Projects can be defined as “one-off activities with a well-understood end goal” (Webb, 1994, p. 37). And the project manager is seen as the “expression of [the] need to bring together, to co-ordinate and control individuals in different disciplines, in pursuit of a common goal” (p. 38). This project reports on the managing of the marketing research for a hotel project. This research was commissioned by a European hotel chain that plans to build and operate three hotels in Jamaica. Since the chain had no experience in the Caribbean, they needed to gather research on several elements before they commenced hotel building. As one element of this research, we were commissioned to undertake an investigation of the potential customers. The first component involved determining which types of tourists generally visited Jamaica and why they do so. The second component was more complex and involved determining the internal and external style and structure of hotel that American and European travellers would be attracted to. Both these elements would help the chain narrow down their target market and design the hotels to their customers’ expectations, without losing to their own distinctive style and within the confines of Jamaican building regulations.
To undertake this research, a project format was deemed appropriate and project team was put together. This team was mainly comprised of marketing personnel, but also included an architect and a specialist on Caribbean culture. As the head of the marketing department, I became the project manager. The main focus of this report is thus on the project management element and how to manage projects effectively. However, other elements of management, particularly problem-solving and decision-making, are highlighted throughout the report as they arise.
Personal Competence for Reflection
Before starting the project, I had decided that I would look at either leadership or team-working as the competence on which I would reflect. However, as soon as I started doing the project, I realised that communication would be the key challenge in conducting this marketing research and so I choose communication and interaction for personal reflection.
Effective interpersonal communication is an important skill in management and is a key competence in project management. Communication is one of the most dominant activities occurring in any work setting (Daniels and Spiker, 1991). Effective communications is an indispensable ingredient for successful management activities in all areas – from problem-solving to negotiations (Harris, 2002). Boyett and Boyett (1998) conclude that inadequate information about organisations, customers, and individual performance is
In addition to being important to organisations, communication is critical to the leader, manager, or supervisor (Bennis and Goldsmith, 1997). Gardner (1995) concludes: “a key – perhaps the key – to leadership . . . is the effective communication of a story” (p. 37).
Personal Analysis of Management Component
Project management knowledge areas are defined by many standards and usually separated into multiple project management knowledge areas, such as the management of integration, scope, time, cost, quality, human resources, communications, risk, and procurement (Ruuska and Vartainen, 2003). Additionally, competent project managers have been described by different attributes in the literature on projects, as a key aspect of a project’s success is the competences of the project manager (Frame, 1995). The core skills are mostly in the areas of budgeting, scheduling, and resource allocation, as well as the key tools related to those areas, such as scheduling networks and resource-loading charts (Frame, 1994). There is also evidence that leadership and human skills are one of the most critical competence areas (Zimmerer and Yasin, 1998, Crawford, 2000).
Crawford (2000) has noted the increased mention of communication, strategic direction, and team selection and decreased importance of technical performance in research after 1995, which may be attributable, at least in part, to the application of project management beyond its strong engineering and construction origins. In addition, she noted that leadership, a factor that relates almost exclusively to personality characteristics or personal attributes, appears consistently in the highest ranking category amongst project manager competence factors, along with team development, communication, and technical performance.
A traditional phased approach identifies a sequence of steps to be completed. In the traditional approach, we can distinguish 5 components of a project (4 stages plus control) in the development of a project which the project manager needs to be in control of: initiation, planning or design, execution or production stage, monitoring and controlling, and, completion. The actual stages typically follow common steps to problem solving – defining the problem, weighing options, choosing a path, implementation and evaluation. Problem-solving forms part of thinking. Considered the most complex of all intellectual functions, problem-solving has been defined as higher-order cognitive process that requires the modulation and control of more routine or fundamental skills (Goldstein and Levin, 1987). The nature of human problem-solving methods has been studied by psychologists over the past hundred years. There are several methods of studying problem solving, including introspection, which may be used synonymously with self-reflection and used in a similar way.
Problem-solving and decision-making are the core key competencies possessed by a project manager. Under critical scenarios project managers are supposed to offer a feasible solution to the problems related to the project. In addition, communication is key, since the project manager has to deal with many different stakeholders (Figure 1). Any organisation is essentially a closed system. Each organisation condenses the broad streams of communication around it into highly selective and routinised codes (Kieser, 2002). Often, client organisations and consultants have different frames of reference which mean that they formulate decisions and problems differently and that they have their own specific ways of achieving solutions. The project manager has to have the necessary skills to encode and decode information among the different constituents.
Communication is also vital for effective decision-making in groups (Enayati, 2001). As recommended by Wheelan (1994, p. 33), the choice of a communication network might be more effective if strategies of decision-making were outlined in advance and if urges to stabilise the structure too early were resisted, as there is considerable resistance to change once these structures are established.
The main aim of a manager is to maximise the output of the organisation through administrative implementation. To achieve this, managers must undertake the following functions: organisation, planning, staffing, directing, and controlling (Burke, 2000). Harris (2000) describes these as ‘traditional’ and argues that the new functions of management that tap into the potential of all employees are as below.
First, today’s managers are masters of making things happen. The best managers create far more energy than they consume. Successful managers create compelling visions that inspire employees to bring out their very best performance and encourage their employees to act on these visions. Second, managers empower employees. This does not mean that managers stop managing. Empowering employees means giving them the tools and the authority to do great work. Effective management is the leveraging of the efforts of your team to a common purpose.
Third, today’s managers need to be coaches, counsellors, and colleagues instead of watchdogs or executioners. The key to developing a supportive environment is the establishment of a climate of open communication throughout the organisation. Employees must be able to express their concerns without fear of retribution. Similarly, employees must be able to make honest mistakes and be encouraged to learn from those mistakes. Finally, communication is the lifeblood of every organisation. Information is power, and, as the speed of business continues to accelerate, information must be communicated to employees faster than ever. Constant change and increasing turbulence in the business environment necessitate more communication, not less – information that helps employees better do their jobs, information on changes that can impact their jobs, and information on opportunities and needs within the organisation.
Based on this, I focus on two deliberative and skilled behaviours which are important to be an effective manager: leadership and team-building. Leadership is just one of the many assets a successful manager must possess and is just one important component of the directing function. Leadership is a way of focusing and motivating a group to enable them to achieve their aims. It also involves being accountable and responsible for the group as a whole. Similarly, fostering teamwork and involvement is a core function of management (Adirondack, 1998). As the use of teams has evolved and grown in the workplace, the manager’s role in building and leading effective teams has also changed. Managers can no longer gather information from the people who work for them and make command decisions that the team must then execute. Nor is it enough to assemble a group of talented, hard-working individuals and expect them to be able to “figure it out.” When effectively managed, teams can offer the benefits of greater creativity, knowledge, information sharing, and problem-solving styles, along with greater efficiency, support, and commitment.
Many of these skills are interrelated and so a manager must have many of these skills. For example, communication is very important in fostering teamwork, as two of the blocks to teamwork are unclear objectives and responsibilities and unclear definition of problems (Adirondack, 1998). Decision-making is also related to communication and team-working, as another block to teamwork is inappropriate decision-making procedures.
Self-assessment: Improving Personal Professional Competence
People learn some personal and interpersonal skills from the moment they are born, but others are developed through awareness and practice (Adirondack, 1998). One skill that needs constant honing is verbal and written communication. According to Adirondack (1998, p. 51), “[e]ffective communication depends on the right people getting the right information, in the right form, at the right time.” In order to improve myself in this area, I turned to (Schön, 1991, p. 15) who states that “[t]he capacity to reflect on action so as to engage in a process of continuous learning is one of the defining characteristics of professional practice.”
I undertook this reflective practice in several cycles as I had seen being done in several guidance texts (Spalding, 1998, Kember, 2001). To do this, I kept a reflective journal which I updated every week. I especially tried to make notes on my observation and comments on the communication, problem-solving, and decision-making challenges that came up. This discussion is broken down into three sections: the initial analysis, the interim review/reflection, and the final analysis, reflection, and conclusion. The basis for the reflection is recording evidence to demonstrate an active commitment to my personal development. It was an opportunity to reflect upon what I have learnt and how this has helped me to develop my capabilities and also looking at how others have benefited. Throughout the discussion, I compare my reflective findings to theoretical principles of experimental learning and other learning and development theories.
To capture a true reflection of my development, I decided to create a development plan (Table 1 overleaf) for the period of the project. In synchronism with the views of the Marquardt (1996), this development plan was created for the purpose of being a structured and supported process undertaken to reflect upon my own learning, performance and/or achievement and to plan for my personal, educational, and career development. The tabulated development plan consisted of five elements. It identified a personal devolvement objective (what I wanted to learn), it then identified what I will do to achieve this objective, it then highlighted the resources or support I would need, it looked at how I will know I’ve succeeded and finally it looked at target dates for review and completion of the set objectives. Please see the follow page for the tabulated version of my personal development plan for the duration of the module.
Throughout my reading, three definitions of reflection stood out to me (Figure 2). Spalding 1998’s definition of reflection as ‘learning from experience’ can closely be related to me. I tend to learn from my daily experiences; however without reflection there is no depth to this, and I do not question what was good or bad about the experience but what could have been done to make it better.
This has been defined as ‘single-loop learning’ (Argryris and Schon, 1978). To commence the expansion of my horizon and delve into double-loop learning, moving from Spaulding (1998) to Fish and Twain (1997), I started looking at experiences and activities from the perspective laid out by Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle in Jasper (2003).
Subsequent reading into Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle shows, the cyclical approach adapted by Gibbs facilitates the analysis of learning from the processes of assessment, planning, implementation and evaluation.
The process of reflection follows a concrete experience or critical incident leading to the formation of abstract concepts which are then tested out in the practice setting. Kolb’s learning theory sets out four distinct learning, which are based on a four-stage learning cycle. In this respect Kolb’s model is particularly elegant, since it offers both a way to understand individual’s different learning styles, and an explanation of a cycle of experiential learning that applies to us all.
In the final analysis, several examples of good and bad practice can be drawn from my experience in this project. To aid clarity, I will talk about communication with different stakeholder groups: the project team, the target respondents, and the hotel chain. First, having read that proper communication with the client (the hotel chain) is key and that the project design was a make or break stage, I spent a lot of time on this and made sure that I tried to have a lot of dialogue in the initial stage with the client. However, the creation of a good design was hampered slightly by the general poor quality of the research briefing from the client. This includes the difficulty of getting quality time allocated to the briefing, and the difficulty of appreciating the diversity of the different stakeholders’ perspectives, and being able to prioritise them.
In addition, I worked on a written specification of the problem. This was done in conjunction with the project team – I would write a draft and they would review and comment. Even though the texts stressed that this was an arduous process, I was still surprised. What I have realised is that there are no short-cuts to this; if you fail to spend the time initially, it will cost you far more later on. It took four drafts to get a document that we all agreed on and I was quite satisfied with myself that I had got through this process, which would smooth the way for the rest of the project. I think that this helped immensely as we avoided further problems that could have impacted radically on the design.
Second, from working with the project team, I learnt a lot about communication, problem-solving, and decision-making. An effective project team leader is a ‘social architect’ who understands the interaction of organisational and behavioural variables can foster a climate of active participation and can minimize dysfunctional conflict. To be effective, the team leader must identify major issues associated with three dimensions. These are team related with emphasis on behavioural aspects such as team structure, trust and respect, or barriers to team development and so on; project task and resource related such as goals and objectives, planning and scope management; and organizational. The latter includes organizational development and involving senior management to ensure visibility, resource availability and overall support for the project through out its life cycle. These conditions are accomplished through effective intercommunication which is pivotal in the project management process.
Third, communication with the target audience is also important. The initial idea was to conduct structured questionnaires and telephone interviews to keep the costs low. However, we found that we were not getting the information that we needed from respondents when we used this method. First, we were interested in talking to tourists who were currently in Jamaica and this meant that they were staying with our client’s competitors. This created a problem in getting access to these customers while they were in the island because we were not able to distribute questionnaires to them.
Then we decided that it may be possible to do a small number of interviews, but this became an example of a ‘bad practice’ in this case. This was a bad practice because the ‘Interview’ environment is so formal. We realised that the respondents felt strained and this led to limited information being passed to us (Figure 5).
We therefore decided to try doing focus groups; getting a small number (4-6) of tourists together in an informal environment. We found that this informal, interactive environment made the respondents’ more relaxed and we gathered a lot more information than in the previous interviews (Figure 6).
Discussion and Conclusion
Communication, leadership, and team-working are three skilled behaviours that I think are key to effective management. With regard to communication, I would recommend to the completion of a specification as one way of removing ambiguities. A specification is the definition of your project: a statement of the problem, not the solution. Normally, the specification contains errors, ambiguities, misunderstandings and enough rope to hang you and your entire team. Thus before you embark upon the next six months of activity working on the wrong project, you must read, worry, revise and ensure that everyone concerned with the project (from originator, through the workers, to the end-customer) is working with the same understanding. The outcome of this deliberation should be a written definition of what is required, by when; and this must be agreed by all involved.
The agreement upon a written specification has several benefits:
- the clarity will reveal misunderstandings
- the completeness will remove contradictory assumptions
- the rigour of the analysis will expose technical and practical details
- the agreement forces all concerned to actually read and think about the details
In project management, teams of people are brought together from different backgrounds to complete one project. The project manager has to be skilled in putting a team together and making it work, and this also will include communication skills, decision-making, and problem-solving. The project manager has to clarify the team goals, identify those issues which inhibit the team from reaching their goals, and address those issues by removing the inhibitors and enabling the goals to be achieved. Different teams have to be managed in different ways, which I think is a key point. The best practice that is recommended for the ‘average’ team must be tailored to the personalities in each particular team and the stage that the team is at. Finally, always look at problems as opportunities to gain knowledge as well as experience.