Author: Justine Butler CEng MIEI, senior process engineer, DPS Engineering Having recently completed a Diploma in Project Management, I wanted to investigate if the theoretical concept of successful project management is practised. An anonymous survey was sent to project managers (PM) and project team members (PTM) working on engineering projects both in the private and public sector. Some 44 project managers and 31 team members completed the survey. The results were reviewed to determine if the survey participants’ feedback correlated to the academic principles. More interestingly, the PM and PTM results were compared to determine if and where parties disagreed.

Survey findings

The survey was based on the nine knowledge areas of project management, which are Budget, Communication, Human Resources, Integration, Procurement, Risk, Scope, Schedule and Quality. A project’s success or failure is linked to the success of the ‘Triple Constraint’, which relates to the project Scope, Schedule and Budget. The ‘Quadruple Constraint’ is also a common term which includes the three previously mentioned areas as well as Quality. The survey was developed to address each knowledge area and how they are executed i.e. ‘always’, ‘frequently’, ‘occasionally’ or ‘never’. The participants ranked the nine areas in order of importance to determine if their top three corresponded to the Triple Constraint. The majority of the PTMs did this successfully, whereas the PMs stated Scope, Schedule and Communication. Even though the aim of this article is to highlight the importance of communication, success is still measured by the project being delivered on time, within budget whilst meeting the clients’ scope expectations. Communication can still save or destroy a project. In theory, project budgets and schedules should be agreed upfront, monitored and updated throughout the project. The schedule results showed a low proportion, only 30% of both groups said this occurred all of the time. Surprisingly, some 30% of both groups said that cost-monitoring tools, such as S-Curves and Earned Value Analysis, were never used on projects. These results, albeit aligned, need improvement for successful schedule and cost management. The participants were asked directly about the level and quality of communication they experience on projects and emphasising the purpose of this article, the results differed between the two groups. When asked if regular project meetings were held by, the “Always” result was confirmed by more than 80% of the PMs but only one quarter of the PTMs. Then in terms of perspective good communication between the two groups, approximately 90% of the PMs, chose ‘frequently’ whereas 60% of the PTMs chose ‘occasionally’. Even though teams aspire for project success, they sometimes neglect the obvious activity, which is to avoid previous project failures. Carrying out Lessons Learned (LL) activities on a large or small scale highlight aspects of the project that could be improved. Without this activity, common errors never get rectified. Some 20% of both groups said LLs never take place and of those who confirmed they were held, less than 20% of both groups said these lessons were ‘always’ implemented and 30% of the team said the lessons were ‘never’ implemented on future projects. Communication and motivation are closely linked so the survey looked at the PM’s level of work recognition to the team. Some 20% of each group confirmed that no form of recognition is ever given to the team. The survey results show that the PM and PTM feedback not only differs from each group, but more substantial discrepancies occurred between the groups and the theories I have learned. I believe the main reason for steering away from proven protocol is the increase in fast track, tight-budget projects.

Communication theory

From discussing the theory of successful project management, it leads to the theory of successful communication to ensure effective leadership. A project can be prevented from being a success or even deemed to fail if communication concepts are not understood. For effective communication, we should be aware of what is actually taken in from the recipient, refer to diagram 1 below. [caption id="attachment_18729" align="aligncenter" width="474"]Project management engineering Diagram 1. Impact of non-verbal communication. Reference:[/caption] Successful project managers have shown strong technical and cognitive abilities, but the most important skill that differentiates between a good and great project manager is Emotional Intelligence (EI). I have summarised key findings from an EI expert Daniel Goleman (1). Emotional Intelligence is “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically: emotional intelligence is the key to both personal and professional success" (reference: Oxford Dictionary, accessed 9/2/2015). Emotional intelligence has been proven to be twice as important as technical and cognitive abilities for jobs at all levels. The key areas of EI are summarised below. 1) Self Awareness “The ability to recognise and understand your moods, emotions, and drives, as well as their effect on others.” The person is neither overly confident nor unrealistically hopeful. They know and are comfortable talking about their limitations and strengths and often demonstrate a thirst for constructive criticism. They can be mistaken for being not tough enough, but people generally tend to admire and respect their candour. 2) Self Regulation “The ability to control or redirect disruptive impulses and moods.” The control of their emotions and impulses is channelled in a positive manner. They are a reasonable individual, bringing trust and fairness to environments leading to less politics and more productivity. Many problems in organisations are a function of impulsive behaviour. They can be sometimes considered less passionate to the job as a fiery temperament is seen as more of the typical leader characteristic. 3) Motivation “A passion for work for reasons that go beyond money or status.” Motivation is present in almost all effective leaders. They have a drive to achieve. They are restless with the norm and always question the reason why things are done and are eager to explore new approaches. They are committed employees and are likely to stay within an organisation even when they are pursued by head hunters. 4) Empathy “The ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people.” They can hear the message beneath the words being spoken. They are effective coaches as they sense how to give effective feedback, know when to push and when to hold back. Being empathetic is not typically rewarded and can be seen as too soft but can improve the running of a company greatly. 5) Social Skill “Proficiency in managing relationships and building networks.” Social skills allow the PM to put their EI to work. A PM’s role is to get work done through other individuals and social skill makes that possible. It is friendliness with a purpose, moving people into the direction desired. Diagram 2 below is another EI model, which addresses the same areas as listed above. [caption id="attachment_18731" align="aligncenter" width="606"]Project management engineering Diagram 2. Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence Model (2002) (Reference: Accessed 9/2/2015)[/caption]

Conclusion and recommendations

The survey has shown that project management theory, current practice and individuals’ opinions differ significantly. A leader’s ability for effective communication with their team will allow more effective project execution and success. In addition to the emotional skills discussed previously, I see three practical skills as crucial for a leader based on my nine years’ experience in national and international projects. These include time management, organisation and delegation. 1) Time management This relates to personal time management rather than project schedule management. Leaders should lead by example and should as much as possible do what they said they were going to do when they were going to do it. ‘Over promise and under achieve’ or, in fact, ‘under promise and over achieve’ are both weak practices and should be avoided. A project manager who is late to their own meeting or holds meetings that always run over will find difficulty managing a team. 2) Delegation Delegation can be confused by some as a way to offload ‘boring’ work to their subordinates. Work that is delegated by a leader should alleviate their workload, but it should also be of substantial size so that the individual is given the opportunity to contribute their knowledge and develop or improve their skillset. If the leader is reluctant to delegate work as previous experience has proven that rework was required, this could have been as a result of poor guidance. Mc Gregor’s Theory X and Theory Y display authoritarian and developmental management styles. Theory X shows the manager on top of the team with heavy control which can limit development and motivation. In Theory Y, the manager is behind the team with more trust giving responsibility and purpose. [caption id="attachment_18733" align="aligncenter" width="852"]Project management engineering Diagram 3. Theory X and Theory Y Management Styles (Reference: Accessed 9/2/2015)[/caption] 3) Organisation Organisation is strongly linked to time management and delegation and is a cross between a co-ordinator and administrator’s role. The examples might seem obvious but they are critical to the project and company. Meetings – regular status meetings should be held. Agendas are advised for key meetings to ensure all items are discussed. Minutes should be short, concise and issued at most one week after the meeting. Minutes are not just a clerical activity; the content is often of high importance detailing key information. I have worked on many projects where decisions logged in minutes were brought back years after the project was completed. Deadlines – For a leader to ensure the deadline can be reached successfully, they should check in with the team at key points during the project. A leader who stays in their office doesn’t have the visibility and a leader who micromanages the team can actually delay the project. There should be a clear plan of execution. If a package for example is to be issued on a particular day then it should really be ready the day before to allow for administrative formalities. This may be obvious and not always feasible but its worth being aware of minor embarrassing issues rather than explaining your project was late because the printer was backed up or you forgot your key sign off was on a day’s leave. (1) Goleman, Daniel: 'What Makes a Leader?' Chapter 13 Organizational Influence Processes (2003), Second Edition, edited by Lyman W. Porter, Harold L. Angle, Robert W Allen. Justine ButlerJustine Butler, CEng MIEI, is a senior process engineer with DPS Engineering. She has nine years’ experience working with multinational pharmaceutical clients on small- (<€1 million) to large-scale (€60 million) projects.