises the potential for later optimization of the flow and schedule at an early stage.

Differentiation / forerunner to the schedule

From the sequence of the work packages it can be derived when which work package starts. Work packages that do not have a direct predecessor can start immediately. All others follow. An initial schedule can be derived from this. This, however, is not much more than an indication, since diverse framework conditions such as staff vacation, capacity limits of few available qualifications are not taken into account.

What is the task list in an agile environment?

Even in an agile environment, dependencies need to be identified and taken into account. Here, for example, SCRUM teams already take into account how dependencies between backlog items are represented in the overall backlog planning. The split of the backlog items can be done initially by the product owner, but should be validated by the entire agile team lastest during the initial sprint planning. Even within SCRUM teams, dependencies are constantly re-evaluated, since the continuous prioritization of user stories can possibly lead to additional identified dependencies. Splitting user stories without creating additional dependencies is an important skill of the SCRUM team. However, it should be taken into account that the user stories are not only split according to the technical paths, but that the functional questions are also taken into account. Otherwise, the agile approach will be counteracted. Because then an early and small-scale delivery of functions is no longer guaranteed. As already mentioned, this balancing act of splitting up is a core competence of the entire team.

Leading without shoulder epaulets but with emotional bond to the project

3 min.

– Bridge between old and new forms of project organization –

Summary

The central skill of our time: lateral leading, i.e. leading without authority to give instructions, will require more attention. While the classic project organizations are based on technical authority to issue directives or even disciplinary authority to issue directives, the lateral leadership and the (new) project organization, which has not yet been named, is based primarily on trust and understanding through the creation of a common thought construct in order to emotionally connect the possible divergent interests of the participants, at least for the duration of the project.

A former project of the author cannot be typified according to any of the classical forms of project organization such as pure (autonomous), matrix or staff organization. A mixed form of staff and matrix organisation is most likely to be identified, where clear delivery items are agreed, but only partially clearly assigned project members are integrated in the team. In principle, however, all project participants contribute their contribution to the delivery items, even those who do not report to them – not always in a technical sense.

Surely one could say that such a project should never be accepted as a project leader or will never be successful.

How can an emotional connection to the project be established here in such a non-binding project organisation?

Formal power relations are no guarantee for a stable emotional bond. Project team members must feel comfortable and supported in their project environment in order to feel committed. Every employee looks for fixed points of attachment that are decisive for the development of a sense of belonging. The good relationship with the project manager without authority to issue instructions, the friendly relationship with colleagues or the activity itself can be a fixed point of attachment for well-being and participation. Because those who see themselves as part of the project show more commitment and loyalty.

Team members are only strong if they have attractive and challenging project tasks. Furthermore, a sense of purpose and a comprehensible project goal are important for the project team member.

For project team members, motivation is determined by the fact that their opinion counts in the project and that they have the opportunity to help shape it. The mood and attitude of colleagues within a team can affect the motivation of the entire project team. Working together with motivated and committed colleagues is often stimulating and also creates a bond through integration into a community.

How do you take this lead when it matters?

The recognition received for the work performed has the greatest influence on the commitment of a project employee. Praise from the project manager creates satisfaction.

But the central skill of our time as a connecting element: lateral leading, i.e. leading without authority to instruct, will require more attention.

When and how do you let others guide you? Which rules apply in this interplay of forces? This can only be achieved through emotional bonding.

How do you exercise leadership in this scenario? How do you set goals correctly? How do you delegate tasks correctly? What motivates and what demotivates?

While the classical project organisations are based on technical authority or even disciplinary authority, the lateral leadership and the (new) project organisation not yet named with it is based mainly on trust and understanding through the creation of a common thought construct in order to connect the possible divergent interests of the participants at least for the duration of the project.

The power to issue disciplinary directives as a source of power no longer exists. Other sources of power such as expertise or information control are often tapped and internal power games are deliberately used. Here, however, it is necessary to find out whether this leads to success. Here the practical experiences from the author’s project can be reflected upon and lead to new insights into how emotional attachment can be achieved even beyond loose project organisation.

Lateral leadership in cross-departmental or cross-organisational situations always holds a certain potential for conflict. Conflicts of objectives and interests of the organizational units involved, but also different ways of thinking and behaving of the persons involved cannot be excluded. Here it is to be discussed whether more conflicts are to be determined than in a classical project organization.

GPM Barcamp „Leadership in projects“

3 min.

Summary

On 27.09.2019 the third GPM Barcamp “Leading in the project” will take place in Fulda. This unconference has established itself, where each participant can actively suggest topics to benefit as much as possible from the ideas and knowledge of our participants, who have very different functions and come from very different companies.

What’s a barcamp?

Since many participants can come to a bar camp, large group methods can also be used for moderation. Usually the open space method is used. Participants advertise their own topics on the Barcamp and create one group each. In this group possible topics are prepared or knowledge and experiences are exchanged. The results will be reflected at the end of the Barcamp. The Open Space method can produce a large variety of concrete measures in one day. And spread a lot of knowledge and generate motivation.

On a barcamp, little is done with PowerPoint but much with pens, packing paper, adhesive tape and flipcharts. Also the collection and distribution of the results needs a good structure.

At each Barcamp we have held a vernissage at the end of the day, which presented the results briefly and concisely. This was done with the help of pin boards, where the audience passed by in small groups and had details explained to them.

Principles of the Barcamp

  1. Whoever comes, these are the right people: Whether one or 20 people follow your invitation to a session/working group does not matter. Everyone is important and motivated.
  2. Whatever happens, it is the only thing that could happen – the unplanned and unexpected is often creative and useful. Free yourself from expectations as to what should be.
  3. It starts when the time is ripe – energy (not punctuality) is important.
  4. Past is past: Sometimes a topic is quickly through. Don’t artificially prolong it just so that time goes by. Use the time to go to another group or do something else you enjoy.
  5. And not over is not-over: Sometimes a topic only really gets going at the end. Find a free space and write down on the timetable where others can find you.

The two laws

“Freedom of choice and self-responsibility.”

The law of the two feet is an expression of freedom of choice and self-responsibility: the only binding point. You go to the sessions (topics) that interest you most – and you stay in a group only as long as you think it makes sense. So as long as you can learn or contribute. If you can’t learn or contribute anything, leave it. The application of the law is easy: you don’t have to justify or apologize.

“Of bumblebees and butterflies.”„

When people apply the law of two feet, they sometimes show behaviors that could be metaphorically expressed by the terms “bumblebee” and “butterfly”.

“Bumblebees” buzz from group to group and form a bridge between the themes through group changes. The “butterflies” flutter and pause after contributing to the small group. They follow what they feel like at the moment and are just there.

What will be worked out?

All topics which are of interest to you in the context of leadership in the project or which you can give active input on.

Führung im Projekt

How do I register?

The Barcamp will be held in German language. Registration here. For GPM members 50€ and for non-members 100€. A free cancellation of participation is only possible until 13.09.2019.

Escalation Rules

2 min.

Summary

Escalations are nothing bad in the project or program. They are the demand for spontaneously necessary or not yet taken decisions in a defined way – provided that a regulated governance is established.

Rules

The facts of the case should always be described and agreed upon by both parties (customer and contractor).

Contents of the escalation

  • Precise description of the facts so that they can be understood directly by third parties.
  • In what area and at what time did the facts arise?
  • Who put the facts on the agenda in which reporting medium (e.g. weekly status report)?
  • What has been done to avoid the original risk or problem, to solve it when it occurs or to mitigate it?
  • Who was involved in the solution search?
  • How time-critical is the situation or by when is a solution needed?
  • Identification of the degree of risk and evaluation of the impact.
  • Which activities are proposed for the solution?
  • Description of the solution approach with estimation of the timeline, the resources and the name of the person responsible for the solution.

Communication

  • Escalation always via e-mail. Mails that do not contain all of the above should be returned.
  • Clear mention of the word “ESCALATION” in the subject line as well as in the mail itself.

Further information on the communication rules can also be found here.

Escalation steps

  • All possible measures should be taken to resolve an escalation issue at the lowest level. Before starting an escalation process, the consequences should be clearly articulated.
  • At each stage, an attempt should be made between both parties to find a solution. If this is not possible, the escalation issue should be passed on to the next escalation stage after prior agreement and taking into account the number of escalation days. (Escalation days = length of stay in working days at an escalation level)
  • The project manager is responsible for solving the problem and remains so at every escalation stage.
Escalation Pyramid

International project portfolio management taking cultural differences into account

19 min.

Summary

Despite all standardization, special consideration – especially in international project portfolios – must be given to cultural differences among the project participants. The differences should at least be “intercepted”, if not used to advantage. The focus of a project portfolio manager’s work in an international project environment is shifting somewhat away from classic portfolio management tasks such as standardization towards cultural moderation and catalysis. Catalysis in the sense of cleansing intercultural differences and at the same time accelerating intercultural learning.

If there are problems with cooperation in international projects, these usually emerge more strongly than in national projects. Nevertheless, a well-managed international project is praised with more success than a purely national project. With the involvement of a “cultural agent”, these positive synergy effects can be leveraged.

However, not every problem of international projects has cultural origins.

But there are also intercultural problems that are not seen as such.

Cultural differences in international project portfolios

This article is an excerpt of my project study work 10 years ago in the context of the certification as Senior Project Manager (GPM).

Already in 2002, the GPM’s “International Project Work” Section conducted a survey of internationally experienced German project managers and identified the following important problem areas [Hoffmann, H.-E. et al., International Project Management, Munich 2004, pp. 13-14]:

  • Cultural differences
  • Communication / Language
  • Legal and political aspects
  • Technology / Infrastructure
  • Personal aspects

The greatest importance was attached to the cultural differences.

Differentiation of international differences

This paper does not deal with differences in laws, norms, guidelines or standards of the project business. Although these may also be influenced by the cultural conditions in different countries. Here only the differences or effects of culture on the project are to be considered. Culture is defined as “the change of nature through human actions and expressions and, based on this, the totality of life and work forms of a human group (people, class, religious community, etc.)”.
[Wissen Media Verlag, https://www.wissen.de/lexikon/kultur-allgemein]

The concept of culture

Keller defines culture on the basis of various characteristics [Keller v., E.: Management in foreign cultures: goals, results and methodological problems of culture-comparative management research, Stuttgart, 1982, p. 114ff]:

  • Culture is man-made. It is a product of collective social action and individual thinking.
  • Culture is supraindividual and a social phenomenon that outlasts the individual.
  • Culture is learned and transmitted through symbols.
  • Culture controls behaviour through norms, rules and codes of conduct.
  • Culture strives for inner consistency and integration.
  • Culture is an instrument for adaptation to the environment.
  • Culture is adaptively adaptable in the long term.

Hofstede presents culture as a group-specific, collective phenomenon of shared values. [Hofstede, G./Bond, M. H.: The Confucius connection: from cultural roots to econonmic growth, in: Organizational Dynamics, Spring 1988, S. 21]

The cultural programming of a project employee / cultural layers

How does culture influence people, and why can Hofstede speak of a “collective programming of the mind”?
A person is always born into a culture and absorbs it directly. Cultivation”, i.e. cultural programming, takes place as early as the baby age – at the age of 7, most of the culture is already internalized. [Dahl, Stephan (2000) “Introduction to Intercultural Communication”, from the book by Stephan Dahl: „Intercultural Skills for Business“, ECE, London, 2000]

People are suited to different cultural strata in different stages of life depending on their social environment: [Hoffmann, H.-E. et al., International Project Management, Munich 2004, p. 17]

  • The innermost and thus first layer originates from childhood and is characterized by
    • the country,
    • the social class,
    • the ethnic group,
    • the religious faith or also
    • the region
    • where they grow up.
  • The second layer is made up of vocational training. It often turns out that people from the same occupational group but with different cultural backgrounds understand each other better than people from the same country but from different occupational groups.
  • The third and last layer is made up of company-specific norms and behaviours. This is the so-called layer of corporate culture.

Since the majority of people often only move within one cultural group – and a confrontation with another culture takes place only superficially, if at all – “cultural programming” is rarely conscious either. International project management is a pioneer of change here. According to my own experience, only after typical project durations of more than 9 months do questions comparing cultures become more strongly discussed. After about 3 months in the course of the project, the respective advantages of the different cultures involved are adapted. After about 6 months, the first “frustrations” appear in the cultural field. After 9 months the cultural aspects are considered more strongly and also really considered. This means that for project durations of less than 9 months, a mature understanding of culture cannot be expected among those involved in the project.
The project team member/leader continues to behave according to his cultural background and interprets all incidents according to his cultural programming. Thus, the behaviour of foreign project staff is often dismissed as “funny”, as it cannot be explained by their own cultural programming.
An open discussion with another culture is therefore subliminally problematic because it can shake one’s own value system and challenge the questioning of basic values. It therefore seems at least understandable that many project participants avoid this confrontation to its full extent and withdraw into the familiarity of their own culture.
This confrontation is unavoidable for project leaders who live in another country for a longer period of time. It takes about 12 months just to master the obvious rituals and behaviour under the assumption that the local language is spoken fluently. [Dahl, Stephan (2000) “Introduction to Intercultural Communication”, from the book by Stephan Dahl: “Intercultural Skills for Business”, ECE, London, 2000]

Another approach without exact origin provides for the following “culture shock phases”:

  • Phase 1 refers to euphoria, travel preparation, travel fever and curiosity about the other country. It usually doesn’t last long.
  • Phase 2 is the time of cultural shock when everyday life begins in the new environment.
  • Phase 3 is called acculturation, i.e. cultural adaptation, when one learns to live under new conditions, when one already knows some of the foreign values and integrates them into one’s own behaviour.
  • Phase 4 is then the mental stability finally gained, which can take on 3 different forms. Either
    • Strangers continue to feel strange
    • or in the new environment just as well as at home, so can live in both cultures
    • or more comfortable in a strange place.

The length of the phases is variable and depends on the duration of the stay in the foreign country.
Conversely, foreigners are also experienced by insiders (locals) in 4 phases:

  1. Curiosity means positive interest in strangers.
  2. Ethnocentrism means that insiders judge guests/newcomers/foreigners according to their own standards. One’s own little world is seen as the centre and pivot of the world. Ethnocentrism is related to a culture the same as egocentrism is related to the person.
  3. Polycentrism means that different people have to be measured with different standards, as well as the ability to understand strangers on the background of their own norms. A moderate form of multiculturalism.
  4. Xenophilia means that in a foreign culture everything is seen as better than at home.

The cultural programming of a culture

A culture is a group of people who all have the same or at least very similar cultural programming. This means that they almost all behave according to the norms and values of the culture, and measure the behavior of other people against these norms and values. Of course, this does not mean that all persons within a culture are totally identical – they behave only relatively similarly compared to behaviour in another culture, not necessarily compared to their own culture.

Models of cultural contexts

Various models have been developed in the search for explanatory patterns that help to understand the logical connections between norms and rules of a culture. “A model is a simplification of reality. A model can never be complete because it is always a simplification and cannot reflect all aspects of reality. For this reason, there are also different models for intercultural cooperation, each of which represents different aspects. For a project situation it is therefore helpful to be able to compare several models. [Hoffmann, H.-E. et al., International Project Management, Munich 2004, p. 32]

Cultural levels according to Edgar Schein

Schein distinguishes three cultural levels [Hoffmann, H.-E. et al., International Project Management, Munich 2004, p. 22]:

  • The first level contains the directly perceptible characteristics such as clothing, food, music or manners. Although these are visible, they require interpretation.
  • The second level consists of values and norms that provide guidelines for behaviour in a culture. These are also persons of the respective culture also only partly conscious. Cultural members often assume that these guidelines must also be identical in other cultures.
  • The third level contains beliefs that are so self-evident that they are ignored.

The cultural dimension “context reference” by Edward Hall

Hall compares cultures with regard to the strength of their contextual reference [Hoffmann, H.-E. et al., International Project Management, Munich 2004, p. 25]. Under context a situation or message can be understood anything that could be related to it (e.g. tone of voice and experienced or inexperienced colleague) [http://changingminds.org/explanations/culture/hall_culture.htm]. The degree of influence of the context on a situation is cultural and therefore interesting for Hall to define. A culture with a high contextual reference is a culture in which the context enjoys a high degree of attention [Hoffmann, H.-E. et al., Internationales Projektmanagement, München 2004, p. 25].

“Gifts are a sign of appreciation and are expected in cultures with a strong contextual reference to business initiation.” [Hoffmann, H.-E. et al., International Project Management, Munich 2004, p. 65]

Cultural dimensions according to Hofstede

In order to capture culture, a wide variety of approaches were shaped and studies carried out. One of the most important and yet trend-setting studies, which has come into its own in the meantime, records the following four most important dimensions (see table at the end of the article): Hofstede study. The higher the value, the more pronounced the index.): [Hofstede, G.: Intercultural co-operation in organisations, in: Management Decisions, 5-6/1982, p. 53ff; Index and classification: http://www.clearlycultural.com/geert-hofstede-cultural-dimensions/ ; Hoffmann, H.-E. et al., Internationales Projektmanagement, München 2004, p. 26ff]:

  • Power distance: The power distance expresses how high the acceptance is to accept power differences.
  • Individualism versus collectivism: Here it is described whether the individuals see themselves as individuals and independent or as members of a group/culture.
  • Masculinity versus Femininity: Masculinity in a culture is recognized as performance-related or success-related and self-confident. A feminine culture, on the other hand, pays great attention to interpersonal relationships and cooperation.
  • Uncertainty avoidance: Threat from uncertain or unknown situations and their avoidance.

The other dimensions are descriptive or approach supporting dimensions, which were added in 1987:

  • Time concepts: Here it is defined how strongly a culture is oriented towards the present, the past or the future.
  • Conceptions of space: Here it is recorded how socially distanced or introverted members of a culture behave.
  • Contextuality: There is a direct or indirect communication. This means how much context or non-verbal communication is anchored in the culture.
  • Cognitive processes: How are the thought patterns, the way of thinking, judging and conclusions pronounced in a community. E.g. Analytical, rational versus synthetic, intuitive.
  • Religious Concepts: Depending on their religious beliefs, the respective cultural members tend to regard their fate as self-controlled or under foreign control.

Effects of cultures on the project business: In the following, the first four cultural dimensions will be used to record the differences in the international project business.

Power distance

If employees from different cultures are deployed in a project and thus follow different power distances, different aspects have to be considered. My Indian colleagues have a higher power distance than my Scandinavian or German colleagues. This means that an Indian colleague expects more individual instructions and wants to make fewer decisions without consulting his project manager in order to be in his comfort zone. This should be applied up to operational guidelines with which a Mexican colleague as well as the Indian colleague feels “more comfortable” with very detailed guidelines, e.g. when preparing a status report. In comparison, induction training should be more detailed and systematic – based on the same project experience. An Indian colleague feels misplaced in a strongly cooperative project structure and expects clear structures and thus stability in his cultural structures.

Individualism versus collectivism

This dimension deals with the setting of priorities within society on the individual or on the group. In an individualistically pronounced society, the individual is at the forefront. In projects with employees from different cultures who represent different individualism indices (degrees of individuality), measures should be taken to support team building. Cultures such as the USA are considered very individualistic, which means that project staff from this country should be absorbed particularly intensively in the team spirit. Asian employees need intensive feedback continuously during the course of the project. They are dependent on feedback from many colleagues. They will actively demand feedback from all sides. It is advisable to include a feedback round in weekly or 2-weekly meetings / telephone calls that are already planned. North American projects required more portfolio-driven coordination rounds than, for example, Asian projects. The approach and coordination in Asian projects is more culturally rooted.

Masculinity versus Femininity

The Hofstede study found that the differences between women and men in this dimension were less pronounced. The cultural differences among men are more pronounced towards the poles versus . In my Scandinavian colleagues, the focus on interpersonal relationships and quality of life was very clear. Pressure to perform is not conducive in such environments, even rather harmful. The target values of a project are usually defined differently there than in comparison to projects initiated in German-speaking countries. This could be particularly clearly determined with the sensitive topic location dissolutions. Topics which were especially discussed differed between the sites in Sweden and Switzerland. In Switzerland, the focus was on the effectiveness of the closure (short project duration) compared to Sweden, where particular emphasis was placed on employee-oriented scheduling.

Uncertainty avoidance

Uncertainty avoidance can be defined as the degree to which the members of a culture feel threatened by uncertain or unknown situations. The differences can be seen in dealing with these threats. Societies with a strong tendency to avoid uncertainty seek to influence uncertainty through rules, laws, codes of conduct and security measures. Accordingly, particular emphasis should be placed on risk identification in countries with low uncertainty avoidance. In “emerging countries” such as Singapore, Hong Kong and Indonesia, the project environment should place emphasis on detailed risk identification. Project managers from these countries tend to overlook or ignore project risks. Project managers in countries with a high degree of uncertainty avoidance, such as Portugal, quickly identify risks on their own, but are more likely to have problems working out risk avoidance. This means that these project managers tend to bring the same risks to the table without taking the necessary measures. These are more “blocked” by the identified risks compared to other cultural circles.

Time concepts

Essentially, two concepts of time were identified in Hofstede’s study. The linear and the cyclical conception of time. In simple terms, cultures in industrial societies are more subject to a linear concept of time than cultures, e.g. in Asia. The linear approach represents the idea that what was in the past is over forever. In contrast, the cyclical time approach is based on the assumption that there is a constant change between day and night, moons, seasons and meal cycles. This approach is based on the assumption that a current performance weakness can be compensated in the future. These different approaches were actually identified in my portfolio. The degree to which objectives have been achieved and, above all, forecasts are strongly influenced by the cultural perception of time in the project manager’s home country. My Asian project managers are strongly guided by the approach that the current performance weakness of the project can be compensated in the near future. Generally speaking, project progress reports are more optimistic in cultures with a cyclical view of time than in cultures with a linear understanding of time such as the USA and Central Europe.
Another difference in the field of time perception can be observed in sequential or synchronous thinking. This means that in sequential thinking the idea prevails that things should be done one after the other. In contrast to the synchronous concept of time, which is based on the assumption that several things can be done simultaneously. In my portfolio, I was able to recognize this tendency not culturally, but person-specifically. This means that I could derive the differences in phase models, for example, less from their origin than from the personality of the project manager.
The German culture says: Everyone can use his time most efficiently if he has to wait for others as little as possible. The Spanish coinage leads: Everyone can make the most efficient use of their time when the issues at hand are closed in a meeting and no further discussion is necessary. In Spain, the one who breaks off a meeting to keep the next appointment is considered rude. [Hoffmann, H.-E. et al., International Project Management, Munich 2004, p. 20]

Contextuality

The distinction here is made whether in the cultural sphere much context prevails in the spoken (e.g. non-verbal communication; “reading between the lines”) or whether more direct, explicit communication prevails. My European project managers are much more direct / “blunt” in their communication than colleagues from Asia.

Cognitive Processes

Essentially, a distinction can be made here between western and eastern thinking styles. In the West the analytical style prevails and in the East (very pronounced in Asia) the synthetic style. In the West, the problem is broken down, in the East the problem is captured holistically and interlinkingly. Rational and systematic thinking style in the West in comparison to the intuitive and holistic thinking pattern in the East.
Cognitive orientation can also be found in the diversity of problem-solving styles. One of my Indian colleagues is strongly influenced by the “encircling thought”, which means that the problem is surrounded and encircled holistically. Progress is slower, but ultimately more complete and conclusive. In contrast, a German project manager breaks down the problem into its individual elements more strongly and solves subproblems for subproblems. Individual progress can be recognized more quickly, but may require subsequent holistic correction.

Religious concepts

Depending on religious beliefs, different cultures tend to see their fate as foreign or self-directed or controlled. I could not confirm the effects on religious beliefs in my portfolio, since cultural circles with a typically foreign-controlled background nevertheless produce project managers with a strong self-drive. It seems that changes have taken place since the study was conducted or that I have identified exceptional cases.

The cultural dimensions of Fons Trompenaars

Another cultural model was developed by Fins Tromenaars and Charles Hamptopn-Turner with the following seven dimensions: [Hoffmann, H.-E. et al., International Project Management, Munich 2004, p. 29ff]

  • Universalism / Particularism: In universal cultures (e.g. Anglo-Saxon and German-speaking countries, Holland and Scandinavia) all people are treated according to the same rules and laws. In particularist cultures, on the other hand, rules and laws are respected by one person, unless an important person would be disadvantaged. The same applies to concluded contracts: [ Hoffmann, H.-E. et al., International Project Management, Munich 2004, p. 67]. In particularist cultures, exceptions to contracts are made on a case-by-case basis. Universalistic cultures do not allow this.
  • Individualism and collectivism: Identical with Dimension von Hofstede.
  • Emphasis on emotions: This is a comparative measurement of how feelings such as joy, sadness or commitment are shown. Project team members from the Middle East raise their voices to emphasize your emphasis. Asian project workers are associated with a loud voice, anger and lack of control.
  • Specific / diffuse cultures: Specific cultures (e.g. Anglo-Saxon countries, Scandinavia and Holland) clearly define roles and assign concrete situations or localities to them. In such cultures, the role of the superior is not necessarily transferred to another (e.g. private) environment. In diffuse cultures (e.g. Arab countries and Africa), assuming a role means that it also applies to a change of environment.
  • Performance versus origin: In performance-oriented cultures (e.g. Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian countries), superiors are respected who perform their tasks competently and demonstrate adequate professional competence. In cultures based on origin (e.g. China and Malaysia), on the other hand, the project manager receives his status through his title, age or family affiliation.
  • The relationship to time: In polychronic cultures (e.g. Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, France), time is an unlimited, simultaneous commodity that can stretch. One plans, but can easily adapt the plans. Several things are done simultaneously. For this reason, one can observe a French project team member approaching a meeting and important telephone calls in parallel. In monchronic cultures (Saxon, northern and central European countries), on the other hand, time is considered a limited commodity that must be carefully planned and adhered to. Work is more sequential, i.e. linear.
  • Relationship to nature: Indoor controlled cultures (e.g. Anglo-Saxon countries, Northern Europe) want to keep their environment and environment under control. This is closely linked to the belief that one can influence one’s destiny through action. Externally controlled cultures (e.g. Arab, African and Asian countries) shape people in such a way that they see themselves as part of nature and should therefore adapt it to their environment.

Nonverbal Communication

Non-verbal communication and body language is not a direct cultural dimension, but a collection of behaviours.
A direct connection with a cultural dimension as described above does not seem to exist, at least not directly. Basically one can assume, however, that in Asia in particular body language is rather subdued, whereas in Southern Europe body language is used more.
It is therefore advisable to familiarise oneself with the most common symbols before interaction.

Avoidance of intercultural misunderstandings

Intercultural competence is defined as the ability to move successfully in cultural areas other than one’s own. The acting persons should be able to understand the ideas, motives and problems of interlocutors from other cultural areas and to react appropriately. However, since there are still no clear findings in science about the key factors for human adaptation to foreign cultures, there is also no clear understanding of what intercultural competence ultimately consists of.
If a project manager or project member perceives a violation of rules by a person of another culture, his conclusion should not be “he violates the rules”, but “he violates our rules”. [Hoffmann, H.-E. et al., International Project Management, Munich 2004, pp. 18-19]

“So it’s important to understand the behavior of others in the rules of your culture.” [Hoffmann, H.-E. et al., International Project Management, Munich 2004, p. 19]

Cultural misunderstandings can also be reduced by applying universal communication rules:

  • Meta-communication: Meta-communication is communication via communication. It is about communicating the meaning and intention of what is said by talking about the rules and patterns according to which communication takes place.
    • “My intention is to … experience …”
    • “How would you proceed in your culture if you had that intention?”
  • Active listening: Active listening means picking up the others in their emotional world. Active listening includes the following techniques:
    • Repeating the heard facts – the listener reproduces what the speaker says in his own words. “You mean that…”
    • Speaking to feelings – The listener tries to express in words what feelings and sensations he has perceived in the speaker.
    • “I have the impression you enjoy it.”
    • Inquiry – Inquiry offers the opportunity to present the problem situation even more clearly and to understand it better. “What do you mean by…?

Promoting qualities for learning intercultural competence:

  • Ambiguity tolerance the ability to cope with unstructured and contradictory situations
  • problem-solving skills
  • Empathic ability to read out the empathy, concerns and interests of others from vague hints, gestures or other signals.
  • Tolerance of frustration to deal adequately with errors, misunderstandings and failures.
  • Conflict ability and conflict tolerance
  • Readiness to learn with curiosity
  • Strong individual-cultural identity awareness of one’s own cultural imprint as a prerequisite for dealing with people from other countries/cultures
  • Distances ability to view oneself from a certain distance
  • Humor, the ability to laugh at oneself.

Prejudices and stereotypes

“A collection of information on what behaviours and norms typically prevail in a culture is called a stereotype. [Hoffmann, H.-E. et al., International Project Management, Munich 2004, p. 19] Stereotypes help people to interpret the behaviour of people from another culture.

This in turn allows the classification of further information.

The prejudice arises when the embossed stereotype is no longer changed by new information.

Nobody meets the standards in all points, some even deviate strongly from each other [Hoffmann, H.-E. et al., International Project Management, Munich 2004, p. 21]:

Population distribution and stereotypes

Moreover, some countries are in such a state of flux that there are clear cultural differences between parts of the younger and older generations, such as the former communist states. [Hoffmann, H.-E. et al., International Project Management, Munich 2004, p. 33]

Country Power Distance IndividualismMasculinityUncertainty avoidance
Malaysia 104 26 50 36
Guatemala 95 6 37 101
Panama 95 11 44 86
Philippines 94 32 64 44
Mexico 81 30 69 82
Venezuela 81 12 73 76
China 80 20 66 40
Egypt 80 38 52 68
Iraq 80 38 52 68
Kuwait 80 38 52 68
Lebanon 80 38 52 68
Libya 80 38 52 68
Saudi Arabia 80 38 52 68
United Arab Emirates 80 38 52 68
Ecuador 78 8 63 67
Indonesia 78 14 46 48
Ghana 77 20 46 54
India 77 48 56 40
Nigeria 77 20 46 54
Sierra Leone 77 20 46 54
Singapore 74 20 48 8
Brazil 69 38 49 76
France 68 71 43 86
Hong Kong 68 25 57 29
Poland 68 60 64 93
Colombia 67 13 64 80
El Salvador 66 19 40 94
Turkey 66 37 45 85
Belgium 65 75 54 94
Ethiopia 64 27 41 52
Kenya 64 27 41 52
Peru 64 16 42 87
Tanzania 64 27 41 52
Thailand 64 20 34 64
Zambia 64 27 41 52
Chile 63 23 28 86
Portugal 63 27 31 104
Uruguay 61 36 38 100
Greece 60 35 57 112
South Korea 60 18 39 85
Iran 58 41 43 59
Taiwan 58 17 45 69
Czech Republic 57 58 57 74
Spain 57 51 42 86
Pakistan 55 14 50 70
Japan 54 46 95 92
Italy 50 76 70 75
Argentina 49 46 56 86
South Africa 49 65 63 49
Hungary 46 55 88 82
Jamaica 45 39 68 13
United States 40 91 62 46
Netherlands 38 80 14 53
Australia 36 90 61 51
Costa Rica 35 15 21 86
Germany 35 67 66 65
United Kingdom 35 89 66 35
Switzerland 34 68 70 58
Finland 33 63 26 59
Norway 31 69 8 50
Sweden 31 71 5 29
Ireland 28 70 68 35
New Zealand 22 79 58 49
Denmark 18 74 16 23
Israel 13 54 47 81
Austria 11 55 79 70

The higher the value, the more pronounced the index.

Project Early Warning System in 10 questions

6 min.

Summary

In project portfolio environments or even for project directors themselves, it is often not easy to get clear signals from the projects. This is to check whether they are on the right track. Often quite extensive and complex project portfolio control systems are used to determine exactly this. Practice shows that due to the heterogeneity of the projects (very large vs. very small, in country X or country Y, in business area A or B) these are not available the same number of reliable measurement points for the most diverse projects. This report shows how 10 identical simple questions provide reliable early warnings for a wide range of project sizes and types.

Why do I need a simple project early warning system?

I have already described another early warning here, which has completely different measured variables. Depending on the usage, one these approaches should be applied. In a company with highly standardized methods, processes and tools in project management, the next logical step on the way to even more quality for projects is to check the compliance of these specifications. The project management handbook describes processes, provides templates and tools to handle all types and sizes of projects in a standardized way. Even the specific usage of standard applications such as MS Project is often described and specified in detail. Compliance criteria therefore arise in the areas of policies, processes, templates and tools.

Because efficient and above all uniform methods are often lacking, which could quickly identify core problems of projects (and can quickly avert them), senior management – despite high standardization in project management – is often surprised by projects which

  • are behind schedule,
  • overrun the budget
  • and do not achieve the agreed scope

which in turn leads to

  • Customer dissatisfaction and
  • not achieving the business goals

An early warning system (EWS) contains questions on the project status, which are to be answered monthly by the project managers in the form of a questionnaire.

Objectives of the early warning system

The objective of the Early Warning System is to develop and/or integrate a set of tools and processes that quickly identify potential project problem areas and provide a meaningful tool for escalation and problem resolution as long as they are still available in a simple form to avoid surprises.

The detail goals can be:

  • Introduction of a simple, scalable system that is easy to maintain through state of the art technology.
  • Introduction of a system that enables problems in projects to be identified and eliminated in the quotation phase, start up phase and run & maintain phase.
  • Introduction of processes and tools that cannot be bypassed and ignored; to confirm compliance to processes and tools.
  • Use the EWS results to extend existing reports with the EWS information.
  • Ensure tight time-boxing from problem identification to resolution.
  • Develop a management communication plan to continuously inform senior management about the consistent implementation and enforcement of EWS tools, processes and reporting across the organization.

The success factors of the early warning system

In order to ensure a global early warning system, the following success factors must be observed:

  • Timely and accurate evaluation of program/project status related to key indicators.
  • Line management with profit & loss responsibility for programs and projects is responsible for responding to negative responses and tracking actions until completed.
  • The questions must be examined intensively by senior management.
  • The questions must be used globally unchanged in all possibly existing regional systems.
  • Program and project managers answer these questions monthly for each project.
  • Standard reports are made available to program/project sponsors to support action tracking.

Objectives of the early warning system

The following questions represent a selection for an early warning system. When adapting for specific organisations, the relative deviations are also adapted in the form of numerical values. The so-called risk response indicates the response option, which leads to a forced commenting of the entry and serves as an “alarm signal” in a consolidated evaluation.

#QuestionRisk Response
1Did the last customer survey score more than 3.5 points (out of 5)?
No
2Is the project plan updated and recalculated weekly with work done and remaining work?
No
3Are all approved change requests mapped in the project plan?
Yes
4Does the staffing run according to the planning in the project plan?Yes
5Has joint project governance been adopted?Yes
6Has a steering committee been held in the last 30 days?
No
7Is the Schedule Variance > 10%?
Yes
8Is the cost variance > 10%?
Yes
9Has the project done any work outside the approved project defined scope? Yes
10Have all deliverables performed so far been accepted?No

In a database system, the questions in the “Answer” field must be answered with “Yes/No”.

If a question is answered positively, then this question is finally answered.

If the answer to a question is negative, the project managers are asked to enter measures to solve the negative situation.

  • “Action” field: Enter measure to solve the negative situation
  • “Responsible” field: Select the name of the person responsible for the action.
  • “Planned date” field: Enter the date by which the task is to be completed (planned date).
  • “Status” field: Select the status of the action.

The results are ideally presented in a company-wide web-based EWS tool to create central reports and evaluations.

The link with a project management handbook questionnaire

If (worldwide) uniform guidelines, processes, tools and templates are available in the project management area, an extension of the questionnaire should be considered.

A detailed survey should be carried out initially at the start of the project and in the case of significant project changes by means of a detailed self-assessment questionnaire, which clearly goes beyond the following possible questions on the EWS supplement.

#QuestionRisk Response
1Was the project definition template from the project management handbook used?No
2Has the estimation procedure and the estimation templates been used according to the project management handbook?No
3Is there a weekly Earned Value calculation based on the current project plan?No
4Are problems, risks, acceptances, change requests continuously recorded in the template from the project management handbook?No

Personal observations on the EWS

I was able to observe the following findings during the supervision of project managers on the subject of EWS and the evaluations:

  • Despite very precise and unambiguous questions, additional explanations (ideally in the form of a manual) to the project managers and, in the other direction, comments on specific issues by the project managers are often required. Uniform guidelines by the central authority for specific non-standardized cases are to be ensured. This ensures the quality of the early warning system in these cases as well.
  • The project management handbook supplementary questions confirmed that only project and program managers who had already been trained could provide meaningful answers. It is better to not ask as a mandatory question in order to not dilute the quality of the statements.

When analysing the adaptation of a comparable system in an organisation, the following basic considerations arise:

  • The first questions can be transferred almost completely to other companies.
  • Such a supplementary (parallel) reporting can only be enforced by global guidelines. Regional or even departmental initiatives would experience too much resistance.
  • An automatic notification and reminder for the creation of the EWS report must be provided.
  • A monthly frequency may prove to be too low for companies with smaller projects on average.
  • An automatic analysis of the results is required, taking into account the additional manual comments. An analysis without consideration of the additional comments results in a wrong picture of the overall evaluation.
  • As with all other reporting, it should also be noted here that an early warning system can also be excluded for particularly confidential projects / customer environments.
  • The reports must be mapped IT-technically in such a way that they (almost) cannot be circumvented and ignored; in order to confirm the compliance to processes and tools. These should, for example, be linked to the filing of the official status report.
  • The EWS results should be integrated into existing reports in order to inform the classic addressees of the project status report about the additional status of the early warning system. This ensures that this group of recipients also carries out a direct or indirect quality assurance of the information.
  • The results of the early warning system should be regularly compared with complete project or programme audits in order to validate and continuously improve the meaningfulness.
  • In a project, the early warning system must not be triggered initially by the first filing of a project status report, but by the creation of project numbers or project codes, for example.
  • The early warning system should be introduced in stages. First, only projects with high project volumes or complexity should be included in the scope (it is important to apply hard criteria). This also allows the analysts to better manage the project manager’s support efforts.