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Exhibit 3 lists a few typical situations that teams might face which should be addressed in the ground rules discussion. Ground rules are just such a tool. Ground rules help a team learn how to work together, and they help a project manager facilitate difficult situations more effectively and without emotion. A process improvement project is focused on improving results. Nevertheless, improving results is not necessarily easy. A project manager needs a proven methodology to help him or her move the project from current results to improved performance.

Because there are only five steps, they are easy to remember, easy to understand, and simply make sense. This proven methodology, if applied correctly, can improve any process. What is the ultimate purpose of a project? Why does some business leader, some organization, want you to work on a project?

Your efforts on any project you are managing should result in some kind of improvement for the business: reduced costs, increased sales, better productivity, less errors, reduced cycle time. The list goes on and on. You and your teams are doing a lot of work so an important aspect of the business gets better. Yet, so often, teams fail to realize improvement is their purpose. They get lost in the minutia and documentation of project management: scope documents, meeting minutes, action item lists, jeopardy logs, and meeting due dates Rever, Improving results implies that key and process measures are identified, defined, and tracked.

Once the proper metrics are agreed upon, a project manager simply needs to lead the project team through the DMAIC steps, utilizing the necessary tools and techniques under each step, in order to improve results. Exhibit 4 outlines the Six Sigma roadmap for improving results. Incorporating these steps into how a project manager actually facilitates a project will add structure to the project, remove emotion from decision making, and should lead to improved and sustainable results.


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Anyone who has ever participated on a project where the project manager was not a good facilitator can attest to the importance of project facilitation. A project manager who is an excellent facilitator makes all the difference in the world. Teams work together.

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People feel involved. Things just go smoothly. Most project managers are natural leaders and are very good at planning. A good facilitator is very hard to find. A few key characteristics of excellent facilitators include:. Demonstrating caring and sensitivity towards people is also essential to becoming a good facilitator. Project managers should constantly work on improving their facilitation skill set.

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As Exhibit 5 demonstrates, a simple personal development matrix is easy to create. A project manager could do a self-assessment before every project and then, during that project, actively work on improving identified weak areas. Good facilitators are big-picture thinkers. They have a vision for the project and know how to lead a team in that direction. Seasoned facilitators use a methodology e. They are confident individuals, yet humble.

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The plain and simple fact is that it is hardvery hardto improve results. Processes are complicated. Many, many different variables have an impact on a process or key measure including: the complexity of the process, the number of hand-offs, the variety and number of departments involved, the variation among the people involved in the process, the accuracy of the measurement system, the variety of customer requests or expectations, and the accuracy of upstream inputs and information.

These are just a few of the numerous variables that can impact results; there are obviously many others. To show an effect, changes to the process must overcome all of these things, in addition to those variables not listed. The problem is that not every improvement idea is a good idea. Although some ideas do help, many if not most ideas either make no impact to the key measure under study or actually do harm. So how does a project manager know what to change or recommend? The solution is straightforward: find out what actually works and what ideas help improve the key measure, and then implement those ideas.

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Conversely, the project manager must find out which process changes have no or negative impact on results and then make certain that those changes are not recommended. Decisions about which ideas to implement or not implement should be based on data not on opinion, experience, conjecture, or hierarchical level. To find out which process changes are good ideas that truly impact the key measure under study, the project manager must become familiar with the art and science of experimentation.

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However, this is not done in isolation, and systems theory is particularly concerned with the relationships and interdependencies between these subsystems. Closed and open systems The closed-systems and open-systems perspectives have emerged as the two main strands of thought within systems theory, the latter emerging as the most popular, particularly within construction management. A key aspect of open- systems theory is that an open system depends upon its environment for sustenance and must be responsive to it in order to survive. In construction it is a perspective which has proved very useful in explaining organisa- tional effectiveness and for understanding why organisations fail.

The systems approach involves the study of the relationship between interdependent technical and social variables; changes in the technical system will impact on the social system and vice versa. From this the idea of the socio-technical system was developed and it can be seen to have clear relevance to the construction sector, where technological advances could bring about changes in the integration of groups and the sociological properties of working methods. While systems theory provided new insights into these issues, Mills warned that its strength, which is its ability to simplify complex situations, is also its primary weakness.

He argues that the simplicity of such models can create a blinkered approach which underplays the way that human emotions, needs, aspirations and behaviours reverberate through the pattern of work. An example of the limitations of a systems approach is in controlling the risk inherent in complex systems.

While a probabilistic, statistical approach can be used to determine the likelihood of failure of technical system components, the reliability of human beings who interact with the system is almost impos- sible to model. This criticism is important because the issue of management control is fundamentally a problem of human behaviour.


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Silverman also criticised systems theory from a metaphorical view- point, asserting that the perspective of organisations as independent living entities capable of their own actions is incorrect. The emphasis must therefore be upon people not systems, a view reflected by Tsoukas , who argues that the systems approach has the damaging effect of making managers seem independent of the people in their organi- sation. Contingency theory Contingency theory evolved from the open-systems perspective and refined it. Pioneers of this approach delved more deeply into the relationship between organisations and their environments in the belief that there was no one best way to organise for all situations.

Softer, more humanistic approaches work in the opposite conditions. This revelation has been a major advance in manage- ment theory and has guided much contemporary construction management research. This is particularly so in the area of procurement, where there have been many attempts to identify the determinants of the most suitable procurement system for differing types of project require- ments. Problems occur when a major misfit develops between an organisation and its environment and thereby introduces the need for radical change.

Logically, it follows that the causes of an imbalance can be either organisa- tional internal or environmental external and that it can only be addressed by changing one or both of these components.

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The concept of fit led to considerable efforts being made to describe the organisational characteristics which suited different environmental conditions. For example, Burns and Stalker distinguished between organic and mechanistic forms of organisation. Organic structures are characterised by informal authority structures, free vertical and horizontal flows of information, flexible atti- tudes and a high commitment to task.

In contrast, mechanistic structures emphasised vertical information flow, rule-bound behaviour, formal authority and little commitment to task. Burns and Stalker found that as the uncertainty of the environment increased, so did the appropriateness of the organic form. Until recently these ideas have had little influence on the construction industry, which slavishly followed a highly mechanistic model of management.

The psychological and cultural origins of this management style are explained below, although it is important to note that there is still considerable resistance to move to an organic mode. Other researchers, such as Lawrence and Lorsch , considered the concepts of differentiation divisive forces and integration cohesive forces. They found that to ensure efficiency, the level of differentiation should be a direct reflection of environmental complexity but also should be accompanied by an equivalent level of integrative effort.

In these terms, it is evident that, while the construction industry has differentiated in response to increasing complexity as seen in the growth of subcontracting and, more recently, professional diversity , it has struggled to provide the necessary levels of integration to counter its adverse effects NEDO ; Latham ; Egan In theoretical terms, this is the challenge which faces the construction industry today. Whilst contingency theory has reinforced and extended the idea that appropriate management style is a function of situational and organisa- tional factors, it is not without criticism.

In other words, minor problems will be ignored until they reach crisis proportions and force a change in strategy.


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This phenomenon is often vividly illustrated in the realm of construction safety, where accident investigations often reveal that the early warning signs of accidents were ignored until it was too late Loosemore A further problem with contingency theory is the confusion surrounding the exact relationships between structural and envi- ronmental factors.

Indeed, Mintzberg questioned the reliability of some of the more abstract organisational concepts developed by the contingency school to explain this. For example, he argued that concepts such as decentralisation and participation are difficult to measure.