The two major problem areas in the project environment are the "who has what authority and responsibility" question, and the resulting conflicts associated with the individual at the project-functional interface. Almost all project problems in some way or another involve these two major areas. Other problem areas found in the project environment include:
• The pyramidal structure
• Superior-subordinate relationships
• Scalar chain of command
• Organizational chain of command
• Power and authority
• Planning goals and objectives
• Decision making
• Reward and punishment
The two most common employee problems involve the assignment and resulting evaluation processes. Personnel assignments were discussed in Chapter 4. In summary:
• People should be assigned to tasks commensurate with their skills.
• Whenever possible, the same person should be assigned to related tasks.
• The most critical tasks should be assigned to the most responsible people.
The evaluation process in a project environment is difficult for an employee at the functional-project interface, especially if hostilities develop between the functional and project managers. In this situation, the interfacing employee almost always suffers owing to a poor rating by either the project manager or his supervisor. Unless the employee continually keeps his superior abreast of his performance and achievements, the supervisor must rely solely on the input received from project office personnel. This can result in a performance evaluation process that is subject to error.
Three additional questions must be answered with regard to employee
• Of what value are job descriptions?
• How do we maintain wage and salary grades?
• Who provides training and development, especially under conditions where variable manloading can exist?
If each project is, in fact, different from all others, then it becomes an almost impossible task to develop accurate job descriptions. In many cases, wage and salary grades are functions of a unit manning document that specifies the number, type, and grade of all employees required on a given project. Although this might be a necessity in order to control costs, it also is difficult to achieve because variable manloading changes project priorities. Variable manloading creates several difficulties for project managers, especially if new employees are included. Project managers like to have seasoned veterans assigned to their activities because there generally does not exist sufficient time for proper and close supervision of the training and development of new employees. Functional managers, however, content that the training has to be accomplished on someone's project, and sooner or later all project managers must come to this realization.
On the manager level, the two most common problems involve personal values and conflicts. Personal values are often attributed to the "changing of the guard." New managers have a different sense of values from that of the older, more experienced managers. Miner identifies some of these personal values attributed to new managers:12
• Less trust, especially of people in positions of authority.
• Increased feelings of being controlled by external forces and events, and thus belief that they cannot control their own destinies. This is a kind of change that makes for less initiation of one's own activities and a greater likelihood of responding in terms of external pressures. There is a sense of powerlessness, although not necessarily a decreased desire for power.
• Less authoritarian and more negative attitudes toward persons holding positions of power.
• More independence, often to the point of rebelliousness and defiance.
• More freedom, less control in expressing feelings, impulses, and emotions.
• Greater inclination to live in the present and to let the future take care of itself.
• More self-indulgence.
• Moral values that are relative to the situation, less absolute, and less tied to formal religion.
• A strong and increasing identification with their peer and age groups, with the youth culture.
• Greater social concern and greater desire to help the less fortunate.
12 John B. Miner, "The OD -Management Development Conflict." Reprinted with permission from Business Horizons, December 1973, p. 32. Copyright © 1973 by the Board of Trustees at Indiana University. Used with permission.
• More negative attitude toward business, the management role in particular. A professional position is clearly preferred to managing.
• A desire to contribute less to an employing organization and to receive more from the organization.
Previously, we defined one of the attributes of a project manager as liking risks. Unfortunately, the amount of risk that today's managers are willing to accept varies not only with their personal values but also with the impact of current economic conditions and top management philosophies. If top management views a specific project as vital for the growth of the company, then the project manager may be directed to assume virtually no risks during the execution of the project. In this case the project manager may attempt to pass all responsibility to higher or lower management claiming that "his hands are tied." Wilemon and Cicero identify problems with risk identification:13
• The project manager's anxiety over project risk varies in relation to his willingness to accept final responsibility for the technical success of his project. Some project managers may be willing to accept full responsibility for the success or failure of their projects. Others, by contrast, may be more willing to share responsibility and risk with their superiors.
• The greater the length of stay in project management, the greater the tendency for project managers to remain in administrative positions within an organization.
• The degree of anxiety over professional obsolescence varies with the length of time the project manager spends in project management positions.
The amount of risk that managers will accept also varies with age and experience. Older, more experienced managers tend to take few risks, whereas the younger, more aggressive managers may adopt a risk-lover policy in hopes of achieving a name for themselves.
Conflicts exist at the project-functional interface regardless of how hard we attempt to structure the work. Authority and responsibility relationships can vary from project to project. In general, however, there does exist a relatively definable boundary between the project and functional manager. According to Cleland and King, this interface can be defined by the following relationships:14
• Project Manager
• How much money is available to do the task?
• How well has the total project been done?
13 L. Wilemon and John P. Cicero, "The Project Manager: Anomalies and Ambiguities," Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 13, 1970, pp. 269-282.
14 From David I. Cleland and William Richard King, Systems Analysis and Project Management (New York: McGraw-Hill), p. 237. Copyright © 1968, 1975 by McGraw-Hill, Inc. Used with permission of McGraw-Hill Book
• Functional Manager
• How well has the functional input been integrated into the project?
Another difficulty arises from the way the functional manager views the project. Many functional managers consider the project as simply a means toward an end and therefore identify problems and seek solutions in terms of their immediate duties and responsibilities rather than looking beyond them. This problem also exists at the horizontal hierarchy level. The problem comes about as a result of authority and responsibility relationships, and may not have anything at all to do with the competence of the individuals concerned. This situation breeds conflicts that can also have an impact on the amount of risk that a manager wishes to accept. William Killian defined this inevitable conflict between the functional and project manager:15
The conflicts revolve about items such as project priority, manpower costs, and the assignment of functional personnel to the project manager. Each project manager will, of course, want the best functional operators assigned to his project. In addition to these problems, the accountability for profit and loss is much more difficult in a matrix organization than in a project organization. Project managers have a tendency to blame overruns on functional managers, stating that the cost of the function was excessive. Whereas functional managers have a tendency to blame excessive costs on project managers with the argument that there were too many changes, more work required than defined initially, and other such arguments.
Another major trouble area is in problem reporting and resolution. Major conflicts can arise during problem resolution sessions, not only for the above-mentioned reasons, but also because the time constraints imposed on the project often prevent both parties from taking a logical approach. Project managers tend to want to make immediate decisions, after which the functional manager asserts that his way is ''the only way" the problem can be resolved. One of the major causes for prolonged problem-solving is a lack of pertinent information. In order to ease potential conflicts, all pertinent information should be made available to all parties concerned as early as possible. The following information should be reported by the project manager:16
• The expected impact on schedule, budget, profit, or other pertinent area
15 William P. Killian, "Project Management—Future Organizational Concepts," Marquette Business Review, Vol. 2, 1971, pp. 90-107.
16 Russell D. Archibald, Managing High-Technology Programs and Projects (New York: Wiley, 1976), p. 230.
• The action taken or recommended and the results expected of that action
• What top management can do to help
Was this article helpful?
What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.