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Accelerating Projects by Encouraging Help

Book Description

Organizations often try to accelerate product introduction cycles by prioritizing project delivery. However, many projects have two characteristics that make optimal delivery times elusive: The projects tend to involve uncertainty (for example, they develop a new product function whose feasibility has not yet been established); and the workers have information about the status of their tasks that many don’t share. Behavioral issues are as important in project timeliness as diligent planning. This article examines the difficulties of project planning and execution and describes a management innovation at Roto Frank, a German company that produces hardware for industrial and residential windows and doors. Roto, headquartered in Leinfelden-Echterdingen, Germany, has augmented its project control system with a formal help process that encourages workers to seek and provide mutual assistance. The authors found that Roto’s help process achieved a measurable improvement in project cycle time without changing formal incentives or other management systems. Its success is based largely on two factors: establishing psychological safety and encouraging cooperative behavior among workers by emphasizing their interdependence. The authors argue that this help process has the potential to accelerate projects in many environments. In developing a project planning and monitoring system that encouraged project workers to reveal private information about their tasks, Roto did not rely on financial incentives. Indeed, the authors note that incentives don’t need to be monetary or career focused; they can be social and geared toward building positive relationships. Without fears of being blamed for problems, workers were more inclined to call for help rather than procrastinating or passing latent issues on to the next project worker. The article examines how the formal components of a project management system interact with mutual relationships and psychological safety in promoting project success and which combinations of managerial actions are most likely to succeed at harnessing behavioral tendencies. It describes a system that works and shows how psychological safety and mutual reciprocity can be incorporated into a fully implemented system. Collaborative problem solving does not imply that project problems and task uncertainty are eliminated altogether, only that solutions can be found more effectively.