– Bridge between old and new forms of project organization –
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.
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
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.
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.
It starts when the time is ripe – energy (not punctuality) is important.
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.
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.
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.
I was asked how best to “follow” my blog. Social networks like Linkedin, Facebook, XING etc. don’t always show all posts of all people you follow. Would also be too much of a good thing. Because you don’t want to see each post divided x times more than once. How do I make sure that I don’t miss an important post?
Why do I not see all contributions?
LinkedIn and Co. only show a selection of my posts on your timeline. There you will preferably see those posts that have been commented, marked as interesting or clicked.
Subscribe to blog posts sensibly
I know the following meaningful and free ways. The first alternative is to subscribe to my newsletter and the subscriber receives 1-2 times a month a mail with all articles of my blog.
The second alternative is to install an RSS app on your mobile phone or to choose a free provider like TheOldReader.com and add my RSS feed there.
The third alternative is to use the free service IFTTT to make a query on my blog and then directly save the results to Pocket (see also “Self-organization“) or another service.
Do you know other good alternatives? Please add them in the comment below.
I’m always asked how I organize myself with regard to my private and business tasks and how I manage my information. This article gives a brief overview of the tools and principles I use every day.
I manage my tasks depending on my project environment. If I am in a smaller team, I mainly work paper-based regarding my task management. The basic principle of this system is based on Stephen Covey’s weekly planning from [The 7 Ways to Effectiveness*]. I created the week plan in this file and I print a DIN A4 sheet landscape for each week of the year. I place the sheets in the lovingly configured Roterfaden-Taschenbegleiter. The principle behind the Covey template is first to note the important things / strategic goals and the associated tasks in the weekly plan (left column). Appointments and the derived tasks then turned into the daily planning. It is important to work with pencil, because rescheduling is often in demand.
While working in larger teams, I exclusively use an electronic task management system such as MS SharePoint (task lists with MS Office Integration) or Trello (Kanban Board), because task delegation and mutual transparency are very important there. I then manage my personal tasks in Todoist*. With this app my tasks on desktop, the tablet and the mobile phone are relatively easy to create (because that is the most important feature!). If you first have to open an app for a long time or something similar it takes too long and the thought is often already lost. At home I linked my Amazon Echo* with Todoist, both for the shopping list and especially for the to-do list.
I find the change (depending team size) every couple of months between paper-based and electronic systems beneficial, because it “cleanses” the process and promotes a renewed awareness of the principles. In general, my recommendation is to start with the paper-based system in any case, because the principles are easier to apply and graphically more conscious (because the overarching goals are noted directly next to the daily tasks).
I scan my paper documents, which are important/I need to keep, with my ScanSnap IX500* (very fast double-side multi-feed scanner) and with a press of a button I place the documents directly into Evernote* and also into Dropbox*. I don’t just trust the proprietary Evernote system (who knows if this provider will still exist in 20 years), but I also automatically save the files locally and in the cloud. The advantage with the ScanSnap Scanner is that the documents are also scanned directly via OCR and therefore the saved documents can be searched directly via full text search. When I am on the road, I scan the documents on my mobile phone with the app Scanbot (also with OCR-function also for multi-page documents) and save them in both places. Application for mobile scanning are mostly warranty receipts when shopping or receipts for travel expense accounting. I put the important paper documents classically in folders, because I don’t know if I can still use Evernote, PC or something similar in my old age. All not important but already scanned paper documents go directly into the trash.
For people who don’t want double coverage, I recommend the purchase of a Bates Numbering*. Apply the consecutive number with the stamp to each document before scanning, then filing by number and not by subject area in folders. Then it is ensured that as few physical folders as possible are needed and that the document will probably be found faster (via the consecutive number) compared to my structured filing. As I said, in this case you always have to search for the document first on your PC or in Evernote and then for the paper document using the number. Since I’m not sure if I can always ensure that, I have a structured paper file as a backup, which is admittedly more time-consuming.
I also save important internet pages in Evernote. Then I can always access them with a full text search. Alternatively I use the app Pocket, if I just want to save the pages for a short time, in order to read them later once.
To sort my thoughts, also for such blog articles I use SimpleMind Pro on the desktop and on mobile phone and tablet. It’s nice that you can synchronize all mind maps to e.g. dropbox. What I especially like about SimpleMind is the completely free positioning of the “branches” of the mind maps. This is not always so easy with other mapping programs. In addition, the price for the apps is acceptable.
An interesting combination of possible task management tool and thought structuring tool is workflowy.com* for all “who think in lists”. Here you can record meeting minutes, ideas, tasks and everything else (also divisible in the team). In my opinion the ideal tool for the list thinkers mentioned. A mobile app is also available.
Meetings And Workshops
Timing in meetings and workshops: Here I use a real TimeTimer* or the original app.
To look up sketch notes I also use the app “Visual Helferein” and “Iconfinder” in workshops.
So much for the approaches and tools I use. Probably I didn’t think of everything. Have I not covered a task? Then comment below and I’ll be happy to complete the article.
The links marked with an asterisk (*) are so-called affiliate links. If you click on such an affiliate link and buy through this link, I get a commission from the relevant online shop or provider. The price does not change for you.
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.
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?
Howtime-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.
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.
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.
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]:
Communication / Language
Legal and political aspects
Technology / Infrastructure
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 social class,
the ethnic group,
the religious faith or also
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:
Curiosity means positive interest in strangers.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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]
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.
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.
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.
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
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]:
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]
United Arab Emirates
The higher the value, the more pronounced the index.
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.
Did the last customer survey score more than 3.5 points (out of 5)?
Is the project plan updated and recalculated weekly with work done and remaining work?
Are all approved change requests mapped in the project plan?
Does the staffing run according to the planning in the project plan?
Has joint project governance been adopted?
Has a steering committee been held in the last 30 days?
Is the Schedule Variance > 10%?
Is the cost variance > 10%?
Has the project done any work outside the approved project defined scope?
Have all deliverables performed so far been accepted?
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.
Was the project definition template from the project management handbook used?
Has the estimation procedure and the estimation templates been used according to the project management handbook?
Is there a weekly Earned Value calculation based on the current project plan?
Are problems, risks, acceptances, change requests continuously recorded in the template from the project management handbook?
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.
Agile work or delivery is only possible if necessary decisions can always be called up. It also does not work without appropriate governance. There is huge similarity in turnaround situations of classical projects with the approach of agile projects. The focus here is on short iterations and close coordination with the customer. The introduction of agile principles should be based on this observation. Agile principles will continue to spread differently in different industries. But whoever thinks of agility about method or technology is wrong! Early results in the project and close coordination with the real customer are not method or tool results.
Agile project management does not work without appropriate governance
Agile work or delivery is only possible if necessary decisions can always be called up. In my article “Communication Principles in a Project” it is easy to see that the short time until a decision is made is extremely important. This is often slowed down or even blocked by the middle layers of management in a company. This so-called permafrost cannot comprehend the need for agility often sensibly identified by top management. Likewise, decisions necessary in the course of the project cannot be made by the senior management themselves, as are not be placed correctly with them.
Agile project management is very similar to the approach of classic projects in turnaround situations
In both cases, the focus is on short iterations and close coordination with the customer. The introduction of agile principles should be based on this observation. The classic project plan is then usually only a reference for contract-relevant delivery items. The chain of failure in projects is the customer relationship and thus the governance structure, then the tools and processes and at the latest the employee frustration. When introducing agile principles, the sequence is exactly the other way around. In my experience, the team atmosphere in project organizations can indicate a wide variety of problems at any time, and not only that “something” is wrong, but also in which project management domains (see my article SmileyPoints). It would also be interesting to use this method when introducing agile project management.
How will the agile vortex spread now?
As can be deduced from my article “Project Manager in 2030“, the agile principles will continue to spread differently in different industries. What this “agility” will look like, whether pure SCRUM, SRUM of SRCUM, Kanban, scaled agile, SAFe, LeSS, Spotify will be shaped by the customer and company environment (i.e. products, services, industry, size, etc.). Is “classic project management” dead? Certainly not, because there are certain complex (very large programs) and complicated (repetitive projects) for which classical project management will be the better alternative. Nevertheless, it makes sense for the classic project manager to make tool picking out of the agile box. But whoever associates agility with method or technology is wrong! Early results in the project and close coordination with the real customer are not method or tool results. Concepts and planning are required in both approaches. Approaches such as scaled agile approaches e.g. SAFe take this aspect particularly into account.
The challenges for product owners or project managers
The challenge for the drivers of ventures, whether product owner, project manager or program manager, will now be that they should play different instruments in different environments. Because the dogmatic orientation “we only do agile single projects” can only take place in companies that have no need for diverse interfaces and environments. The exclusive product owner or program manager will therefore rather remain the rare species. A stigmatization of the two approaches is therefore certainly not meaningful, but the combined application or simply said the agile classical project is the future. Early and constant results and close end customer coordination are the success factor in all projects.
Summary: Using a project planning and control software only as a visual representation of the planning status is a waste of time. A few tips have to be followed and MS Project and Co are also very useful for project monitoring and control.
I often hear from prospective project managers, but also from experienced project managers, that a project management tool such as MS Project is not practicable. It is too complicated and the actual control is not really possible.
If you consider the following tips nothing will go wrong anymore:
Set in the options that MS Project or the tool of your choice will base the planning on “fixed work”.
The availability (hourly capacity and holidays) of resources/qualifications must be entered in the project calendar.
Do not set a manual date (fixed date), except project start or finish date.
For each task / work package, a predecessor (at least the project start milestone) and successor (at least the project end milestone) must be entered.
Do not enter a duration, only the effort for the task / work package.
Only one resource/qualification should be entered for each activity.
Always display the critical path in the schedule (Gantt). This must be displayed throughout the entire project duration without interruption. Otherwise there is an error, e.g. manual date set.
Only plan detailed for a maximum of 2-3 months in advance (resources and effort).
And the last obstacle is again and again that your company does not invest an MS Project license for you. Then get ProjectLibre as Opensource or another freeware.