How Organizational Culture Impacts Project Management Excellence
I read an interesting report by Dr. Robert L. Helmreich, a Ph.D. and professor and director on the University of Texas Aerospace Crew Research Project in Austin, Texas. The report evidently dates back to 1999, but has profound insight into the impact of culture. Of course, since this blog focuses on lessons project management can learn from aviation, this report is focused on how culture impacts safety in the aviation field. This is not the first that I have read about the topic, but it does do a good job of succinctly addressing the subject. You can read the report here. Stay with me, this is interesting and has intriguing lessons for project management.
Dr. Helmreich basically says that safety efforts in aviation cannot succeed without a full understanding of cultural influences. There are three types of cultures that must be understood:
- National culture (behavioural norms, attitudes, values based on national culture).
- Professional culture (the culture of pilots and the pride in their professionalism).
- Organizational culture (policies, procedures, commitment of senior management, communication culture, etc.).
Let's lay aside national culture and professional culture for the time being, because Dr. Helmreich states that organizational culture exerts the greatest leverage for desired behavior (in this case to produce a strong safety record). It primarily boils down to this, in Dr. Helmreich's own words:
"senior management needs to decide if it is prepared to take the necessary actions"
If culture is such a critical part of achieving a critical objective in aviation, how can we expect to achieve project management excellence and related performance and productivity objectives in our organizations without a close look at the organizational culture? Could it have an even greater influence than we perceive?
Dr. Helmreich identifies specific conditions that must be met before there is a "chance of success." I have adapted these to project management because I believe that the conditions for organizational change are not dependent on a particular field or discipline. The conditions are:
- A non-punitive policy toward errors and mistakes
- A commitment to take action to reduce those conditions that cause project issues and failure
- Real data that provides insight into what is actually occurring and what is wrong
- Training on how to work better together, recognize problems and conditions which lead to problems, and how to manage in the desired way
I may delve deeper into some aspects of this, but for now, how does your organizational culture stack up?
Happy project piloting...