Partnerships: a New Paradigm

Project Management

Old Paradigm: Adversarial Relationships
New Paradigm:  Partnerships

Success Paradigm 3:

Project teams will most likely succeed if they abandon adversarial relationships and create an environment of partnering and facilitation.  High-performance partners are valuable and critical to success.

Effective partnerships are vital in today’s project management environment!  As we mentioned in the Preface, agility, speed to market, team complexity, diversity, globalization and other similar environmental factors dictate the need for a new paradigm involving the art of partnership.

In the past, adversarial relationships have been the rule, rather than the exception among project stakeholders.  Being adversarial doesn’t make sense, since this approach almost always defies the law of synergy on any project.  High-performance partnerships, on the other hand, build synergy among stakeholder groups and create project success.  In fact, we believe that promoting project synergy, affiliating with high-performing partners and “playing nice in the sandbox” will do more for the success of a project than all the creative management charts, graphs, estimates and paperwork project managers can assemble.

We have been involved in many projects in which high-performance partnerships were developed and nurtured, creating an environment in which success flourishes.  With many of these projects we have seen the law of synergy at work.  Truly, the success of a project team (the ability to balance the PSP) increases exponentially, depending on the synergy between stakeholders.  Conversely, we believe success decreases exponentially in an adversarial or divisive environment.

One project with which we have been associated provides a good example of both sides of this diagram.  We were recently asked to provide consulting services for a construction project in which each stakeholder had a personal agenda contrary to that of the others involved in the project.  This conflict had festered into an adversarial relationship among stakeholders and had negatively impacted the success of the project.  All measurements of progress showed that this was an unhealthy situation which stifled the economics of the project and nearly destroyed it entirely.

Team members reported that partnering efforts and performance were much better at the beginning of this project.  Even though the stakeholders had had differing perspectives, there was a major effort by a few individuals to bring partners together and focus them on project goals.  Although not perfect, the efforts of these team members appeared to unite the team, create synergy, and promote performance during the first phase of the project.

At the end of the first phase, some of the key people moved to other jobs and the partnership disintegrated.  Divisiveness began to creep into all aspects of the project and its processes.  Significant turf battles began during follow-on phases.  Disagreements led to a serious lack of production and to great dissatisfaction on the part of all stakeholders.  In trying to discover the crux of the problem, we found that partnering efforts and pursuit of common, earlier goals had been laid aside.  Everyone was looking out for himself without caring about the effect this had on the common good.

In digging deeper into the causes we found some personality issues that were now impeding the project’s progress.  First, an engineer, who was working directly with the owner, held a very hard line on the specifications.  While his intentions were good, he regularly required the contractor to adopt his interpretation of the specifications.  Next, the project manager for the construction company seemed disengaged and didn’t seem to care whether the contract requirements were met as specified.  He appeared to try and get his subcontractors to complete work as quickly as possible and move on so no questions would be asked.  The owner’s facility manager liked to stir the pot, point fingers, create trouble, and then “save” the project by proposing solutions to the problems he created.  He personally did not like the idea of the owner bringing an engineer from the “outside” to oversee a project in his building.  We immediately saw these relationships as a recipe for disaster.

One pointed example of the conflicts on this project was an incident with the plumbing.  The engineer explained to the contractor his expectations as to how the plumbing should be installed.  The project manager disagreed with him and instructed his sub-contractors to install it according to his own interpretations.   The facility manager visited the construction site, noticed what he perceived to be a problem and began pointing fingers at both the engineer and the project manager in an attempt to stir the pot.  The engineer began beating the contractor with his interpretation of the specifications.  The facility manager, in trying to “save” the project, called for total removal and re-installation of the plumbing.  The project manager refused to do anything.

The three personalities could not come to a resolution of this problem.  The disagreement finally escalated into a serious contract issue over which all three were doggedly adversarial and willing to let the project fail.

As difficult as this was, it was just one example of the many issues that created an adversarial relationship among these stakeholders.  Finally, the unsolved issues piled up to the point that the project sponsors were ready to abandon the effort.  Sheer unwillingness of stakeholders had created a path to failure.  In fact, it was difficult to see how these same personalities had experienced success during the earlier phase.

As a consulting firm, we immediately went to work providing partnering and team-building sessions, along with advice on how to correct the problems.  These helped, but didn’t provide the total impact we had hoped.  Finally, the solution we proposed was to bring in a new team member with great partnering skills who could cultivate the partnership efforts necessary to save the project.

We also recommended some operational changes to assist this new team member.  The impact was not immediate, but these personnel and the operational changes slowly began to improve the situation.  The divisiveness began to give way to partnership, synergy and success as the project progressed with this new structure.  Issues like the plumbing problem mentioned above began to melt away.

In looking back at this situation, we asked ourselves how these problems could have been avoided in the first place.  How do project managers and teams create and maintain the positive synergy that must exist if a project is to be successful?

We believe that synergy and success are developed among stakeholders when three conditions are met.  First, the adversarial relationships of the past must be abandoned and performance-based partnerships created.  Second, partnerships must generate innovative processes to bring life and meaning into the project.  Finally, partners must promote positive communication in all their interactions throughout the project.

The previous blog post is an excerpt from the book entitled, “Project Management Paradigms” by Dr. Denis Petersen and Daniel Anderson,

© 2006 Milestone Publishing

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