Have you considered how your ‘organisational culture’ is impacting on project delivery success?

Have you considered how your ‘organisational culture’ is impacting on project delivery success?

Icon Article Date

January 18, 2021

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Andrew Divitaris



There is a lot of discussion recently about different ‘ways of working’ and what is best for an organisation, department, or project. Perhaps prompted by the increasing changes in corporate structures and use of Agile principles, such as self-organising and cross-functional teams, as well as the need to respond to a world evolving at a rate we have never seen before, organisations are increasingly thinking about how to cultivate work practices and develop their operating models to get the best out of their teams.

Most of us would agree that organisations today need to be more responsive as they come up against tough international competition, a faster innovation cycle, and the increasing needs of discerning customers – and we know that implementing their ideas and solutions to these challenges and opportunities means continuing to rely on overall project success as a competitive advantage to drive them forward. However, how much thought is given to the underlying project culture that exists?

As described in the PMI Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide), 5th edition:

“The culture of an organisation is created by the experiences of its members. The majority of organisations have developed their own unique cultures through years of practice and common usage.”

It is true that structures are important – they can determine how well the organisation focuses on projects, whether they are adequately resourced, how easily these resources and information is shared across departments and teams, and therefore help or hinder the success of a project. However, we argue that culture plays a more significant role (perhaps the biggest) in determining whether your organisation is successful in delivering projects.

Irrespective of the ‘ways of working’, project structures, rituals, tools, or templates, unless the project culture is grounded in a trusting, engaging and safe environment that puts people first and uses technology as support, you are unlikely to be successful or as successful as you could well be.

An organisation with an open, engaging, and supportive environment that trusts its people will often deliver business and project outcomes in-spite of restrictive organisational structures. How often do we see companies making changes to the organisational chart and project structures, moving between different delivery models and hoping that this will result in more effective teams? Culture, on the other hand, is not easily changed. It can take years for large organisations to develop a culture of excellence (although it does not take nearly as long to fall back into mediocrity).

Having a good understanding of this broader context can help to keep the work of project management in sync with the objectives of the organisation and aligned with already-established practices. We often underestimate how corporate culture can affect a project’s progress – for better or worse.  

And in an era of hybrid working, where teams are more siloed, networking and conversations that spur innovation and more challenging to be had, high productivity is masking an exhausted workforce, how will your culture enhance or hinder the ability to deliver projects?

We admit that culture is a broad term - and defining and capturing the essence of what makes a ‘good’ culture will be dependent on the unique circumstances facing individual organisations and their projects at a particular point in time. However, the alternative, which is to potentially underestimate or ignore its impact on whether you are able to deliver projects successfully can be disastrous. We cannot change a culture of underperformance one project at a time - we need to address it in a broad and multifaceted way by leading from the top.

Our people are our best asset.