Document Detail

Title: RR103-11 - Optimizing Project Organizations
Publication Date: 8/1/1996
Product Type: Research Report
Status: Reference
Pages: 145
Federle, Rowings, Iowa State Univ.
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Construction industry companies want to understand what factors culminate in a successful project. They also want to enhance the development of current projects and increase the chances for future successful projects. This research project’s objectives were to improve the understanding of how project teams are formed and key leaders are selected. It appeared at the outset of the project that a need existed for (1) a better understanding of the process that managers use to combine personnel into a successful project team, (2) a better understanding of the key traits, skills, and behaviors of key leaders and the interests (i.e., operations) that they represent, and (3) a more explicit approach to selecting team members on the basis of their behavioral characteristics, in structuring the project organization. The research team used case studies outlining the results of interviews and questionnaire data on traits, skills, and behaviors to develop an assessment tool for use in developing a successful project team.

This report describes the results of 15 case study projects (three pilots and 12 projects). The major project areas reviewed in the case studies included the project in relation to the number of interests, the number of people, and the time required to complete the project; the organizational structure of the team members; the selection process of key team members; the importance of traits, skills, and behaviors in the selection process; the technical managerial and interpersonal expertise of the team; the formal or informal efforts of forming the key leaders (and others) into a team; the method used to bring the team together; the influence of changes on the project organization—the significant items contributing to project success; and the barriers to the project’s success. Three instruments were used to analyze these case studies: the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the Strength Deployment Inventory, and a structured interview questionnaire developed by the research team. Due to the small size of the data collection, no comparisons are included of the means or other statistical measures to determine whether these differences were statistically significant. Because no study projects were identified as less successful, the differences between key leaders on successful and less successful projects could not be compared.

The researchers noted that the process of forming project teams can be improved by using a sieve for technical skills (the resume and longevity). However, another sieve is needed to determine conceptual and interpersonal skills. The project team members went through the following sieves before joining a construction project team as a key leader: (1) previous education and experience, (2) a pre-hire interview (3) availability and current workloads (4) willingness of the individual for the assignment (5) project assignment (6) work assignment on the project. The researchers also observed that sieves are not objective in nature. Different people using the same objective criteria are likely to make different decisions about who would best fit a particular situation.

The owner did not follow a systematic approach in selecting the key leaders for the designer or construction contractor; however, companies were often systematically selected. Structured interview guides, select bidders’ fists, and formal presentations were common during the proposal stage. However, the owner’s representative never relied on more than a “gut feeling” to decide whether an individual had the right traits, skills, or behaviors for a particular project. Some owners selected companies on the basis of how comfortable they were with the individuals making presentations during the proposal stage even though those individuals were not the key project’s leaders. Key leaders use imprecise language when selecting personnel saying that they needed someone like “Joe.”

Individual personnel selection does not occur on most projects. For key leaders, perceived rather than measured technical skills were reviewed acting as a sieve. When reviewed, teamwork skiffs were informally checked via a telephone or personal interview with supervisors of previous projects.

In the case studies, a common experience base, educational base, or other shared information base helped to select a candidate from the available pool. Within companies, people who were perceived as not fitting the unique project environment were easier to identify than those who were perceived as fitting the project culture. However, availability seems to be the key criterion in the internal selection process.

A project’s unique characteristics must be considered when establishing a project organization and selecting individuals for key roles. The organizations represented in each of the case studies showed that different organizations can fit the skills, traits, and behaviors of their team to meet the owner’s requirements.

Project organizations generally followed the traditional triangular relationship between the owner, designer, and contractor. However, the communication link between the designer and contractor was often informal. Whether allowed by the contract documents, such a link is necessary for key leaders to conform to project requirements.

An informal organization not listed in contract documents is essential for project completion. Without these informal organizations, many case study projects would have been less successful.

During a project a sense of trust develops among the members of the project. On some projects, a lack of trust developed between two team members and spread throughout the team. Knowledge and expertise are not enough to foster trust between the key leaders on a project; rather, it is based on the personal relationship developed while completing the project.

In the case studies, the Owner’s Project Executive (OPE) role and the Owner’s Project Manager’s (OPM) role were often filled by one person. On the few projects where two individuals filled these roles, the OPE’s involvement was more critical to the project’s successful completion of the owner’s established objectives. Where objectives were changed, the other key leaders sensed and managed the change. Key leaders never indicated that design or owner directed changes to the project, affected the number of participants or the organizational structure and roles of the project team.

The researchers do not believe the instruments used in this project should be used to predict performance or to hire, retain, or fire personnel. On the other hand, project performance will not be assured if only the technical skills listed on the resume are reviewed. A systematic method of evaluating an individual’s strengths and a measure for standard characteristics must be developed.

Before beginning a project, key leaders need to develop an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of each individual on the project team. This understanding should include sharing information within the team and discussing how to best structure the project organization given the unique characteristics of the project and its key leaders.