Published here September 1, 2011


Musings Index

Literature Sightings

A short sighted human touch

Bud Baker, PhD, professor of management at Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio, in one of his frequent columns in the PMnetwork, cites John Naisbitt's book: Megatrends - Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives. Baker quotes: "The more technology we introduce into society, the more people will aggregated, will want to be with other people. Very few people will be willing to stay home all the time and tap out messages to the office. People will want to go to the office. People want to be with people." PMnetwork March 2010, p24

Not so fast Bud. It is true that project participants are divided into two broadly different groups. There are those who get their satisfaction from getting the job done and are glad to see it finished. Then there are those who get their satisfaction from the process of doing the job and would like to see it continue indefinitely. (Yes, really!) According to Myers Briggs's research, these two factions are about equally divided. If that is true, then there is a significant cadre that is more than pleased to stay and work from home. It is the coordination of the project that requires them to assemble.

Besides, according to the same PMnetwork, "LINKEDIN has become the business social network. The site has more than 53 million users worldwide, about half of whom are in the United States. It's popular in Europe as well, and India is experiencing the fastest membership growth." Who could wish for more - from home?

The problem with project success

Why is it that so many project practitioners, educators and writers, to say nothing of advertisers, talk about "project success" but fail to explain what they mean by the term?

Lavagnon A. Ika writes a valuable article in the Project Management Journal (December 2009, pp6-19) titled: Project Success as a Topic in Project Management Journals. In their Abstract they summarize: "This article highlights the characteristics of articles on project success published between 1986 and 2004 in the Project Management Journal (PMJ) and the International Journal of Project Management (IJPM). The analysis covers references, concepts like project management success, project success, success criteria, and success factors; ... The results show that research on project success is characterized by diversity ..."

In their text they observe: "The concept of project success is difficult to define. As defined by the Canadian Oxford Dictionary (1998), success is: 'the accomplishment of an aim; a favorable outcome.' But what can be said of project success? Without venturing onto risky terrain we can say that there is no consensus as to what constitutes 'project success' or 'project failure' ... Several authors simply presume that everyone knows what is meant by 'project success' and 'project failure'. The only thing that is certain in project management is that success is an ambiguous, inclusive, and multidimensional concept whose definition is bound to a specific context." (emphasis added.)

On the same topic, Hulya Julie, Yazici, of Lutgert College of Business, Florida Gulf Coast University, Fort Myers, USA, in a study reported in the Project Management Journal, September 2009, p16, states:

"As concerns the influence of leadership characteristics on project success, Dvire et al. (2006) studied the relationship between the project manager's personality, project types, and project success. Project success was measured along four dimensions:
  1. Project efficiency (meeting project goals)
  2. Customer benefits
  3. Benefits to the parent organization, and
  4. Benefit to the community and national infrastructure
Researchers found tentative support that project managers are more attracted to projects that fit their personality, and further more are more successful when their personality characteristics match their projects' profiles (e.g. some project managers fare better with platform projects, others with low tech, derivative projects, and still other project managers work best with high-tech uncertainty projects). This finding agrees with Turner and Muller's review (2005), which demonstrates that a project manager's personality and leadership may make a manager more competent and thus influence project success."

This seems to ignore the fact that the majority of project managers are appointed by somebody else. And it is somebody else's decision that connects a particular individual to the project. And their selection most likely depends on the candidate's competency in the area of project management application, i.e the technology involved. Much more likely it is the technology and its application that attracts certain personality types to obtain the requisite skills in the first place, and that is how the connection is made when a corresponding project comes along.

But in any case, in the words of Lewis Carroll's 1872 classic Through the Looking Glass: "When I use a word it means exactly what I choose it to mean - nothing more and nothing less." When it comes to "project success", project practitioners of all stripes had better smarten up and start explaining exactly what they mean by these words, within the context of which they are speaking!

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