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Gray Rule
October 2012 | VOLUME 13, NUMBER 4
Gray Rule
Project Management with an Organizational Psychology Approach
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»The Ins and Outs of Sourcing
»Understanding the Value of Your Alumni
»Total Library Service Management: A Framework for Success
»Prepping Your Team for the Playoffs
»Professional Development: On the Rebound?
»Project Management with an Organizational Psychology Approach: An Interview with Bernardo Tirado, PMP
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Elaine M. Egan, Manager, Information Center, Shearman & Sterling LLP, New York, NY
Project Management with an Organizational Psychology Approach
Bernardo Tirado is an author, speaker, trainer, and consultant. ...

Can the legal industry improve its business outcomes by employing organizational psychology in project management? How can individuals and project managers best utilize concepts in organizational psychology that transform globally shared services and cultivate successful project outcomes?

Over the last several years the legal industry has embraced aspects of project management (PM), and, in some cases, created PM teams associated with technology. However, there continues to be some hesitation by firms to fully engage, define, and measure the repeatable processes that support legal project management. How have obstacles been overcome in the financial and professional services sector in positioning project management in its business processes?

Project management varies among organizations within the financial and professional services sector. In part, variation has to do more with the organizational readiness and adaptation of project management; in other instances there isn't a standard approach to managing projects. The most successful companies consider individuals who are certified in Six Sigma, Agile, or Prince2, or who are registered Project Management Professionals, as qualified to lead projects. It's a big mistake for companies to think that only one methodology will solve all their challenges. Each methodology has its pros and cons; it really depends on your objectives when figuring out which skill sets are most relevant to your company's needs.

How can individuals become better project managers by employing tested behavioral concepts of organizational psychology?

Industrial or organizational psychology is the study of humans in the workplace. Most of what project managers do is drive initiatives through the assistance of others. One of the techniques that I've adopted and coached my clients to use is a personality test like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or the Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Compliance (DISC) assessment. Unless one works for a consulting firm where skills sets are all the same, most people who work on projects are volunteered by their leader to join the project. That may mean they may not really want to be involved. By understanding communication preference and personality type, a project manager can develop specific strategies that motivate a team to work for a successful project outcome.

What specific concepts in organizational psychology have you identified that transform project managers?

Many of us may have heard of forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning, but did you know that these are the five stages of group development that Dr. Bruce Tuckman created? Group dynamics is one of the critical factors to project success. Through my research and experience I've found that a project manager's biggest threat area is between the forming and storming stages. Think of forming as the honeymoon phase and storming as post-honeymoon. If project managers are seen as weak or are not living up to the leadership standards of the project team, then members will look for an alternate informal leader. Having informal leaders in this case is not good. It means that leadership was not up to the task and the team would rather listen to someone else.

How are these concepts interrelated and connected, and how will they form a point of view for a project manager?

Focusing on the individual and group will enable the project manager to set himself or herself up for success. This also ensures that he or she is not contributing to behavior that will be destructive during the project. For example, and I know this may sound simple, but when you kick off a project meeting and you decide to start 10 to 15 minutes late, you've just given your team members an unconscious cue that it's okay to be late. Unfortunately, many people don't realize that small behaviors can contribute to norms that may be counterproductive.

Is there a particular project that is ideal for employing these concepts?

Unless a project has no human interaction, then I would say all projects are ideal candidates for leveraging these concepts.

What is the best way to formulate a project management plan so behavior in an organization is understood and optimized?

The most underdeveloped areas in a project plan are the change management and communication sections. Regardless of the magnitude of a project, preparing your end-users to adapt to change is critical for the project to be successful. One of the other concepts I teach in my workshops is the "emotional change curve." Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, a renowned psychologist, researched the stages a person goes through when a loved one dies. She developed the "Five Stages of Grief." Since its inception it has been adopted to how people react to change. People naturally like to control their environment. When something is imposed, depending on the imposition, the person will have either a soft or really hard knee-jerk reaction. This means when you are going to change the way a person works, adoption of what you are doing is critical; otherwise, you will have a mutiny on your hands.

How does organization behavior minimize project failure?

Organizational behavior affects the project management team's group dynamics, leadership, and motivation to ensure that the projects are delivered on time and on schedule. This leads to higher success rates in project implementation.

In organizational cultures such as law firms, financial institutions, and professional service firms, what are the most challenging aspects to running a project successfully?

There are three challenges:

  1. Consistent standards detailing how projects are defined, measured, and administered within the organization
  2. The organization's maturity level in optimizing the benefits of proper project management
  3. Upskilling and level-setting project management skill sets across project managers

How can an individual leader or manager within an organization take a first step into project management and organizational psychology?

When you first venture into project management, you need to understand you are working with people. You are also driving projects and influencing without authority. The success of the project is how you lead a project team. These skill sets on the organizational psychology side equip you to manage teams. Being able to recognize strengths and guide self-assessment produces the right people for the right role, ultimately leading to successful outcomes and continued sponsorship.

How are globalization and technology influencing project management and managing virtual teams?

Location is a big obstacle in successful project management because it impacts group dynamics. Despite location and time zones, you still need to build a strong team relationship. A PM leader always needs to start out by getting to know his or her team. This fundamental information sharing helps the team understand its skills and who you are. The goal is to build rapport that, over time, becomes stronger and stronger. Secondly, communication is a priority. Working with colleagues in different parts of the world has become normal. Even colleagues who share a common language will find that where they reside will result in a vernacular and nuance of language that may not necessarily translate. Having regular meetings is key. Don't be afraid to probe further when you recognize something is happening, or, for that matter, not happening. The message you need to communicate needs to be received.

Lately there is talk of using technology solutions, such as Avatars, to create a virtual work team within a corporate environment. I think there is an inherent danger when leveraging this form of technology because this concept encourages a person to lose one's self or identify and form a new self. This could potentially result in a false group dynamic. I have found that using Skype, once you become comfortable, allows the group to pick up on nonverbal cues, resulting in a more natural collaborative environment.

Is there a competitive advantage for a project manager to integrate an organizational psychology approach in any business capability?

Whereas the multitude of project management disciplines focus on the technical skills, industrial psychology compliments the project manager by focusing on leadership skills to ensure project success. This form of success is ultimately the competitive advantage and higher return on investment for any industry or corporation.

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