Best Practises in Managing culture

Best Practices in Managing Culture
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Eshna

Last updated June 7, 2012


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"Culture is the process by which a person becomes all that they were created capable of being. " - Thomas Carlyle

"My Big Fat Greek Wedding ", Suresh said to us , while we were travelling , by bus , from Hounslaw Central to Feltham . Suresh was referring to a movie that he had watched last night and was pretty excited to watch the movie again . We were all heading to the head office of our client ,which was located in a beautiful town , 25 kms to the southwest of Central London , and was bordered by Feltham and Hampton . I and Pai , hadn't watched the movie till then and later learnt from Suresh that it is a 2002 Canadian American romantic comedy film starring Nia Vardalos , John Corbett , Lainie Kazan and Michael Constantine . Besides a nice 'gripping' love story , he had also liked the ' celebration of life ' presented in the movie , which had a wonderful message of the value of family with its cultural traditions and relationships .

It was our first day of one of our projects at the onsite location, in our  clients head office in London . I and my team i.e Suresh and Pai , were all pretty excited . As we were travelling by bus to Feltham  , we listened to Suresh's narration of the movie and watched the beautiful places that  passed by . None of us were , however, remotely aware of the challenges that  we would be facing in the next few months and the lessons that we would be learning from the project .

Besides other lessons learned , they would include some of the best practices in managing culture of our teams and stakeholders  , in any organization .

We had arrived in London about three days back and had taken up a rented apartment in a nice locality in Hounslaw Central .

That day , we met Abrielle and Mandy , business users ; Joss , our client side project manager; Rajesh , our engagement manager at the onsite and some of our onsite team members . We also met some of the members of the server management team , and some of the mega data center  professionals. Abrielle took us around the office and explained how things move in the various departments in the organization . We were given our ID cards , our meal cards , and laptops which were enabled with a VPN software to connect to the clients resources .We were also shown our work locations and seating arrangements in the office . The first day was quite hectic for us and we were pretty tired at the end of the day .

However , in the next few months of our project , we faced some tough challenges including conflicts amongst stakeholders , issues with the change management board , issues with the mega data center professionals , requirement gathering concerns of the business users ,  misunderstandings between the onsite and offshore teams, issues with the server management team and of course , the pressure of implementing the project within the deadlines .

Despite these challenges , we were able to successfully implement our project at the onsite . The lessons that we learnt from this project included some of the best practices in software development and project management . Besides other best practices , I also learnt a few best practices in managing the culture of our teams and stakeholders .

In this article , we will take a look at some of these best practices which enabled me and my team to turn around a potential failure into success , despite all the challenges that we faced while implementing the project.

#Best Practice

"Consider that different countries have different cultural norms and behaviors .  Learn more about the cultures of your stakeholders including your project team members ;  and keep their norms in mind during a project ".

 
By respecting the culture of your team members and stakeholders of your project , you will be able to gain their trust and enable them to embrace the project and the project leader .

Once while discussing some important issues with me , Joss suddenly said to me "Sabyasachi ,I know how hard you work in your offshore development center , in India . I am also aware of the fact that you and your team have even worked on weekends to get some of the tasks completed at your offshore development center.  I appreciate all the hard work and efforts that you guys have put in for this project . However , I am afraid , this is not how we work in our organization . Here , we do not work on weekends . Also ,the business users would prefer communicating with you only during the working hours i.e 8:30a.m  - 5:30p.m " .

From the way , Joss spoke to me , I realized that Joss was keen to see us adapt ourselves to their organizational culture as early as possible .

I replied "Joss , if this is the prevalent culture in this organization , we will try and adapt to this culture as soon as possible . "

At the end of the discussion , I realized the full impact of what Joss said to me . For our team, it meant that all the project communications had to happen on weekdays and only during the office hours .

Initially , this seemed to be a big constraint for a vital project as the one which we were managing . But we decided to use this constraint as an opportunity to learn and adapt ourselves to this culture . Despite all the pressures of work , we ensured that all the project communications with our client happened only on weekdays and only in the working hours of the office .

Initially when we agreed with Joss to adapt ourselves to the organizational culture , we were not quite sure how well we would do it , and how fast we could do it .

But , later on , we realized that , by adapting to this culture , we had gained a lot of trust of some of our primary stakeholders including Joss . In the next few weeks , we could see that all the primary stakeholders in our project including Abrielle , Mandy , and Joss were actively involved in our project .

The business users also shared a lot of constructive inputs with us, regarding the project . They tried their best to ensure that we were able to comfortably deliver the project at the onsite . Now , all these factors turned out to be quite helpful for us in implementing the project within the revised schedule and budget .

By respecting the culture of our stakeholders and following their norms , we were able to gain their trust and involve the stakeholders in our project . #Best Practice "Focus on building relationships not just on achieving your project goals "


In a cross-cultural project, it is safe to assume that misunderstandings will occur along the way even with the best people and training. But how these misunderstandings are handled is what makes all the difference. When importance is given to maintaining respect for the individual team members and for what their contributions are (and not just on meeting project deadlines) it will help to foster a vital sense of trust among them. Setbacks can then be turned into learning experiences.


Rajesh was our onsite engagement manager for almost seven years before he supervised this project  . One of his assets was to nurture good relationships with team members even after the project , regardless of whether the project was a success or a failure . Once while working with him on one of our previous projects with the same client , Suresh had faced some issues with the change management board where one of the change requests raised by him were rejected on the grounds that some of the details were not clearly mentioned  in the change requests .

This meant that the project would be further delayed by about a week . The business users were keen to complete the project within the planned schedule and were quite agitated when they heard about the delay due to the rejection of change requests . However , Rajesh asked Suresh to go through the details thoroughly,  and asked him to follow proper change management practices , without worrying too much about the deadlines  . Rajesh assured Suresh that he would talk to the business users and resolve any existing conflicts between them .This enabled Suresh to comfortably revisit all the issues due to which the change request was rejected. These issues included some of the business risks and mitigation strategies which Suresh had to revisit , before raising a fresh change request .

This was quite a learning experience for Suresh where he learnt a lot about risk management  and change management practices . Later , while working on his deliverables on our project , Suresh knew the challenges involved and was able to confidently deal with them .

Rajesh had laid emphasis on the contribution that Suresh would be making to the project and what he would learn from  the whole project rather than just meeting the deadlines . By doing so , he made Suresh a better project professional and fostered a sense of trust in him .   # Best Practice  " Know whether your immediate project group has identified any workarounds or solutions that have been developed over time . Review these workarounds and then develop a plan or either implement permanent fixes or make the workarounds the new policy ."

One of the attributes of the culture of any organizational is the degree to which it allows innovation and risk taking amongst its employees . By encouraging its employees in innovating and taking risks , organizations are able to remove the impediments in their projects and ensure that their culture is not getting complacent . These organizations are the ones who do not punish people for admitting their mistakes and actively support a culture of finding solutions to problems . They do not allow politics to trump their progress .

However , there are many project managers who try to be successful by following the rules of the existing culture or by being politically expedient , rather than devising solutions to the problems . People who do not understand the difference between just following the rules of the culture to be successful and real innovation , will find it difficult to move the organizational culture forward.


As Project managers you should actively support your teams in  innovating and taking risks and finding solutions to problems . You should find out from your immediate project group whether they have developed any workarounds or solutions to  the problems . You should review these workarounds and then develop a plan to either implement permanent fixes or make the workarounds the new policy .

One of the vital risks to our project was loss of data or data mismatch while delivering some of our key deliverables in the project . Our client had stored all the vital data in some of their  mega data  centers and wanted to transfer this data to their Sharepoint portal . While transferring the data ,  we were asked to ensure that all the data that is transferred , is accurately mapped to the relevant data existing in the Sharepoint portal . This would enable the subsidiaries of our client to get accurate data anytime they wanted to use it  .

For instance , lets assume , that the Sharepoint portal contains data pertaining to subsidiary A, besides other subsidiaries  . Now , while transferring data from the data centers into this portal , there was a risk involved in mapping the data pertaining to some other subsidiary company ,  to subsidiary  A . In such a case , subsidiaries would receive inaccurate data and the overall business would suffer .

Although Abrielle was convinced of the capabilities of our team , there were some stakeholders including members of the senior management who felt that we may not be able to deliver the project successfully and they were not really prepared to handle the business risks involved in case of a failure in this project . The project was one of the first projects undertaken for this client where huge  volumes of data would be transferred to the organizational portals from their mega data centers . However , Abrielle , decided to go ahead with the project and our team . Initially she encouraged us to come up with the risk mitigation strategies and solutions to the problems , including some of the major problems involved in the project .

She also asked us to prepare a project implementation document which would contain the steps that need to be followed while implementing the solution at the onsite location . She then actively encouraged us to follow the best practice of implementing the project in the staging server at the onsite, before the final implementation on the production server  . The staging server had all the relevant data which was present in the production server.  A success in the staging server would mean we would be given an approval to go ahead and transfer the vital data from the data centers into the production server .

She also spoke to some of the successful project managers in her organization to see if they had faced a similar problem in their projects , anytime in their careers and discussed the solutions  with them  . Later , she shared these solutions with our team as well . Since we had a detailed plan in place and were thoroughly prepared for the project , we were able to successfully deliver the project at the onsite , both on the staging server as well as the production server .

Although a failure in this project could have been detrimental to the business , Abrielle  decided to take the risk by going ahead with the project and our team . She had decided to find solutions instead of just accepting what the other stakeholders had to say about our capabilities as a team . By taking efforts in finding solutions and by encouraging the team to find solutions ,  Abrielle had not only turned around the project , she had also managed to move the culture of her organization forward .

# Best Practice   "Details are important  . Think about all that you can do to impress  a client .  Make little changes that can make a big difference in the final deliverables .  "

One of the attributes of the culture of any organization is the attention that its employees pay to the details in their projects . To understand this attribute , you will need to understand how people react to small problems in an organization . By paying attention to details , you will be  able to focus on producing impressive , client centric products , in your projects .

As project managers , how often have you asked yourself this question , "Is the goal of the project to deliver the minimum according to the specifications OR is the goal of the project to deliver a client centric and impressive product ? "

You will also need to understand the difference between gold plating and producing a client centric product . Gold plating is a bad project management practise and should be avoided as it may lead to problems such as increasing the overall cost of the project and increasing the risks involved in the project . Giving the customer ,more than what he has bargained for , may raise the expectations of your client , besides leading to other problems .

Before arriving at the onsite location for this project , I had shared all the requisite project documents with Abrielle . Besides other project documents , I had also send her a thoroughly detailed project implementation plan . This document contained all the details including a  step by step implementation plan of the solution which we had recommended to the client .

Later , we ourselves , found this detailed document to be quite useful for us , while implementing the solution at the onsite location . It had also helped Abrielle, earlier ,  to present  her case and convince some of the  stakeholders who were , initially , not quite convinced of our capabilities as a team .  #Best Practice  "Identify the  best people in your team . Know their strengths and weaknesses so that you can make the most of their strengths . "

People orientation is one of the attributes of organizational culture . Organizations are made up of people and it is people who make their projects successful . It is people who make up the culture of any organization ; culture does not make people . If the culture is failing , then the people are failing and organizations should take efforts in understanding why their people are failing .

Suresh and Pai were the brightest and the most experienced application developers , in my team whom I had chosen for this project . Not that others in the offshore team were not skilled in application development . But Suresh , and Pai , simply had an edge over others . Both of them had spend about 2 years with this client and knew how to manage their expectations . They also had a great deal of functional knowledge , and communicated well with people . Above all , they jelled well , both with the onsite and the offshore teams , which was a crucial element for the success of the project . Therefore , despite some major concerns such as conflicts with stakeholders, change management issues etc., we managed to implement this project successfully  .

By making most of their strengths including good technical skills , communication skills , desired functional knowledge and a team player attitude , I was able to turn around this project which was a potential failure initially .

# Best Practice

"Create a stronger identity for your project team . "

Team orientation is one of the attributes of the culture of any organization . It is very important for people to feel that they are a part of the project and the organization . This will generate loyalty and trust and will in turn help the organization in being successful . Without a sense of belonging , people  sometimes identify themselves with smaller groups than the larger identity of the project or the organization , which leads to  internal conflicts . These people are then , more concerned with protecting their own interests than that of the team or the organization .

Since the project was primarily  implemented for the Tax section of our client , we got an identity , that of 'The tax team ' .

Abbrielle , later told us , that ,although there were  a lot of suggestions by several stakeholders, she chose to give us this identity , since it would help us in communicating well with the people in the income tax section as well as those of the other sections in the organization . This included the business users , the change management board , the mega data center professionals , and the other sections within the organization .

Sharepoint user id's were also created based on this identity , for the project . Once when we entered the premises of a building that belonged to the Security division , one of the employees of our client said , on a lighter note " Just keep your taxes ready , everyone ;  here comes the tax team . "   This identity had truly given us a sense of belonging to the project  . #Best Practice "Use peer pressure to help your team members into falling in line with a project .Consider telling other stakeholders  about how others have supported the project .


"
Organizational culture is constantly changing and moving forward . However people consider it an impossible task to change the culture of their organization and move it forward . When they think about their organizational culture , they always tend to look at the larger elements of the culture rather than the smaller pieces that contribute to the whole . It is this tendency that makes them think that changing the organizational culture is an impossible task . But , there is one system , that can help project managers in changing culture of their  organization and taking it forward i.e 'peer pressure ' .

Did you ever face situations where you chose to have Chinese food in your canteen only because all the other team members chose it ; or chose to watch a particular movie you disliked earlier , because a majority of your team members liked it ? 
How many times have you asked yourself this question "Hey , why am I doing this ? " Well , it was all because of peer pressure .

But the term peer pressure doesn't  always need to have a negative connotation  . Its an irresistible force in an organization and can be used to help team members fall in line with a project . Once , while leaving for home ,  Suresh forgot to take his purse which he had left in his table drawers in the office . Since , all three of us were staying in the same rented apartment , we used to commute together , from our apartment to the office and back . But that day , Suresh had decided to stay back in the office , for an extra hour , to complete some of his deliverables .

Since he  had his 'Oyster card '(monthly passes to travel by buses in London ) in his laptop bag , he could reach Feltham from where we usually changed buses to reach Hounslaw . There were a few direct buses which were available from our client location to Hounslaw , but they were not so frequent . It was , only when he reached Feltham , that Suresh realized that he had forgotten his purse in his table drawers in the office  .

"No problem , I have my oyster card to reach home  " , Suresh thought to himself.  But as soon as he punched his oyster card in the next bus to Hounslaw , his card was rejected , as there was insufficient balance in the card . Suresh , now , had to  recharge his card , to use it . Suresh cursed himself for being so careless and thought of giving a call to Rajesh , as the client location was not very far from Feltham. To his surprise Rajesh agreed to come over to Feltham immediately and drop him to our rented apartment his car . Later , when other members of the onsite team heard about this incident from Rajesh , they too helped us on a number of occasions . They even dropped us to our apartment , whenever we had to stay back in our office for a few extra hours  .

A little act of kindness by Rajesh , encouraged other members of his onsite team to help us in a similar manner . These small acts of kindness by the onsite team members helped us a lot during our stay in London and were instrumental in delivering the project successfully . Rajesh , had effectively used peer pressure to help other members of his onsite team in falling in line with the project . # Best Practice  Find ways of rewarding your team members who are successful despite difficult circumstances. People who perform under pressure are ones who should be selected for future projects . 

Outcome orientation is one of the attributes that make up the culture of any organization . Project based companies are driven by the outcome of their projects . Project managers should reward people who perform under very difficult circumstances and make their projects successful , since they are the ones who are worth having in future projects .

"Team dinner "

The day we received sign offs on all our deliverables , Rajesh decided to buy us a  "team dinner" at a restaurant of our choice . The last few months had been a roller coaster ride for our team where we had our moments of despair , anxiety , excitement and finally relief . The prospect of having a "team dinner " with everyone was quite cheering at the end of a four months gruelling schedule . Since we were all too tired that day , we decided to order the food at our rented apartment where we could spend some time relaxing and enjoying our dinner with Rajesh . As we relaxed and discussed the happenings of the day with each other , Rajesh asked us "Guys , which restaurant would you like to try out today ? " .

We all said "The Olive Greek " . "The Olive Greek " was the most popular Greek restaurant in our neighborhood and the only restaurant in Hounslaw Central that we did not try out ,  during our stay in London . Although it was a 'bit' costlier than the others , the restaurant was known for its traditional Greek cuisine .   Dinner arrived at half past nine . As I and my team laid out the dinner the table , Rajesh said "Guys , I am feeling too hungry . Lets not waste our time anymore . "


Rajesh looked very happy and relaxed that day . Earlier that day , Rajesh had received a lot of congratulatory calls from the onsite and offshore teams for turning around a project which was a potential failure just a few a months back . The food was simply delicious .

For appetizers we had Aubergine Croquettes ( 'Melitzanokeftedes' ) that was served with yoghurt dip ('tzatziki') . This was followed by a sizzling hot chicken soup ('Kotosoupa') for everyone . As we moved on to the next course , I recollected some of my college days and the initial years of my professional life , when I was scared of being 'full' even before I reached the main course , during team lunches and dinners .

"Not this time " , I said to myself . For the main course we had ordered Greek Salads ('Horiatiki Salata') ; the traditional Greek 'Moussaka ' , a succulent combination of fried aubergines , delicately spiced minced lamb and rich cheese sauce ; Cabbage Rice ('Lahanorizo') ;

Chicken casserole with Egg and Lemon Sauce
( 'Kotopoulo Fricassee' ) ; Butter and Cheese pie (' Blastaria me tyri kai voutyro ') ; Cooked Tuna fish ('Fileta tonou sti katsarola') which was served with rice and a green tossed salad ; and Greek style pasta with shrimps  ( 'Makaronada me garides ')  .

While we were busy eating , Rajesh said to me "Sabyasachi , let us not forget the Apple pie fudge and Greek Coffee " , as though he had read my mind  . Later , as we had slices of Apple pie and sipped Greek coffee , we all watched the movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding " . Conclusion : Many people believe that there is little they can do to move the culture of their organization. Since it is quite difficult to change culture , people feel that it is impossible to do so . But the truth is that the culture of any organization is always changing due to several factors .

As project managers, you must learn how to make the culture support the Project Management Office (PMO) rather than be an impediment to their success . There are several attributes that make up the culture of any organization . You must understand these attributes well in order to manage the culture of your project teams and your project stakeholders .

Project managers should ensure that team members are delivering results that are consistent with the organizational culture and values . Also , teams that try to distance themselves from a cultural change will not achieve lasting success . The key to success is working together with the cultural change.

About the Author

Eshna is a writer at Simplilearn. She has done Masters in Journalism and Mass Communication and is a Gold Medalist in the same. A voracious reader, she has penned several articles in leading national newspapers like TOI, HT and The Telegraph. She loves traveling and photography.


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