I used to think that it was just me. Like I would go into new project environment and feel like ‘ugh’, the human emotional soup was all gross and thick. People were so mean on one project that when I tried to bring two representatives of opposing groups together, as soon as the IT rep walked in the room, the business PM yelled ‘WHAT IS HE DOING HERE!?’.
Is it possible to really have a successful project when there’s nothing but human muck flying around?
I never thought so. And now a new study suggests that yes indeed, there is such thing as a ‘feel’ to a project…they call it the Project Spirit. And there’s some data to suggest that a good Project Spirit will result in Project Success.
This seems a little common sense….HOWEVER. There are still people that believe that a) people have to do their jobs, and b) they have to bone up and have tough skins and not be so sensitive and c) none of this emotion stuff affects how the job gets done.
WRONG – the emotion stuff absolutely does affect the project.. absolutely does.
Here’s more on that…
Project Spirit and Project Success
I like this idea of Project Spirit.
Seems kind of hokey at first, but according the February 2013 PM Journal article “Managing the Intangible Aspects of a Project: The Affect of Vision, Artifacts and Leader Values on Project Spirit and Success in Technology-Driven Projects” by Aranson, Shehar, and Patanakul, Project Spirit is actually a thing that can be measured.
Basically Project Spirit is:
- Behavioral Norms
…0f the project participants.
The article suggests that certain activities, which they call Leader Building Activities, affect the Project Spirit.
These activities are defined as:
- Vision, and the ability of the leader to articulate a vision that people want to follow
- Values, and the ability of the leader to instill their positive values into the project team
- Artifacts, the rituals and symbols of the project
The causal relationship is that the Vision, Values and Artifacts (Leader Building Activities) affect the Emotions, Attitudes, Behavioral Norms (Project Spirit). FInally Project Spirit affects what the authors describe as ‘Contextual Performance Behavior.’
“Contextual performance behavior involves voluntarily assisting coworkers in various ways, taking on additional assignments, keeping a positive attitude and tolerating inconveniences at work. Contextual performance behavior generally has two common themes: It is representative of the employee’s extra efforts that contribute to productivity, and it is not directly enforceable, meaning its is not technically required as part of one’s job”
And it’s this contextual performance behavior that can affect project success.
The authors set out to prove that “Project Spirit positively affects contextual performance behavior” by analyzing NASA Mars projects.
Mars Pathfinder, a succesful project, was one where Project Spirit was managed through setting a clear vision, management that set an example through their own tone and behavior (values), short effective meetings, team happy hours, colocation (artifacts). The vision, values and artifacts resulted in a team that had a certain sense of excitement (emotions), a commitment to the people on the project (attitudes), and high spirited group of people who valued honesty (behavioral norms).
Mars Climate Orbiter, a failed project, was one where Project Spirit was not managed. The vision was driven by cost savings,
management “lacked a balance between confidence and arrogance”(values), a sense of the need to build a “protective shield to outside option..or expert involvement”, a leadership that lacked a ‘collegial relationship with team members’, and a team that was not co-located (artifacts). Emotionally the team was very invested in success (emotions), resulting in an attitude to devote “lives, weekends, and time” (attitudes), and a “diminished culture of inclusion” (behavioral norms). This resulted in an over taxed workforce who weren’t open to outside input that could guide the project (behavior outcomes).
The project that set a positive emotional tone through clear vision, people-affirming values, project rituals and symbols resulted in a place where people felt excited to do their jobs, and went above and beyond what they were supposed to do, was a clear success.
So yea…it’s not just you! There is a feel to that project, and as a PM there are things you can to do start to change that context and bring in a positive Project Spirit through setting clear vision, instilling positive values and setting up artifacts that build a sense of team. Read the article for more ideas.
Side note: I’ve been on a Battlestar Galactica jaunt and if you want some good examples of how to do this, watch President Laura Roslin and Admiral Adama. They do this really really well. Adama is always instilling values, Roslin is always insting on rituals to build morale, and together they build a vision to get to Earth. Somehow they build a positive Project Spirit in a really bad situation.