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Project Management 2016 - Pinto - Discussion and Case Study Guides - Chapter 6

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






  • This chapter discussed the characteristics of high-performing project teams. List the factors that characterize these teams and give examples of each one.

High-performing teams need to have a clear sense of mission, an understanding of the team’s interdependence, and be results oriented. They also need to create cohesiveness, trust, and enthusiasm. A clear sense of mission means that all team members understand and accept the purpose of the project. A strong understanding enables team members to be more effective individually (i.e., without the PM) in solving problems. For example, a team member who understands the goals of the project is in a position to provide input about what do regarding conflicting resources use, whereas a team member who lacks understanding will not be able provide constructive advice. The team’s interdependence represents the capabilities of individual members and their interrelatedness in relation to accomplishing project goals. It also requires members to set aside preconceived notions about other functional departments and appreciate the strengths of others. Here, a team member who understands the contributions of others is more likely to ask others for advice in brainstorming or when confronted with a problem. Those who do not have a sense of interdependence may attempt to solve the problem alone or be forced to hassle the PM with every problem outside their field of expertise. Being results oriented requires rallying all members around the same project goals and motivating them towards completion of those goals. This goes hand-in-hand with enthusiasm, which simply means getting people excited about the project and raising the energy level around project activities. Teams that possess these two attributes are more driven toward project goals and may work at a faster or more intense pace. Cohesiveness is the desire and attraction that team members have for working with one another. Sometimes rewards are used to develop cohesiveness and to generate the desire for members to devote time to the project. Cohesiveness helps create harmony among team members and develop smoother working conditions than teams that do not demonstrate a cohesive front. Finally, trust is evident when team members feel comfortable working together. They have confidence in one another’s abilities. When trust is developed, members are willing to express differences and handle disagreements upfront.


  • “Trust can actually encourage disagreement and conflict among team members.”  Explain why this could be the case.

This is true because trust enables members to express their differences in opinions, understandings, and ideas. They do so in an open environment that accepts differences and allows team members to work out their differences in a civil manner. In doing so, trust allows teams to address issues as they arise rather than letting them grow into insurmountable obstacles.


  • Identify the stage of group development. Why is it necessary for project teams to move through these stages in order to be productive?

Forming is an orientation stage wherein members are feeling each other and their roles in the group out. They also begin creating the forms of communication and types of behavior that will exist within the group.

Storming is filled with conflict stemming from boundary testing. Given the rules established in the forming stage, team members will begin to push the limits of the team’s structure and newly established practices. This is the period during which conflicts will arise and should be addressed; otherwise, they may rise to the surface later and at more inopportune times.


Norming occurs after conflicts have been hashed out in the storming stage. At this point, team members have tested the waters (and each other) and have come to a set of agreed-upon group standards. Rules of conduct and expectations are established. Trust and cohesiveness also begin to form at this stage as members gain confidence in one another.


Performing is where the work actually takes place. The group has been formed and rules are established so the focus is on visible project progress. Trust and confidence exist at high levels and group performance is optimized.


Adjourning happens when the project is over. Group members may be separated into their previous or new roles. There are many issues (discussed in other chapters) that relate to this process. In order to aid in the process, team members and the project manager need to be aware of adjourning stage and treat it as a serious transition period.


Teams need to complete all stages to become productive because the group development process removes many of the barriers to working as a team. With interpersonal issues out of the way, and trust and confidence developed, the team can focus on accomplishing the goals at hand rather than on the workings of the group. 


  • Gersick’s model of punctuated equilibrium offers an alternative view of group development. Why does she suggest that some defining moment (such as an explosion of emotion) often occurs about midpoint in the project? What does this defining event accomplish for the team?

Dissatisfaction and frustration stemming from a lack of progress or unclear operating procedures triggers a mid-life project transition. The event causes a major disruption in group dynamic and standards. As a result, the group revises its norms in a way that facilitates better overall group performance.


  • Explain the concepts of “task” and “psychosocial” outcomes for a project. Why are psychosocial outcomes so important for project team members?

Task outcomes refer to the successful completion of project goals. Psychosocial outcomes relate to the team members’ evaluation of the entire project experience. These outcomes are important because members will carry past memories into new projects.  This will affect members’ attitudes regarding subsequent projects.


  • Distinguish between the traditional, behavioral, and interactionist views of team conflict. How might each explain and treat a project team conflict episode?

The traditional view sees conflict as negative. Those who prescribe to this line of thinking try to avoid conflict. When it does arise, they believe in resolving it as swiftly as possible. The behavioral view states that conflict is natural. Under this thinking, conflict is not avoided, but managed. Instead of suppressing, conflict is allowed to exist in a controlled atmosphere. Interactionists encourage conflict. They believe there is an optimal level of conflict that drives innovation and productivity. Therefore, conflict is allowed to exist unchecked until it surpasses the optimal level. 


  • Identify the five major methods for resolving conflict. Give an example of how each might be applied in a hypothetical project team conflict episode.

The five ways to resolve conflict are mediate, arbitrate, control, accept and eliminate. A project manager who wishes to mediate the conflict will use either defusion or confrontation. Defusion is used to reach a mutual agreement on the subject without delving into the roots of the conflict. Confrontation attempts to get at the underlying causes of the conflict. This takes more time but gives each party a chance to state his or her side of the argument, at the end of which, a common ground on the issue is negotiated. Arbitrating is different in that the project manager renders a decision rather than coming to a mutual decision with those involved. The project manager instead listens to both sides and then hands down a decision. For conflicts that cannot be quickly resolved, managers may choose to control the disagreement. To do so, the parties involved may be separated for a short period or their interaction may be restricted for the duration of the project. When nothing can be done to resolve or control the conflict, the team may just have to accept the fact that the conflict is going to exist and do their best to work around it. The last option is to eliminate the problem. This may be the most extreme action as it may require transferring members of the team to other projects or back to their original departments.


  • What are some of the guidelines for adopting a strategy of “principled negotiation”?

One guideline is to “separate the people from the problem.” People are emotionally attached to their viewpoints and opinions. In order to reduce the amount of influence of personality, ego, and the like, it is important to limit the personal issues and concentrate on the actual issue creating the differences. Putting aside preconceived notions, being open, understanding, and empathetic are good steps to successful negotiation. A second guideline is to “focus on interests, not positions.” This gets to the heart of the differences.  There may be one or two major motivating factors that are fueling the larger conflict.  Getting at these fundamental interests allows the negotiators to formulate a solution for each interest that will satisfy the multiple positions rooted in it. The next guideline is to “invent options for mutual gain.” It may be difficult at first to recognize potential win-win resolutions to a conflict. However, using certain techniques increases the likelihood of arriving at a mutually beneficial solution. Techniques include positive and inclusive brainstorming, which attempt to identify multiple potential outcomes. These outcomes are then broadened through additional discussion. Another technique is to identify shared interests and generate solutions based on areas of common ground. This begins a process of collaboration, which may lead to an agreeable solution.


  • Explain the idea that we should “focus on interests, not positions.” Can you think of an example in which you successfully negotiated with someone else using this principle?

“Focus on interests, not positions” means to get to the underlying fears or desires that are the root cause of conflicting positions. Positions are more on the surface, while interests are the driving force behind them. The rest of this question asks students to apply it in a personal example from their own experience. The key is to ensure that they understand the difference between interests and positions in describing their example.



Case Study 6.1: Columbus Instruments


This case is based on a true story of a once-successful organization that had allowed its project management practices to degenerate to the point where assignment to a project team was often a mark of disfavor and a sign of pending termination. The case involves issues of motivation, structural effects on projects, and project team staffing. It offers students an opportunity to see how, if left unchecked, certain behaviors by department heads and others in the organization can work against the use of project teams to improve organizational profitability, and instead make them a dumping ground for malcontents and poor performers.




  • What are the implications of CIC’s approach to staffing project teams? Is the company using them as training grounds for talented fast-trackers or as dumping grounds for poor performers?


The response to this question should be self-evident to students. Clearly, the company had adopted a dumping ground attitude because there is no down-side risk to managers who want to off-load poor performers onto project teams.


  • How would you advise the CEO to correct the problem? Where would you start?


One huge problem is the lack of responsibility that pervaded the organization. Managers saw project teams as a convenient method for discarding marginal employees for extended periods of time. Because there were no consequences to this behavior, it became increasingly common and widely used. The first step is to create some accountability whereby functional managers must respond appropriately to resource requests and assign good personnel to these teams. At the same time, these managers must receive credit for doing so. Where fear of failure or lack of authenticity operates, project team staffing will never be taken seriously and this problem will not be resolved.  Another solution would be to begin leveling the playing field by giving the project manager authority to select her own team rather than depend on the kindness of the functional manager to staff the team for her.


  • Discuss how issues of organizational structure and power played a role in the manner in which project management declined in effectiveness at CIC.


As noted, authority must be more evenly spread here. This organization operated with a strict functional structure in which the project manager had no power. All staffing assignments were made by the functional manager and there were no negative consequences attached to poor staffing. When the philosophy of “anyone will do, and the worse person, the better!” is in place, it is not hard to see how projects fair poorly.




Case Study 6.2: The Bean Counter and the Cowboy


A common theme with multi-functional project teams is a lack of appreciation for the duties of people from other departments. The concept of organizational differentiation is key to understanding this malady. It is common for functional “siloing” to create an attitude in which the contributions of other project team members are either not recognized or are undervalued. In this case, there are some clear signs of antagonism between Neil, the finance person, and Susan, from marketing. The terms “bean counter” and “cowboy” have been, in fact, coined by these people to refer to members of the other functions.




  • Was the argument today between Neil and Susan the true conflict or a symptom? What evidence do you have to suggest it is merely a symptom of a larger problem?


The interaction is evidence of more deep-rooted antagonisms between Neil and Susan and reflects a fundamental lack of appreciation for what each person brings to the project.  Not only does each person view their own contributions as important, but they minimize the value added by the other. Neil clearly resents the activities (including trips) that are part of Susan’s job and feels that she is not committed to the project due to frequent absences. Susan is defensive about this, citing the fact that her job does require extended periods of travel wherein she is likely to miss meetings.


  • Explain how differentiation plays a large role in the problems that exist between Susan and Neil.


Differentiation reflects the fact that different functional departments develop their own mind-sets, attitudes, time frames, and value systems, which can conflict with those of other departments. That is, as individuals join an organization within some functional specialty, they begin to adopt the attitudes and outlook of that functional group. As the concept of differentiation suggests, these individuals each bring to the team their preconceived notions of the roles that they should play, the importance of their various contributions, and other parochial attitudes. The more profound the differentiation within an organization, the greater the likelihood that individuals and groups will divide into “us” and “them” encampments, which will continue to promote and provoke conflict. In Susan and Neil’s situation, the two team members come from different departments with stereotyped perceptions of each other that they allow to determine their belief about the other’s underlying motives and commitment (or lack thereof). Taking the easy way out and allowing preconceptions to shape attitudes can lead to significant, destructive effects within a project team.


  • Develop a conflict management procedure for your meeting in 30 minutes. Create a simple script to help you anticipate the comments you are likely to hear from both parties.


Students can be asked to role play the part of either Neil or Susan as they respond to this question. The instructor should assign one person (or group) to serve as the project manager and two others to adopt the conflicting personalities. Because the issue has flared up, it is likely that tempers will still be high when they meet with the project manager; thus, a script should anticipate more give-and-take between the two individuals and consider at what point it makes sense to intervene, how far to allow them to express their opinions, and exactly what should be said to them to get something positive out of the conflict. As it has come to an open confrontation, a script for conflict resolution has to recognize that there are egos involved.


  • Which conflict resolution style is warranted in this case? Why? How might some of the other resolution approaches be inadequate in this situation?


This question requires students to think in terms of others’ and their own likely responses to various behaviors. Should the project manager develop an approach that leads to confrontation? If so, what will be the outcome? First, confrontation techniques take time; therefore, a meeting with these two people should be given sufficient time for the issues to be discussed and for resolution to occur. Should the project manager arbitrate the conflict? Ignore it? Each of these options must be explored and the downside of each addressed. Usually, by the time an open confrontation has occurred, the more benign approaches such as ignoring or accepting it may no longer be viable options.






Case Study 6.3: Johnson & Rogers Software Engineering, Inc.


This case shows one example of the types of problems that can be encountered with the use of technology, such as the Internet, to help link participants on a distributed project team. In this case, a combination of geographically-dispersed project team members, faulty technologies, and other concerns are hampering progress on the project. Furthermore, an additional problem is that distributed project teams do not allow for standard team development stages to occur because team members can only interact in formal channels. Without informal communication, it becomes more difficult to build trust and enthusiasm among members of the project team. Kate’s difficulties here are by no means abnormal, but a managerial plan for handling these communications will go a long way toward helping her and the team get through the awkward “newness” of geographically-dispersed project teams.




  • How would you advise Kate to proceed? Analyze the conversation she had this morning. What went right? What went wrong?


Students should consider that Kate does recognize there is a problem here and she is willing to make the tough decision to find a way that they can continue to communicate in a live setting. The easiest option would have been to agree with the team members and move to either one-on-one conversations or simple e-mails. Kate is to be congratulated on sticking to her guns. On the other hand, she is still new at this technology and has been unaware of time differences among the team. In trying to please everyone on the team, she may end up not pleasing anyone, so at some point she will need to make some tough choices. Like it or not, some team members will need to meet at inconvenient times. On the other hand, if she plans prior to these meetings and ensures that everyone is prepared, it may be possible to limit the amount of time spent in the meeting itself. The key is advanced preparation by Kate and everyone on the team.


  • What should Kate’s next steps be?


Kate needs to decide whether she is committed to real-time link-ups with the team. If she really values this time, she must get the maximum benefit out of it by making sure these meetings are productive and that everyone is prepared in advance. Furthermore, perhaps she could organize some subgroup meetings among sets of participants and save the full team meetings for occasional use. Students should be asked to think creatively to come up with some action options for Kate.


  • How can she use the technology of the Internet and teleconferencing to enhance team development and performance?


Teleconferencing can create a team out of a group of faceless individuals but it must be used appropriately. The chapter cites several principles that can enhance the teleconferencing experience, and instructors should ensure that students address each of them as a means to help Kate resolve some of her problems.



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