2 min.
How organizational culture can influence project management
1L’art de la gestion de projet2Un projet à succès commence par une bonne gouvernance3Cascade, agilité, demandes de changement?

How organizational culture can influence project management

Project Management

In every company, project management happens within the much larger context of the company’s organizational culture. Having a good understanding of this broader context can help to keep the work of project management in synch with the objectives of the organization, and aligned with already-established practices. Often discredited, we underestimate how corporate culture can affect a project’s progress – for better or worse.  

This is especially important in a teleworking environment where the corporate culture is more difficult to communicate. It becomes essential that the organization's culture is strong and clear so that each project is managed the same way. It also allows for a better integration of new employees who, working from home, will not have the exact pulse of the entire organization.

Even within similar industries, there are often differences in the way that companies treat the life cycle of a project, documentation, resources, etc. that stem from differences in corporate culture. There is no one type of organizational culture that’s better or more productive than the rest. They are simply different, and these differences have an impact on project managers.

In this article, we will explain how organizational structure and corporate culture influence project management.

Organizational influences on project management

Things like the culture and structure of an organization can influence the way projects are managed and executed.

Along the same lines, the level of maturity of project management within an organization and the management processes in place can also impact how smoothly a project is carried out.  

As soon as a project involves multiple third parties such as partners, sub-contractors or even clients, the success of the project quickly becomes dependant on the contributions of each stakeholder. Also, with teleworking, it can be more difficult to interpret a partner's maturity, which makes it all the more important to have a strong corporate culture.

For example, if a project depends upon the active participation of a sub-contractor whose project management processes are less mature, the progress of the project could slow down significantly, which in turn would prevent it from being delivered on time.  

What is corporate culture?

Corporate culture, also known as organizational culture, refers to the full range of a company’s characteristics and components. The goal is to differentiate a company from its competitors, but also to act as a unifying force by improving the lines of communication between company employees.

Corporate culture is based in part on employees’ shared values, and is in part defined by management, company history, employees’ professional culture, etc.

Where does project management fit in all this?

Now that you’ve gotten a bit of a definition of what organizational culture is, we’re going to explore why an understanding of corporate culture matters for project managers.

As described in the PMI Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide), 5th edition, “The culture of an organization is created by the experiences of its members. The majority of organizations have developed their own unique cultures through years of practice and common usage.”

These experiences include the following elements:

  • Vision, mission, values, beliefs and common expectations
  • Policies, methods and procedures
  • Incentives and reward systems instituted within a company
  • High or low risk tolerance
  • View of leadership, hierarchy and relationship to authority
  • Code of conduct, ethics and work hours
  • Work environment

Projects considered to be aligned with organizational culture may have smoother implementations and higher success rates than projects that challenge these cultural norms. Also, understanding the organizational culture and its relationship to project management can help companies figure out which projects to pursue and which to put aside. This is a priority at Adviso that we apply to understanding our clients’ realities, aligning ourselves with their values and corporate culture, and getting involved on that level.  

Organizational culture and conflict

Project managers therefore need to interact with a wide range of cultural systems, often simultaneously. They aren’t always familiar with the cultural influences, and often run into conflicts and misunderstandings when dealing with different resources, providers and clients.

Often rooted in differences in values, conflicts can also result from communications problems within a single company, events that are amplified by working at home. For example, when a company has offices and teams worldwide, the language or vocabulary used might have very different meanings or interpretations, which could lead to misunderstandings and frustration within a team. Project managers, often the intermediaries, can find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. Here, the best practice would be to identify the communications tools to be used from the outset of the project (email, calls, terms to be used, definitions, etc.) and apply and maintain clear communication throughout the project. Communications methods can be built into organizational culture.

Although a certain amount of conflict is inevitable, it can often be minimized by understanding the cultural frameworks, personalities, and personal and organizational motivations within the team. It’s important to make a concerted effort to speak and listen in a way that takes these differences into account. A reactive, oppositional approach to obstacles to the project or another person’s inflexibility can polarize differences, escalate conflicts and make it challenging or even impossible to complete a project. Distance and lack of physical connection can also accentuate the conflict, making it even more difficult to complete the project.

It is therefore important to identify the factors that can help create an organizational culture that incorporates project management, including: understanding the value and benefits that project management brings to both the project and the organization itself, as well as aligning projects with the organizational and business strategies.

In conclusion, several elements of a company’s structure and culture can have an impact on how smoothly projects can be managed. Having a good understanding of this broader context during the planning phases of a project allows you to ensure that the work of project management is carried out in harmony with the objectives of the organization and managed in alignment with established practices.  

What about you? How does culture play a role in the life cycle of your projects? Is your organizational culture rigid or formal? Does it require you to adhere to a specific life cycle with explicit stages? Or is there no predefined life cycle for your projects?