PostHeaderIcon Project Management and the Four Cultures

Project Management and Culture - not always love at first sight

One of the most critical success factors in implementing project management is ensuring the right fit of processes and systems with the culture of the organization. Yet culture is such a wonderfully complex and seemingly amorphous thing that it can be hard to know what “fit” really means if we can’t define the characteristics and boundaries of the firm’s culture.

The Re-Engineering Alternative by William Schneider provides both a fascinating insight into organizational culture as well as a practical toolkit for determining your own company’s core culture. This is not a new book but it is a gem. Designed as an aid to improving organizational effectiveness by leveraging cultural norms and behaviors, Schneider describes how peeling back the layers of any organization will yield one of four dominant culture types.

Understand Your Culture

Each culture is defined in fine detail by comprehensively describing the leadership and management styles, strengths and weaknesses, structure, relationships and decision-making attributes that characterize them. Discovering the differences will help explain why organizations operate the way they do and, by extrapolation, why project management has to be tailored to be sustainable. Schneider terms the cultures as:

  • Control – structured, domineering, task-oriented
  • Collaboration – trust-based, empowering, people-centric
  • Competence – achievement-oriented, impersonal, excellence-driven
  • Cultivation – potential-fulfilling, creative, informal

If you’ve worked in a variety of culturally diverse organizations, you’ll quickly recognize the distinctive traits of each of these four cultures that are described in the book so clearly and with plenty of examples.

Culture Limits Execution of Strategy

As Schneider rightly points out, culture limits strategy. And since culture sets expectations, priorities, managerial practices and communication patterns, it also limits the execution of strategy – and therefore projects. Culture ultimately defines how work is planned, organized and managed – which is why it is such a crucial consideration in any effort to improve enterprise project management.

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8 Responses to “Project Management and the Four Cultures”

  • This is a really unique and interesting way of looking at project management. Too many people have utterly the wrong approach. Thanks for posting this!

  • Many thanks for your comments Briony. I agree this is really a fascinating aspect of project management that is generally underplayed or misunderstood – sometimes with dire consequences!

  • The titles of each culture could be fit into the four temperaments I used to love to examine as a kid. Rather than trot out the words, I’ll use the recognizable elements. Fire is Control, Collaboration is Water, Competence is Earth, and Cultivating is Air.

    A firm will have a recognizable character beyond that, but it is amusing and remarkable that the passage of years does little to change it’s initial temperament.

  • Summer Davis says:

    Hi!

    You are right when you said that “Discovering the differences will help explain why organizations operate the way they do and, by extrapolation.” As a manager, before implenting anything you should understand the practices and the culture of your organization. That is the only way that you will be able to implement anything that you want. First and foremost, you have to be a good leader and in order to do that, you have to know the characteristics and the capacity of the people working under you! Your Project Management and the Four Cultures approach is something that can be utilized in an organization.

    Thank you for this post!

    Summer

  • “Culture ultimately defines how work is planned, organized and managed – which is why it is such a crucial consideration in any effort to improve enterprise project management.”
    From this quote, it really matters to understand different cultures.

    Deborah

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