Your Project Management Perspective

The next time you run a project think about the perspective you have of your organization and whether it impacts the way you plan, execute and manage projects. There are many ways to view an organization and the perspective you choose typically has a direct impact on how you do what you do as a project manager. You are probably asking yourself what I’m talking about. What are these different perspectives, and do they really matter? The answer to the second question is, “Yes, they really matter!”

So let’s talk about the first question. What are these different perspectives? There are many perspectives of what an organization is and what role it plays within society and the economy at large. The perspectives that I particularly like are from a gentleman by the name of Gareth Morgan. In 1986 Morgan postulated that there are several metaphors that define an organization. Four of Morgan’s most popular metaphors are:

  1. machine metaphor;
  2. politics metaphor;
  3. organism metaphor;
  4. flux and transformation metaphor.

There are some key things that you should consider with each perspective. First of all, the machine metaphor suggests that the organization is a machine. This presupposes that the organization can and is constructed like a machine. Each component of the machine is defined and controlled. Inputs and outputs are likewise defined and controlled. Managers exist externally to this entity and have complete control over it.

The political metaphor suggests that the organization is a political entity. This takes into consideration that there is more going on in the organization than mechanistic workflow. There is another layer of reality that envelopes the organization. This layer is representative of the politics and power. Look at your organization. Where does the real power lie? Is it directly relational to the formal organizational chart, or is it slightly different? Usually there is a layer of formally granted authority within any organization, and another layer representative of relationships, seniority, and networks. This second, less formal layer of power is often more important with respects to getting things done.

The organism perspective suggests that the organization is an organism. A project manager cannot treat this type of organization the same way as a mechanistic organization. Within this metaphor, managers exist within the organization and get things done indirectly through facilitation, leverage, and collaborative efforts. This organization is usually quite large and acts like a system or body of systems. Each sub-system is part of the overall system and interacts within the whole. This results in a complex organization that is inter-dependent on each sub-system. Just like your own physical body, inputs and outputs cannot be completely controlled. In addition, problems within the system are not always easy to decipher or link to a clear cause. This type of system requires a completely different management approach. The project manager is required to help develop a positive work environment that promotes collaboration, risk taking, and creativity. This also requires coaching, mentoring and ongoing support.

The flux and transition perspective suggests that the organization is in a constant state of change. Many organizations are faced with this today because of their connection to technologies with shorter and shorter lifecycles and an economy that is globally connected and inter-dependant. Global organizations, connected and interacting with the macro-level economy have a difficult, if not impossible time, predicting market shifts in demand and technology. National and international financial firms have suffered extensively over the last two years trying to anticipate economic trends. The more connected our world is, the more difficult it is to predict where we will be tomorrow, next quarter or next year. Think about some of the long term, complex projects that you’re working on. Will they be able to meet the projected needs by the time they are delivered, or will the environment around them shift and flex in ways that you can’t possibly predict? How can you be successful if this is the case?

So the next time you start a project, consider some of these metaphors and evaluate your own perspective on organizations. What is your perspective and how does it impact the way you’re planning and executing work in the real world? Is your perspective realistic and does it aid or hinder your success in project management?

Larry Barnard

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