Friday, March 23, 2012

When there are no written rules

In the domain of project management there are rules, protocols, methods, process, knowledge areas, templates, scorecards, and checklists.

But in one key area there are no written rules: culture. And, of course, PMs run into culture every minute of every day. And, culture is at all levels:
  • Teams are said to have culture
  • There is a project or program culture
  • Business units have culture
  • There are regional differences that are cultural
  • National cultures are well known in many respects

But with all the acknowledgement and recognition, there are precious few rules for the rule-based among us. In fact, we may not even define it the same way.

Just to have a working definition, culture is:
  • It's the way we do things around there
  • It's what we believe and accept without proof that underlies how we act
  • A consequence of shared values, shared experience, shared environment, and the shared influence of leadership
  • An integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior
So, in these definitions we find the knub of the issue with culture: it's really hard to port around. It doesn't fit well in an email, a standards manual, or in the signage on the back of an badge or ID. And, it does't port well through an electronic network from one virtual team member to another.

Even if you did write down all the rules and try to codify culture, you just can't roll up to someone and tell them they must "now believe"; and how do you get sharing if there is no opportunity to share values? And, what about an "integrated pattern"? How is that done without opportunity to interact over time?

Project managers are left with just a few tools: encourage sharing, common experience, and co-location. Drive up "density" so that integrated patterns must emerge. Of course, language  is the greatest integration tool ever invented.

If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place.
Margaret Mead