THE IMPACT OF PROJECT MANAGER ON PROJECT SUCCESS – THE CASE OF ICT

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APA JOURNAL

Vol.6, No.2, pp.41-94,

THE IMPACT OF PROJECT MANAGER ON PROJECT SUCCESS – THE CASE OF ICT SECTOR

BÁLINT BLASKOVICS

Assistant Professor, Strategy and Project Management Department, Corvinus University Budapest

 

The project management literature on project success is rich. Numerous papers focus on the evolution of the understanding of project success, identification of success criteria and critical success factors. Critical success factors increase the potential for achieving project success, while project success can be evaluated with the help of success criteria. Although the interrelationships between critical success factors and success criteria are rarely analyzed, yet there is a strong demand for it. The aim of this paper is twofold. One of the aims is to identify the impact of one of the critical success factors, the project manager’s project management attitude on project success. The other aim is to highlight the interrelationship between the project manager’s personal characteristics and project management attitude and leadership style, which are three critical success factors. These aim to address the shortcoming mentioned above, which is considering the lack of the interrelationships between critical success factors and success criteria. The research outcomes are drawn from qualitative field research at the Hungarian subsidiaries of multinational companies operating in the ICT sector. Keywords: project success, success criteria, critical success factors, project manager’s knowledge, leadership style.

 

1.     Introduction Organizations spend high amount of money on projects. By the new millennium, the total spending on projects reached almost 20% of the world’s GDP (Bredillet 2007). However, the success rate achieved on projects is very low. Only a bit more than one-third of the projects are finished successfully (Fehér 2009; Standish Group 2013), while the rest do not reach the predefined parameters. The situation is worse in the IT sector, where the success rate is onethird (Standish Group 2013), however, the newly introduced methodologies, such as agile project management, have increased this rate in the past few years. Both cost and time overruns are very common to IT projects, while more than 20% of these projects are cancelled before even commencing (Lee-Kelley – Loong 2003). The Standish Group (2013) highlighted the most important reasons for failure: a) inappropriate project scope definition; b) inappropriate project communication; c) lack of appropriate project management competencies. The study also draws the attention to the importance of the organizational characteristics as well, like the applied project management methodology, project management expertise, tools and infrastructure. Taking the amount of money spent on project into account, achieving project success is a must for organizations (cf. Schaltegger 2011). To achieve this, it is required to clearly understand the success criteria and the critical success factors, as well as the relationship among them. Various authors have already identified certain critical success factors, while Fortune and White (2006) provide a comprehensive overview of them. Among others (see e.g. Görög 2003; Müller – Turner 2010; Yang et al. 2011), they pointed out the key role of the project manager to achieve success on projects. Although the literature highlights the relationship between the project managers’ managerial features and the likely project success, yet an indepth analysis was not carried out. The primary aim of the paper is revealing the interrelationship among project success expressed in terms of success criteria and the project managers’ project management attitude. In order to do so, there is a need for highlighting the interrelationship between personal features, and leadership style and attitude.

 

 

2. Literature review Considering the defined aims of the paper, there is a need for providing a review of the literature on the understanding of project, the phenomenon of project success, personal characteristics, leadership style, and the project management attitude of project managers. 2.1. Understanding of a project and project management Understanding the concept of a project has developed considerably in the last decades. For a long time, projects were considered as unique tasks (see e.g. Olsen 1971). Lundin and Söderholm (1995) realized in the mid 90s that projects are temporary organizations. Cleland (1994) states that projects are building blocks of strategic implementation, i.e. projects create the beneficial changes needed for organizations. Nowadays, projects are unique tasks, temporary organizations and strategic building blocks at the same time. Görög (2013: 9) defines them as follows: ‘…projects are one-time, complex and unique set of activities carried out in a project organization with time and budget constraints and they have a predefined project result to be implemented.’ The role of project manager has developed in accordance with the understanding of concept of project success (see e.g. Görög 2002; 2013). Earlier, when projects were defined as unique tasks, project managers were supposed to focus on the process of the project, thus managing the implementation process considering the project results, and the time and cost constraints. As the understanding of the concept of a project widened, the role of the project manager also advanced. The management of stakeholders and the delivery of the beneficial change became part of his/her role. These days the most important roles are as follows: planning the projects, implementing the plan, managing stakeholders and delivering the beneficial change (see e.g. Fekete – Dobreff 2003; Project Management Association 2006). Thus project management can be considered as an application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements (Project Management Association 2006: 24). 2.2. Understanding of project success Due to the increased complexity of project and project management, project success also became a complex phenomenon, which may be considered both from input- and outputoriented perspective. The output-oriented perspective evaluates project success by means of success criteria (see e.g. Cooke-Davis 2002). While the input-oriented perspective analyzes the factors contributing to project success by means of critical success factors (see e.g. Fortune – White 2006). The understanding of project success has developed during the decades considerably, and this process was in accordance with the understanding of the concept of project and project management. At the beginning, papers on project success were focusing on the classical project triangle (time, cost, quality). Later, this was enhanced by considering stakeholder satisfaction and the strategic aspect of the client. This development requires the consideration of the interrelationships among the components of the project success: the success criteria and the critical success factors (Judgev – Müller 2005; Mészáros 2005).

2.2.1. Success criteria Success criteria are those base values, on which project success can be evaluated (Görög 2013). When defining the appropriate success criteria, two important factors should be considered (based on Judgev – Müller 2005): · Holism: the evaluation model should contain every relevant criterion, against which, a project success can be properly measured. · Realism: the model should not divert the actual outcome, i.e. a model should not classify a successful project as unsuccessful and vice versa. Since both project and project management are complex phenomena, success criteria should also reflect this. In the course of defining the proper success criteria, it is also necessary to consider the understanding of the concept of project and project management. This means that from the point of view of project success, both the project result and project management should be considered. Project result success focuses on the project result, whether the project result, which was created by the project, satisfied the desires of the most important stakeholders. Project management encompasses managing the implementation of the project, the stakeholders and the delivery of beneficial change. In this way, its success focuses on the appropriate use of resources and appropriate management of stakeholders. Thus project management success encompasses the efficiency of project delivery, while project success embodies the effectiveness of project delivery. As a result, the efficiency of the project completion (implementation of the project) and effectiveness of the project completion (managing the project team and delivering the beneficial change) should be measured (Baccarini 1999; de Wit 1988; Görög 2013). The first term can be measured against the project triangle (see e.g. Cooke-Davis 2002; Görög 2003), the latter term can be measured against client satisfaction and stakeholder satisfaction (see e.g. Atkinson 1999; Baccarini 1999; Görög 1996). Thus an appropriate model should evaluate the project completion (efficiency) and the project result (effectiveness) containing the following criteria (see e.g. Atkinson 1996; Görög 2003; Project Management Institute 2010; Shenhar et al. 2001): project triangle (time, cost, and quality), client satisfaction, and stakeholder satisfaction. This triple criterion system provides a complete, thus a holistic approach. Besides this triple criterion system, there are alternative evaluation models, like the key performance indicator (KPI) based or financial indicator-based (like NPV or IRR) evaluation models (see e.g. Toor – Ogunlana 2010; Yu et al 2005). These models can be very effective in certain projects, but they face serious shortcomings when they have to evaluate projects which are hard to quantify. Based on that, these models cannot be considered holistic. Besides holism, a criterion system or a model should satisfy realism as well. From this point of view, two kinds of approaches exist in the literature. The non-hierarchical approaches (see e. g. Atkinson 1999; Project Management Institute 2010; Wateridge 1997) and hierarchical approaches (see e.g. Baccarini 1999; Cooke-Davis 2002; Görög 2003). The first one assigns equal weight to the criteria, while the second distinguishes the criteria and they can compensate each other to a certain extent. There are projects which exceeded the time and cost constraints and were still found to be successful (see e.g. Kun 2005); in this way hierarchical approaches are appropriate. Thus an evaluation model should be a hierarchical model containing the following criteria (Görög 2003): project triangle (time, cost, quality); client satisfaction; and stakeholder satisfaction.

 

2.2.2. Critical success factors Besides the output-oriented perspective, the input-oriented perspective, i.e. the critical success factors should also be considered. Critical success factors are as follows (Boynton – Zmud 1984: 17): ‘those few things that must go well to ensure success for a manager or an organization.’ The evolution of critical success factors is very similar to the evolution of understanding of project success (Judgev – Müller 2005). Until the mid 90s, the literature mainly focused on the project triangle (see e.g. Fortune-White 2006), as of today the focus has widened, and the range of critical success factors became broader. Nine groups can be created, which are as follows (based on Blaskovics 2014; Fortune – White 2006; Görög 2003; Yang et al. 2011): · clarity of the underlying strategic objective of the project; · scope definition of the project; · continuous communication amongst the project team members (including the user’s involvement and the support of the senior management); · reliability of the project triangle and the availability of the resources needed; · competency of the project manager and his/her leadership style; · competency of the project team and the team’s motivation; · risk management; · change management; · organizational and environmental characteristics. Although critical success factors or groups are good to draw the attention to those factors, which bear the importance for achieving project success, they have serious shortcomings (SCs). These are as follows: · SC#1: The importance of the critical success factors may vary throughout the delivery of the project and this is not taken into consideration (Fortune – White 2006). · SC#2: The interrelationships among the critical success factors are not taken into consideration, although the interrelationships could be more important than the factors themselves (Fortune – White 2006). · SC#3: Projects are unique and one-time set of activities, thus generally applicable critical success factors cannot be identified (Görög 2003). · SC#4: Critical success factors usually consider project success as homogenous phenomenon (Fortune – White 2006). From the nine critical success factor groups a few clearly enhance the whole lifecycle of the project. One of these is the competency of the project manager and his/her leadership style. A project manager has a considerable role in all phases of project (Müller – Turner 2007). His/her knowledge and competency are found to be important to achieve project success.

 

2.3. Project management capabilities In the literature, many researchers have analyzed the project managers’ knowledge areas (see e.g. Ahadzie 2014). A project management capability is a knowledge area that a project manager should possess in order to achieve project success (Görög 2013). The evolution of the required capabilities is in line with the evolution of understanding the concept of project. When projects were considered as unique tasks, the focus was on the project management quantitative tools (see e.g. Olsen 1971). As the understanding expanded, the spectrum of required knowledge areas also broadened. In order to manage project properly, project managers should own capabilities which are used for motivating, influencing and integrating stakeholders (see e.g. Pinto 2000), and delivering beneficial change (see e.g. Görög 2002; 2013). Cleland (1994) summarizes the three most important capability areas that a project manager should possess: (1) the technical capabilities: those that relate to the technical part of the project; (2) the human capabilities: those that relate to the management of stakeholders; and (3) the project related capabilities: those that relate to the project management knowledge. These three basically refer to possessing all the tools, techniques and practices which are in connection with the professional knowledge of project management. Each capability area can be expressed in a deeper manner, although this paper focuses only on the third group. Project related capabilities embody the professional content, i.e. the required competencies of project management (Cleland 1994). Although there are other approaches (see Görög 2013), this paper relies on Cleland’s (1994) concept. Cleland (1994) defines three competency elements, which are as follows: a) knowledge: familiarity with the project management toolkit; b) skill: the ability to apply the knowledge (project management tools, techniques and practices); c) attitude: the approach of the project manager towards managing projects. This attitude implies two main aspects (Görög 2013). One of them is the way in which the project manager applies the project management toolkit. It implies whether or not a project manager takes into consideration the characteristics of the project context, when he/she makes a decision on using different project management tools or he/she follows a certain kind of best practice regardless of the project context. The other aspect relies on the understanding of project and consequently the understanding of managing projects. If a project manager considers the project as a unique task, then the project management means managing the implementation process of this task, which places the focus on planning and control the implementation process. If the project is considered to be a temporary organization, then the project management means managing the temporary organization, which places the focus on the management of stakeholders, especially the project team. If the project manager considers the project as strategic building block, then the project management is interpreted as delivering the beneficial change, which puts an emphasis on strategic project scope definition, proper communication with the client, and optimization based on the changes. Of course, these project management attitudes can be simultaneously applied. The paper focuses on the latter approach of project management attitude, which relies on the understanding of project.

 

2.     The research and the research method The research had a twofold aim. One was to reveal the impact of the project management attitude’s on all the three dimensions of project success: project triangle, client satisfaction and stakeholder satisfaction. The other aim was to reveal the existence of the personal characteristics’ impact on project management attitude and leadership style.

 

As it was highlighted in the literature review, critical success factors have considerable shortcomings. Throughout the research, I accepted propositions by the means of which these shortcomings might be eliminated. Although the importance of critical success factors may vary during the lifecycle of the project, the project manager has an active role to influence the potential success throughout the project. Even if the interrelationships are not taken into consideration, I took the impact of personal characteristics on project management attitude and leadership style into consideration. Since there is no potential for identifying generally acceptable critical success factors, during the research I did not intend to identify a critical success factor. Even if critical success factors usually consider project success as a homogenous phenomenon, I expressed project success in terms of success criteria. Based on the research aims, the following research questions were formulated: · Does attitude have an impact on project success measured against success criteria? · Do personal characteristics have an impact on project management attitude and leadership style?

3.1. Detailed discussion of the research method In order to achieve the aims of the research, it had two distinguished parts: desk research and a field research. In the course of the desk research, the literature related to project success, critical success factors, success criteria, leadership styles, project management capabilities, project manager’ project management attitude and project manager’s personal characteristics were revealed. The aims of this part were to identify the appropriate approach to project success, reveal the existing project manager’s project management attitudes, leadership style categories and those personal characteristics which bear great importance for project managers. Based on these, the questions for the interviews could be formulated. The aim of the field research was also twofold. One was to reveal the impact of the project managers’ project management attitude on project success, expressed in terms of the success criteria. The other aim was to reveal the impact of personal characteristics on project managers’ project management attitude and leadership style. In the course of the field research a qualitative research methodology, semi-structured interviews were used, which lasted 45 to 60 minutes (Babbie 1994; Creswell 2003). The unit of analysis was the project managers in Hungarian subsidiaries of multinational companies operating in the ICT sector. The ICT sector is turbulent, rapidly changing, innovative and knowledge intensive sector, where the technology lifecycle is usually noticeably short. These are the reasons that the satisfaction of workers is important for the companies (cf. Blaskovics, 2014; Nemeslaki et al. 2004). This potentially has an impact on leadership style and project management attitude, which increased the demand for an adequate project manager. However, this paper focuses on the project managers’ features, not the organizational or industrial characteristics. Five companies were selected, which have a leading position in the industry. The name of the companies cannot be revealed due to confidential reasons. Twenty-five project managers were selected (with the help of the Project Management Offices, the PMOs or with the help of lead project managers). A sample of twenty-five project managers (PM) is seen as sufficient. This is due to they have common knowledge and common understanding about project management, they work in the same sector and have to absolve trainings and adapt the companies’ project management standards used/developed by the given companies. Based on these, they possess an almost homogenous knowledge and understanding about project management.

 

 

4. Discussion The first step of the field research was the mapping of project management knowledge owned by PMs. Only one of the PMs did not possess the required knowledge highlighted in the previous parts. He started his PM career two weeks before the interview took place, while the others had a solid knowledge in the field of project management. Many project managers (more than 40%) possessed a certain certification (Six Sigma, PMP or PRINCE2). The remaining PMs also had solid project management knowledge; however, they did not have a certification. The tools and techniques known and used by the uncertified PMs were matched with the tools and techniques that are required for being certified (cf. Görög 2013; Project Management Institute 2010).

4.1. Identification of the project management attitude of project managers’ The aim of the first part of the second step was to identify the project managers’ project management attitude. The most common answer was the ‘stakeholder-centric’ (especially project team-centric) attitude, which reflected the temporary organization based attitude towards projects, thus managing the temporary organization based attitude towards managing projects. The other common answer was the ‘strategic-oriented approach’, which reflected the strategic building block based attitude towards projects, thus delivering the beneficial change based attitude towards managing projects. Besides these, there were other attitudes that were mentioned by two PMs: ‘planning-based approach’ and ‘technocratic approach’. These two approaches both reflected the unique task based attitude towards projects, thus managing the implementation process based attitude towards managing projects. The highlighted attitudes were categorized by the researchers in accordance with the following considerations. When the interviewee mentioned the primary importance of corporate strategy and/or the goal achieved by the client, then the project manager was considered to have a ‘strategic-oriented’ project management attitude. If the project manager found the project team and/or stakeholders primary important, then the project manager was considered to have a ‘stakeholder-centric’ project management attitude. If the interviewee relied primarily on planning, decomposing the project into a well-built process and realizing the plans, then the project manager was considered to have a ‘planning-based’ project management attitude. And if the PM approached the project from the technical side of it (like the tools and assets that should be used in the project in order to deliver the project result), then the project manager was considered to have a ‘technocratic’ project management attitude.

 

5. Conclusions It inevitably seems that project managers have a considerable impact on projects and a key role in achieving project success. Thus research analyzing their features could be important for increasing low success rate achieved on projects. The aims of the research were to reveal the impact of project management attitude on both the three success criteria, and project manager’s personal characteristics on project management attitude and leadership style. The field research justified the existence of these impacts. The project management attitude (strategic-orientated, stakeholder-centric, planning-based and technocratic) has an impact on the project triangle, client satisfaction and stakeholder satisfaction. This is due to the use of proper planning, control, optimization, communication and resource allocation. At the same time, personal characteristics have an impact on the project management attitude and leadership style. The latter is because project managers (by means of improvement of motivational skills and emotional intelligence) might shift their leadership style from a dictatorial to a more democratic style, which might increase the potential for achieving project success (cf. Blaskovics 2014). This is also reinforced by project managers, by mentioning personal characteristics as one of the main factors having an impact on their leadership style. Coincidentally, the impact of project management attitude is due to mentioning personal characteristics as one of the main factors having an impact on their project management attitude by project managers. Concerning the research questions formulated in the ‘Research and research methodology’ section of the paper, we might conclude: a) the project management attitude has an impact on both three success criteria of the hierarchical model; b) the personal characteristics have an impact on leadership style and project management attitude. We need to emphasize again that the scale was not the focus of the research; instead, we focused on highlighting the existence of the impact itself. Considering the research outcomes, we can also conclude that project management attitude and personal characteristics are highly important from the aspect of achieving success. Thus academic courses and training programs should place an emphasis on improving these features of the project manager. Although it should be mentioned, that in order to shape the project management attitude and personal characteristics, certain hard tools and techniques should be taught as well. Neglecting these tools and techniques, project management attitude and personal characteristics cannot be improved (cf. Cleland 1994). Thus, the appropriate combination of knowledge transfer and shaping of project management attitude and personal characteristics are desired to be developed. The research outcomes are supported by the literature review, but only five companies with special features were considered during the research. Thus, the research outcomes cannot be generalized. They are valid for only those kinds of companies, which operate in a similar industry and having similar characteristics as the five companies. Further research should encompass analyzing more companies in the same industry, but with different characteristics or companies operating in a different industry. The research is also facing other serious limitation: although the interrelationship was identified between personal characteristics and project management attitude and leadership style, other factors were not taken into consideration. Researchers did not try to identify every factor that has an impact on the latter two features of the project manager; and this research did not reveal factors which have an impact on both features of the project manager.

 

 

REFERENCES:

 

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