Team Interactions for Successful Project Management in Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises

Team Interactions for Successful Project Management in Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises

Dirk Pons (University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand) and Steffen Haefele (University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand)
DOI: 10.4018/IJITPM.2016040102
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Abstract

Team interactions are recognised as important factors in successful project management. Even so the concept of ‘teams' is not developed to any great detail within the project management literature. This project sought to determine the actual practices of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in regard to their management of teams within project management (PM). The specific area of interest was engineering organisations, and the focus area was New Zealand (NZ). Data were collected by means of a survey, which was advertised through various PM chapters and other organisations. Results show that there is an overwhelming appreciation for the importance of team work in projects, but a low awareness and usage of team models, and a large proportion (37%) of team processes that do not work well. Team building is the team process that is strongest associated with project success. Curiously, the results also suggest the existence of an asymmetrical relationship between teamwork and project success: that effective teamwork IS a factor in project success, but the lack thereof IS NOT a failure factor. Instead the major causes of project failure are identified as primarily poor planning and poor communication. Implications are identified for future developments of a more comprehensive understanding of how team variables affect project success.
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Introduction

This project sought to determine the actual practices of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in regard to their management of teams within project management (PM). The specific area of interest was engineering organisations, and the focus area was New Zealand (NZ).

SMEs are of particular interest since New Zealand’s economy is highly dependent on such enterprises: 97% of all NZ organizations have 19 or fewer employees. Also, a significant proportion, 31% of all NZ employees, are in SMEs (Ministry of Economic Development, 2009). By comparison, European small to medium-sized enterprises, which are better researched than New Zealand’s, have by definition 250 or fewer employees. These are large firms by NZ standards. Due to these differences in baselines, international comparisons of SME demographics and performance are difficult to draw (Ministry of Economic Development, 2009).

Many SMEs in the NZ manufacturing sector have a business model with a strong project-based work-stream, either because that is how their orders come in, or because they are involved in high-value but limited volume niche products. Consequently successful conduction of those projects is important for the firm. The project management methodology is therefore an important business tool.

Even so, an alarming number of projects fail in such project-based organisations, and resources are wasted. There can be many reasons for project failure, and one under examination here is team interactions. The project management body of knowledge (PMBOK) specifically identifies team management as a crucial success-factor (PMI, 2013) (Wang, 2007). However the concept of ‘teams’ is not developed to any great detail or maturity. In addition, there are some major discrepancies between the PMBOK perceptions and the broader psychology literature. While the psychology literature has a comprehensive understanding about team processes, team developments and team selections, the project management literature is much further behind. For example, the PMBOK only has a short paragraph on the topic of teams, and even then the material is limited to Tuckman’s model (though not attributed as such). Tuckman’s model (Tuckman, 1965) was first published in 1965, and although it has been popular ever since, it is by no means the only or necessarily the best model.

The purpose of this paper was to determine the actual team processes, and in particular team selection, team development and team conflicts, and their relation to successful projects. This is worth doing as practitioners need guidance on which team processes are particularly important to implement correctly. This research focused primarily on:

  • Usage of Project Management tools (e.g. Gantt-Chart, WBS, PERT etc.)

  • Usage of team models (Belbin, Tuckmann, etc.)

  • Perceived project success.

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