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Project Management 2016 - Pinto - Discussion and Case Study Guides - Chapter 4

MBA Project Management


Case study guides and online resources (2016)

Project Management: Achieving Competitive Advantage, 4th Edition, 2016, Jeffrey K. Pinto

Discussion and Case Study Guides





4.1  The chapter stressed the idea that project management is a “leader-intensive” undertaking. Discuss in what sense this statement is true.


Managing a project requires a high-level of coordination, communication, motivation, and goal sharing. Project managers are the central entity within the project team and are the contact point for internal (e.g., other managers within the company) and external partners (e.g., contractors, joint venture partners, etc.) Given their vital role in the project, their ability to lead and motivate others is directly tied to the success of the project.  Without a good leader, team members can become confused, conflicting goals may arise, and ultimately, projects can end up off course or behind schedule.




4.2  How do the duties of project managers reinforce the role of leadership?


Project managers are in charge of leading a team (often of diverse individuals) towards a common goal. To do so, they must motivate and inspire people toward the project’s end goal. Alignment is one way that project managers streamline operations. This is because diffusion of decision-making and innovation is possible when team members are aligned with the overall vision of the project. A key to alignment and shareholder maintenance is communication. Project managers need to communicate effectively to their team and to outside shareholders during project implementation when problems arise or when a major project change is required. Project managers must also create interpersonal relationships, not only within their teams, but also with other functional and top-level managers. This helps facilitate upper-management commitment, resource sharing, and information flow.





4.3  What are some key differences between leaders and managers?


Leaders develop strategies in line with a vision, while managers are in charge of planning and budgeting resources to implement the strategies. In terms of personnel, leaders align people with their vision, ensuring that everyone understands the direction and is motivated toward its accomplishment. Managers on the other hand are primarily concerned with organizing and staffing personnel in appropriate roles and delegating each person to specific responsibilities. Overall, managers are geared toward short-term planning, problem solving, and stability. Leaders view things lone-term, create challenges, and take risks.



4.4  Discuss the concept of emotional intelligence as it relates to the duties of project managers. Why are the five elements of emotional intelligence critical to successful project management?


Emotional intelligence is important to relationship building and maintenance. The five elements of emotional intelligence are self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. They involve: an awareness of your own strengths and weaknesses, motives, and feelings; the ability to regulate your own behavior to remain under control in typically impulsive situations; an internal motivation to measure progress and set challenging goals; being capable of appreciating others’ backgrounds and feelings; and the ability to manage relationships with others. It can be vital in crisis situations where it is necessary to interpret the state-of-mind of those around you (i.e. members of the project team). Project management involves a high-degree of people management – getting the right people to do the right things. Having high emotional intelligence helps managers “fight fires,” and can create harmonious relationships between the manager and subordinates, peers, and superiors.



4.5  Consider the studies on trait theories in leadership. Of the characteristics that emerge as critical to effective leadership, which seem most critical for project managers? Why?


Five important traits for project managers are good communication skills, honesty, adaptability, interpersonal skills, and influential. Communication is vital to project management. Project leaders are the contact point for everyone within and outside of the project team. Being able to communicate issues regarding the vision/goal and project progress is key. Honesty is important, as people are unlikely to follow or believe in someone whom they do not trust. By their nature, projects incur a high level of risk; thus, a great number of changes are likely during the life of a project. A manager who can adapt quickly increases a project’s chance of success.  Project managers have to work through others to achieve the goals of the project, which requires a level of interpersonal skill to build and maintain relationships that facilitate goal accomplishment. Lastly, one major role of project managers is to influence. They need to be influential in order to get others onboard and spread enthusiasm for the project. 



4.6  Consider the profile examples of project leaders Sir John Armitt and Dr. Sreedharan from the chapter. If you were to summarize the leadership keys to their success in running projects, what actions or characteristics would you identify as being critical? Why? What are the implications for you when you are given responsibility to run your own projects?


This question gives students a chance to reflect on the characteristics of effective leaders, principally in terms of their decision-making, interpersonal, and stakeholder management behaviors. In fact, the theme of stakeholder management runs deeply through both profiles and would be an excellent question for students to consider: how much of project leadership is appearing decisive, and how much is having the ability to be a good listener? Finally, they may offer a number of different answers to the question of what they now consider the keys to being a successful leader when they are given the responsibility to run a project.

4.7  Why are project champions said to be better equipped to handle the “non-traditional” aspects of leadership?


Champions are often personally committed to a project. They are able to identify with the project in ways that traditional managers do not. Being that champions usually head their own pet projects, they are more inclined to develop the project’s vision or become cheerleaders. Additionally, because they are personally tied to the project, they often work harder to overcome challenges and defend the project to the rest of the organization.



4.8  Consider the discussion of “new project leadership.” If you were asked to formulate a principle that could be applied to project leadership, what would it be? Justify your answer.


The answer to this question requires students with project experience, or those who are grasping some of the challenges of managing projects, to formulate a principle that identifies a unique aspect of project leadership. The answer given is not as important as having the students justify their reasoning behind the principle. It offers a good method for determining if students comprehend the nature of the project leadership challenge.



Case Study 4.1 – In Search of Effective Project Managers


This case involves Pureswing Golf, and illustrates the problems when organizations attempt to locate competent project managers without any systematic plan for identifying and training good potential candidates. They are discovering that the “voluntary approach,” whereby new project managers are solicited seemingly at random from around the company, simply does not work. Many of these individuals likely do not have the skills or a reasonable understanding of what it takes to effectively manage projects.




  • Imagine you are a human resources professional at Pureswing who has been assigned to develop a program for recruiting new project managers. Design a job description for the position.


Based on the skills identified in this chapter, it would be possible to develop a job description that highlights several of the key features that strong project leaders possess.  The job description must discuss the ability to manage a team, to possess strong time management and organizational skills, to have a sufficient technical background that allows the individual to understand the core technologies, the ability to work to deadlines, knowledge of cost accounting and finance, and so forth. The instructor can tease out this list for some time, adding additional descriptive skills needed to handle the job. The goal is to highlight the fact that effective project managers must possess a solid, well-rounded set of capabilities that enable them to almost function as “mini-CEOs” within their organizations.



  • What qualities and personal characteristics support a higher likelihood of success as a project manager?


The types of personality characteristics that are best associated with project management success include interpersonal skills, communication skills, technical competency, and so forth. As several tables in this chapter suggest, the skills and personality characteristics needed to succeed as a project manager are diverse and quite comprehensive.



  • What qualities and personal characteristics would make it difficult to be a successful project manager?


In answering this question, the instructor can have students brainstorm some pathologies (within reason) that make certain people poor project managers. For example, a discussion could occur around the question of whether or not good project managers can delegate. Some would argue against delegation, suggesting that project managers must be on top of everything. The counter-argument can suggest that the purpose of superior team skills requires developing trust in others and the need to delegate. Other examples of qualities that work against becoming a good project manager could be the inability to shift from a “big picture” focus to being detail-oriented, and vice versa. It has been suggested that good project managers cannot get bogged down in details nor can they remain above the fray, but require the ability to shift their focus constantly from the forest to the trees and back again.




Case Study 4.2 – Finding the Emotional Intelligence to Be a Real Leader


As the title suggests, this case is about the concept of emotional intelligence and its role in effective leadership. Kathy was a competent project manager who had been successful in the past in other settings, but was failing badly in her first effort as head of a large international project. Her inability to understand her team’s sensibilities and her own domineering style combined to create a highly negative team environment. The nature of emotional intelligence is identified as possessing: 1) self-awareness; 2) self-regulation; 3) motivation; 4) empathy; and 5) social skills. In this case, it appears that Kathy, though possessing strong motivation and, to some degree, self-regulation, is singularly lacking in empathy and social skills. Further, it could be argued that she did a poor job with self-awareness as well, as she did not understand how her own behaviors contributed to these problems.




  • Discuss how Kathy lacked sufficient emotional intelligence to be effective in her new project manager assignment.


As noted above, of the five characteristics of emotional intelligence, Kathy appears to be seriously lacking the three of them: self-awareness, empathy, and social skills. Her inability to appreciate and modify her behavior to work with people of different cultures was the key problem with her management style. Further, she was in error by assuming that the same management behaviors that worked well for her in another setting would transfer to this new project with a different workforce and cultural sensibilities.


  • Of the various dimensions of emotional intelligence, which dimension(s) did she appear to lack most? What evidence can you cite to support this contention?


As above, students should quickly note that Kathy lacks empathy and social skills. With a little prompting, they can also see how many of these problems also contribute to and affect her self-awareness. Being caught off-guard by problems in trying to manage a large project in a foreign country suggests a lack of self-awareness on Kathy’s part.



Case Study 4.3 – Problems with John


This is a longer case and is based on a true story. Students have fun with this example and with the problems they experience with John because it is a classic problem of motivation and dealing with a dissatisfied employee. John is clearly focused on perceived equity with his peer group and the sense that he is not being fairly treated. Some students will suggest that the key is to continue giving John promotions and other positive strokes so that he starts working to his potential again. The other side will suggest that too much effort has already been spent on John, trying to get him motivated, and now is the time to crack down. Instructors have had success setting this case up as a debate and assigning people to different perspectives on how to deal with John. There are several options for management cited in the case. A sample poll taken prior to the in-class discussion is useful because it forces students to adopt a position on how to deal with John. Once they have made their positions known, it is possible to discuss the case and each of these options (and their potential down-side) in more detail.




  • As the team leader, you have weighed the pros and cons of the five options and prepared a presentation to management on how to address this problem. What do you suggest?


This is a good question to get discussion started because it allows the instructor to create a chart with pros on one side of the ledger and cons on the other. The case cites five different options that management has identified, so that is a good starting point.  Students can be asked to offer both positive and negative comments on the situation and John’s behavior as a first step toward a more complete analysis of what the problems are and how best to deal with them. Next, students can be asked if there are alternative options that top management has not considered, and if so, the benefits and drawbacks of each of these options.

  • Consider each of the options, and develop an argument to defend your position for each option.


As above, the options developed in the case each have positive and negative elements associated with them. For example, someone might suggest that the key to resolving John’s lack of motivation is to encourage him to finish his degree so that he can be promoted more regularly; however, others could note that he has tried that over the past years and never stuck with it. The goal is to get students thinking critically, avoiding knee-jerk responses based on a cursory reading of the case, and considering the ramifications of their choices.


  • What specific leadership behaviors mentioned in this chapter are most relevant to addressing and resolving the problems with John?


Several leadership behaviors come to mind, most centered around the need for good interpersonal skills, an understanding of motivation (especially equity and expectancy theories), the need for personal credibility, the ability to think of creative solutions (“outside the box” options), and mostly, the personal integrity to be honest and straightforward with John – to demonstrate an understanding of John’s behavior, a willingness to consider why it is occurring, and the honesty to show him that if it continues, there will be consequences.




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