Organizational Factors

Coordination of organizational behavior in project management is a delicate balancing act, something like sitting on a bar stool. Bar stools usually come with three legs to keep them standing. So does project management: one is the project manager, one is the line manager, and one is the project sponsor. If one of the legs is lost or unusable, the stool will be very difficult to balance.

Although line managers are the key to successful project management, they will have a lot of trouble performing their functions without effective interplay with the project's manager and corporate sponsor. In unsuccessful projects, the project manager has often been vested with power (authority) over the line managers involved. In successful projects, project and line managers are more likely to have shared authority. The project manager will have negotiated the line managers' commitment to the project and worked through them, not around them. The project manager probably provided recommendations regarding employee performance. And leadership was centered around the whole project team, not just the project manager.

In successful project management systems, the following equation always holds true:

Accountability = Responsibility + Authority

When project and line managers view each other as equals, they share equally in the management of the project, and thus they share equally the authority, responsibility, and accountability for the project's success. Obviously the sharing of authority makes shared decision-making easier. The project management methodology must account for shared accountability. A few suggestions for executive project sponsors follow:

• Do not increase the authority of the project manager at the expense of the line managers.

• Allow line managers to provide technical direction to their people, if at all possible.

• Encourage line managers to provide realistic time and resource estimates, and then work with the line managers to make sure they keep their promises.

• Above all, keep the line managers fully informed.

In organizations that have created effective project management systems, the role of the executive manager has changed along with project management. Early in the implementation of project management, executives were actively involved in the everyday project management process. But as project management has come into its own and as general economic conditions have changed, executive involvement has become more passive, and project sponsors now usually concentrate on long-term and strategic planning. They have learned to trust project managers to make the day-to-day decisions and they have come to view project management as a central factor in their company's success.

Project sponsors provide visible, ongoing support. Their role is to act as a bodyguard for the project and the project manager. Unlike other executives on the senior management team, individual project sponsors may play a more active role in projects, depending on how far along the project is. Early in the project's functioning, for example, the project sponsor might help the project manager define the project's requirements. Once that is done, the sponsor resumes a less active role and receives project information only as needed.

In successful project management systems that carry a high volume of ongoing project work, an executive sponsor may not be assigned to low-dollar-value or low-priority projects. Middle managers may fill the sponsorship role in some cases. But no matter what the size or value of the project, project sponsors today are responsible for the welfare of all members of their project teams, not just that of the project manager.

The existence of a project sponsor implies visible, ongoing executive support for project management. And executive support motivates project personnel to excel. Executive project sponsorship also supports the development of an organizational culture that fosters confidence in the organization's project management systems.

Conclusion: Executive project sponsorship must exist and be visible so that the project-line manager interface is in balance.

Recommendations for obtaining maturity include:

• Educate the executives as to the benefits of project management.

• Convince the executives of the necessity for ongoing, visible support in the capacity of a project sponsor.

• Convince executives that they need not know all the details. Provide them with the least information that tells the most.

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