Archive for the ‘Conflicts’ Category

The resource allocation syndrome (Engwall & Jerbant, 2003)

Mittwoch, April 22nd, 2009


Engwall, Mats; Jerbant, Anna: The resource allocation syndrome – the prime challenge of multi-project management?; in: International Journal of Project Management, Vol. 21 (2003), No. 6, pp. 403-409.

Engwall & Jerbant analyse the nature of organisations, whose operations are mostly carried out as simultaneous or successive projects. By studying a couple of qualitative cases the authors try to answer why the resource allocation syndrome is the number one issue for multi-project management and which underlying mechanisms are behind this phenomenon.

The resource allocation syndrome is at the heart of operational problems in multi-project management, it’s called syndrome because multi-project management is mainly obsessed with front-end allocation of resources.  This shows in the main characteristics: projects have interdependencies and typically lack resources; management is concerned with priority setting and resources re-allocation; competition arises between the projects; management focuses on short term problem solving.

The root causes for these syndromes can be found on both the demand and the supply side.  On the demand side the two root causes identified are the effect of failing projects on the schedule, the authors observed that project delay causes after-the-fact prioritisation and thus makes management re-active and rather unhelpful; and secondly over commitment cripples the multi-project-management.

On the supply side the problems are caused by management accounting systems, in this case the inability to properly record all resources and projects; and effect of opportunistic management behaviour, especially grabbing and booking good people before they are needed just to have them on the project.

Project leadership in multi-project settings – Findings from a critical incident study (Kaulio, 2008)

Donnerstag, Oktober 23rd, 2008

 Project leadership in multi-project settings - Findings from a critical incident study (Kaulio, 2008)

Kaulio, Matti A.: Project leadership in multi-project settings – Findings from a critical incident study; in: International Journal of Project Management, Vol. 26 (2008), No. 4, pp. 338-347.

Kaulio asked project leaders, who operate in a multi-project environment about critical incidents in their last projects. The idea of critical incidents is, that as soon as a participant remembers the critical incident it must have some importance. Ideally it then is followed by a blueprint analysis followed by measuring the criticality is measured on each contact point. Kaulio focusses only on the elicitation of the critical incidents, without doing the triple-loop of the original research concept. The author shows the frequency of critical incidents happening:

  • Technical difficulties
  • Dyadic leadership
  • Group dynamics
  • Consultant relations
  • Client relations
  • Peer relations
  • Project adjustments
  • Re-prioritisations
  • Liked dyadic-group processes
  • Formation of project
  • Court decisions
  • Dependencies
  • Requirements specification

Kaulio then maps these critical incidents according to the Locus of Control (internal vs. external) and whether they are a Management or a Leadership issue. Thus he argues  most of the critical incidents can be tied back to internal project leadership:

Locus of Control External
  • Project adjustment
  • Court decision
  • Consultant relations
  • Client relations
  • Peer relations
  • Formation of project
  • Dependencies
  • Requirements specification
  • Dyadic leadership
  • Group dynamics
  • Linked dyadic-group processes
  • Technical difficulties
  • Re-prioritisation
Management Leadership

Stakeholder salience in global projects (Aaltonen et al., 2008)

Montag, Oktober 20th, 2008

 Stakeholder salience in global projects (Aaltonen et al., 2008)

Aaltonen, Kirsi; Jaako, Kujala; Tuomas, Oijala: Stakeholder salience in global projects; in: International Journal of Project Management, Vol. 26 (2008), No. 5, pp. 509-516.

In their 1997 article, Mitchell et al. define stakeholder salience as „the degree to which managers give priority to competing stakeholder claims“. Furthermore, Mitchell at al. describe how the salience of a stakeholder is defined by three characteristics – (1) the stakeholder’s power to influence the firm, (2) the legitimacy of the stakeholder’s relationship with the firm, and (3) the urgency of the stakeholder’s claim on the firm.

Aaltonen et al. use the case study of a construction project of a paper-mill in South America to outline what strategies Stakeholders use to influence their salience. In line with typical case studies of construction projects Aaltonen’s stakeholders are environmentalist groups trying to influence the project. [I personally think based on my experience what Aaltonen et al. describe is also true for all sorts of projects, just if I think back to my organisational change and IT projects where we had workers‘ unions and councils as equally hard to manage stakeholders.] The authors observed a couple of strategies used:

  • Direct/indirect withholding strategy
  • Resource building strategy
  • Coalition building strategy
  • Conflict escalation strategy
  • Credibility building strategy
  • Direct action strategy

As per Mitchell’s definition these strategies aim to increase influencing power, legitimacy, and/or urgency. The tactics used to increase power were

  • Affect & influence parties, that provide resources, e.g., lobbying financiers and politicians
  • Affect the resource supply directy, e.g., laws and policies that prohibit imports
  • Build lobbying alliances, e.g., between environmentalist groups and unions
  • Recruit individuals with networks to important resource providers, e.g., ex-regulators, governmental workers, activists

The tactics used to increase legitimacy were

  • Initiate legal and political conflict, e.g., court action, political support
  • Inform the public about impacts of the project, thus damaging reputation of the project and increasing legitimacy
  • Signal illegitimacy of project, e.g., boycotts, counter impact studies
  • Attack supporters, e.g., showing them being partial, exposing lobbyists
  • Use other projects as showcases, e.g., using abandoned projects and withdrawls to show the illigitimacy of the project

The tactic used to increase urgency was signalling urgency, time-sensitivity, and criticality of decisions, e.g., by staging direct actions, protests, sit-ins, road blocks.

Resource allocation under uncertainty in a multi-project matrix environment: Is organizational conflict inevitable? (Laslo & Goldberg, in press)

Mittwoch, September 24th, 2008

Resource allocation under uncertainty in a multi-project matrix environment: Is organizational conflict inevitable?

Laslo, Zohar; Goldberg, Albert I.: Resource allocation under uncertainty in a multi-project matrix environment: Is organizational conflict inevitable?; in: International Journal of Project Management, Article in Press (2008).

Laslo & Goldberg investigate the conflicts associated with resource allocation. They find that the matrix structure has become the organisational from to go for, when it comes to efficiently managing a multi-project firm. Unfortunately the matrix structure has been criticised (see the PMBOK Guide) to inherently spark conflicts between line and project managers about resources. In a mulit-project firm, the authors conclude, this drawback is even worsened by the resource allocation fights between projects.

In order to model the problem Laslo & Goldberg analyse the three most common resource allocation policies, which are (1) Profit & Cost Centres (PC), (2) Comprehensive Allocation Planning (CA), and (3) Directed Priorities (DP). Profit & cost centre are synonymous with the maximum project autonomy. In comprehensive allocation planning each inidvidual project is only part of an organisation wide optimisation of resource allocation. Thirdly, in the policy of directed priorities, projects whose objectives are closer to the organisation’s strategic goals receive addtional resources/funding.

As often claimed 3 types of conflict are inherent in the matrix structure, when managers would fight for the right policy.
(1) DP vs. PC – internal Project would favour DP, whilst sponsored projects and functional units favouring PC
(2) PC vs. CA – functional units favouring PC, whilst sponsored and internal projects favour CA
(3) DP vs. CA – internal projects and functional units favour DP, whilst sponsored project favour CA

Using Foster’s theory of systems dynamics, the authors model these conflicts as a resource flow. The model contains feedback loops to model information flow into planning and runs several what if simulations.
In order to simulate with the model three organisational objectives are defined
a) Minimise delay losses (conflict DP vs. CA)
b) Minimise direct labour costs (favouring CA policy)
c) Minimise functional unit total costs (favouring PC)

As the authors put it: „Findings from the simulation suggest that not all conflict is realistic. For some project objectives, higher organizational performance can be achieved when managers learn that they have no basic differences in real interests and they can agree upon a resource allocation policy.“ That said, the results also show, that alliances between functional managers, internal venture project managers, and sponsored project managers are unstable. If resource scarcity comes into the equation, e.g, if resources can not be obtained externally, conflicts arise for sure.