Brad Biagini

Culture Means the Difference between Project Success and Failure

shutterstock_200483330Working with a wide variety of clients definitely means we’ve come up against many different workplace cultures. While we could sit around and argue about which cultures are better aligned to project success, as consultants, our role is to get a deep understanding of your inherent culture and try to work within it – and affect change where we think it’s possible and where we believe it will be for the good of your organization going forward.

 

This is important because project success is not easy to come by. According to a study by PriceWaterhouseCoopers of 640 projects across a wide range of industries, only 2.5% of these businesses achieved 100% project success.

 

There are a number of key elements of culture that directly affect whether a project will be a success or not. When we head into any project, it’s important for us to get a clear understanding of these elements to ensure we factor them in and address them as part of the process.

 

Here are some of the key elements of culture we work to understand to help ensure project success, and are important for our clients to consider when embarking on a project.

 

Executive Sponsorship


According to PMI’s annual Pulse of the Profession survey, the top driver in project success is having an engaged executive sponsor. In fact, one in three unsuccessful projects fail to meet goals because they don’t get executive support. The survey results also suggest the importance of the role is often overlooked, with just under two-thirds of projects and programs having one assigned.

 

In our experience, having executives who are willing to engage from the outset makes all the difference. In one particular engagement, the head of real estate did 50 percent of the kickoff, which gave weight to the project. We saw the impact of his commitment reflected within the whole team throughout the entire project.

 

Because of his involvement, we were able to manage scope and easily overcome challenges that are a natural part of any project. Any deviation from scope was quickly rectified and the project was kept on track. As the final say in key decisions, an executive sponsor helps keep focus on issue resolution versus the static that often comes with project related challenges.

 

Before your organization starts a project, ensure you have an executive sponsor who is willing to back the initiative. This individual will play a fundamental role as your project champion and have the greatest ability to garner support throughout the lifecycle of your project.

 

Communications


How your organization communicates – whether up and down within a department or cross-functionally -- will directly affect the success of a project.

 

Within a department, it’s important to understand the goals – both from an end user’s and senior management’s perspective. As an example, an end user may not understand why they need to include a myriad of data elements - and if it results in more work on their end, they may actually resist. But, if through effective communication they understand that the executives require real time visibility into the data, and appreciate how that data will be used in decision-making, they will be more willing to do the work required to capture and track the data.

 

Very few real estate organizations understand the dependencies across functions. Cross-functionally, it’s common for real estate, store development, lease administration and finance to operate in silos, making it harder to see the big picture. Also, sometimes individuals are asked to take on tasks outside their regular role – and there may be resistance if they don’t understand the benefit.

 

Your organization’s ability to communicate cross-functionally – to show all the parties affected why a project is important to them and to the company as a whole, will be instrumental in your success.

 

Comfort with Technology


Success or failure is often determined by a company’s understanding of the role that technology can play. Depending on the organization, there may be a high level of comfort with technology or not. This will be affected by whether or not your organization is actively using technology, as well as the sophistication of current platforms – i.e. are you using simple spreadsheet or dated mainframe systems with limited functionality. Comfort with technology can vary greatly depending on the department. Some departments have long been immersed in paper-based processes, and getting them comfortable with electronic approvals, system-based documentation, as well as electronic signatures, can sometimes be challenging.

 

Additionally, if your organization had a bad experience with a technology implementation in the past, it will color users’ feelings toward the project and may result in pre-conceived ideas of what is involved. In fact, overcoming ‘perceptions’ is often the most difficult part of any implementation.

 

Understanding your organization's comfort with technology and its application will help you to work with your consultant to ensure any risk is mitigated at the outset.

 

Project Commitment


There are a several factors that can impact project commitment. First, your organization may or may not have a built-in culture of commitment to these types of projects, and this will impact the time and resources allocated to ensure it is executed properly. Organizations that have a culture of commitment will provide the appropriate time, energy and focus to the project, ensuring its effective design, testing and adoption.

 

The reality is every resource assigned to the project also has regular responsibilities as part of their “day job”. The key is setting and understanding reasonable expectations for project related time commitments so individuals understand the impact on their day-to-day responsibilities. IT Resources are also a concern as they are typically spread across multiple projects in larger organizations.

 

Finally, commitment can be adversely affected by activities that are taking place within your organization that are not directly related to the project, but are distractions nonetheless. Helping consultants to understanding the climate you are working in will impact success. For instance, is there an organizational change – merger or acquisition, re-organization, personnel change – that impacts how your company or department will operate going forward? Are there multiple brands or conflicting interests? We’ve faced situations, particularly in large organizations with separate operating companies, where they want to remain independent and don’t want to conform to a standard.

 

Summary


At Tango, understanding and accounting for these key elements of culture has greatly improved our customer’s success. Partnering with our customers – and actively working to build relationships - fosters collective success. This involves getting to know the people we are working with outside of traditional meetings and arranging team activities to build trust. Creating a “we’re all in it together” atmosphere helps eliminate finger-pointing that is often a byproduct of these complex projects. Collective success depends on executive leadership, communication and commitment.

 

If you would like to explore more, download Tango's Dunkin' Brands case study below. 

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