A Project's Pace of Progress is Down to the Behaviour of it's Players - Martin Price
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A Project’s Pace of Progress is Down to the Behaviour of it’s Players

Project’s players – all those who share responsibility for a project’s results, frequently find themselves in places and situations that could not have been anticipated. Progress then requires skilful, informed and often spirited dialogue. Able conversation is needed from all the players as they address issues, uncertainties, ambiguity and controversy. Critical choices have to be made; relying on the players’ engagement of issues and the shrewdness of a mature professional community.Managing a project can be compared to leading an expedition. Social engagement and collaboration between the players is mission-critical and ultimately the only way to advance the work. Projects must often make their way through virgin territory where, in contrast with a business process, many of the routes have to be discovered before they can be followed. Players are needed for their specialist professional contribution but also for their participation in the community of players. They have to shape both project direction and the form of organisation that each situation demands. Here, community-play, as well as team-play is important; as is the thinking, leadership and individual contributions of every player.

Willing and professionally able

Contingency and other emergent matters bring challenge and often controversy to what has to be done and how. The pace of progress is at stake. We must rely on common purpose and a rational with un-inhibited dialogue. On such matters, the players must be both willing and professionally able. In high venture project work in particular, social interaction requires player’s emotional maturity and political sensitivity. The evolving story and its agenda are witnessed only in the minds of the players; often remaining obscure to those who are merely observers.

In such ‘swampy lowlands’, dealing with emergent and unexpected issues, process prescriptions have little to offer and the values and routines of a work-place culture will maneuver much of players’ behaviour: favourably or unfavourably. In such situations, Methodology offers little to aid navigation. It will be the quality of the player’s thinking, dialogue, organisation and resolve, exercised through the leadership of players that will decide the outcome.

While the competences of project players are important; more than this is required of the organisation. Project management depends on a culture that embraces patterns of venturesome behaviour with imagination, shared values, conversation, leadership, determination, compromise, adaptability, engagement and collaboration. These are vital features of the project players’ regime and are at least as important.

Patterns of human and organisational behaviour

Reports revealing the why and how of project management successes are strongly out-numbered by those listing the causes of project failure. Surely, attempts to strengthen management practices and performance must rely on inspiration, discipline, behaviour and innovation; more than on the study of failures and the weaknesses seen to cause them.

My contention is that project successes and failures are always attributable to human and organisational behaviour, more than to the choices of methodology. The field that maps project management behaviour is hugely eclectic and wide-ranging. It includes innovation, carelessness, persistence, leadership, naivety, oversight, denial, social interaction, ambition, engagement, discipline, collaboration, political adroitness and courage. Professionals need to show venturesome human and organisational behaviour, as well as be able to deploy the process-based methodologies and other schemas, now well established in many project regimes.

At the APM Conference in 2010, both Martin Barnes, the association President and Peter Gershon, an experienced business executive and the founder of the UK’s Office of Government Commerce, suggested that many of the causes of project failure today are ‘boring and repetitive’. They were censoring the project management community and questioning the ability of its practitioners to meet today’s project management challenges. Examination of project failures indicates that errors are being repeated; revealing persistent and consistent weakness. A ‘New wave’ project management is needed to answer the pleas of these gurus.

A new book from Gower

‘The Single-Minded Project’ offers an approach to project management that is entirely complementary to the existing methodologies; one that recognises that at its heart, the management of a project relies on the perceived choices and methods, behaviours and decision-making of its players and the freedom of action that is permitted to the project regime. It fills in the gaps where methodology doesn’t provide useful responses to questions such as ‘how fast should we deliver this project’ and ‘how much diligence is appropriate in our ‘decision-making’. It recognises that performance ultimately rests on human knowledge, resolve, skill and collaboration.

To purchase the book, please visit the website.

Author Bio:
Martin Price is widely known as a speaker and writer and for his fresh ideas on human and organisational behaviour; so crucial to the success of project management. He was Director of Professional Development for PMI’s UK Chapter and for six years hosted PMI’s monthly UK Chapter meetings in London. Martin worked as an electrical engineer before spending 15 years as a personnel manager and change management consultant with PA Consulting Group. There he enabled and supported the transformation of large and small businesses. He is MD of EngagementWorks, a consultancy supporting organisations in their quest for developing high performing project organisations. You can contact him via email.

Martin’s new book ‘The Single-Minded Project has recently been published, with wide-spread applause by the project management world. Here are some quotes from a recent book review.

“In Price’s view, no single methodology is capable of harnessing the necessary capabilities that organizations and individuals draw upon when successfully delivering transformational change through the agency of projects.”

“To get a fresh perspective on what is going on inside a project, Price introduces some new terms to renovate and redefine some overly familiar concepts. This is not done simply for the sake of novelty, but to emphasize particular characteristics embedded within those concepts that are relevant to the picture of project management that Price lays out.”

The full review can be read by clicking here.

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