Culture is Everything: Forget Everything Else

Mark Mullaly is president of Interthink Consulting Incorporated, an organizational development and change firm specializing in the creation of effective organizational project management solutions. Since 1990, it has worked with companies throughout North America to develop, enhance and implement effective project management tools, processes, structures and capabilities. Mark was most recently co-lead investigator of the Value of Project Management research project sponsored by PMI. You can read more of his writing at markmullaly.com.

Successful organizational change efforts ignore culture at their peril. Culture is the single most central, most essential and most fundamental ingredient to making change work. This is particularly true of project management. And it is in the implementation of project management that we most often get this fact completely, utterly, desperately wrong.

Why we get this wrong is the result of the intersection of at least three major factors. These factors often get taken as gospel, without any real testing or assessment of the underlying truth of the statements or how they actually play out in real life:

  1. Project management is presumed to be a standard. Firstly, we often take as a statement of fact that there is one project management. It doesn’t help that many of the resources used to articulate and educate people as to what project management represents use the word “standard” in their description. It’s equally problematic when what is described as a standard is subsequently presumed to be a methodology. Standards are, at best, reflective of what might be referred to as “generally accepted practice.” At worst, they are the lowest common denominator that everyone can agree on. In all instances, they are an abstract conceptualization that is often presented as an ideal way of working, not a reflection of what actually works.

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